Alternative children’s books

My friend had her sweet baby over the weekend (the one from the zombie baby shower). Along with a meal, I’d love to take over a children’s book that she and baby will cherish. There’s just one problem. My friend is not your typical parent. She and her partner are somewhat… alternative: both mommy and daddy are heavily tattooed, they love Halloween, horror movies and all things paranormal. I have no doubt they’ll be loving, nurturing parents, teaching their daughter right from wrong and all that jazz, I just don’t think they’ll do it in a conventional way. And more power to them!

But I got to thinking, there must be tons of other Generation X parents out there struggling to find children’s books that appeal to their aesthetic and values. Children’s books explaining tattoos, for example. Even on the internet it was slim pickings. And the ones I did find were for 7 yrs and up. What about the little ones? I guess it’ll have to be Pete the Cat and The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the first few years. When she grows out of those, these might entertain her (I know they’ll entertain my friend!):

Tony DiTerlizzi is the celebrated illustrator behind The Spiderwick Chronicles. In The Spider and the Fly he takes the famous poem by Victorian poet, Mary Howitt, and brings it to life with stunning and creepy illustrations. DiTerlizzi decided to set the poem, which famously begins, ‘”Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly,’ in an old doll house. The stanzas lead the reader through various rooms of the house, illustrated in a style inspired by 1930s and 40s Hollywood horror movies, before ending in the dreaded parlour. Lest you think this story is too disturbing for a child, it is a cautionary tale. So, you know, it has a moral. Just in that uncensored, original Grimm’s brothers kind of way. 

Mommy Has a Tattoo by Phil Padwe is a reassuring story for kids who are afraid of tattoos out of context. James doesn’t know what to think about his friend’s mother’s tattoo until he discovers that his own mother has a tattoo, too. Mommy Has a Tattoo teaches kids not to see tattoos as scary, but to see them as beautiful art, symbols and sources of pride for many mothers. With the 90s come and gone, I’d say this is a pretty relevant topic for parents who sport the ubiquitous ankle or lower back tattoo.

Maybe more helpful would be a book aimed at teenagers with words of wisdom from tattooed parents, like, “don’t let that stranger at the party ink you with a dirty pen and indian paint,” “don’t get a tattoo of your current boy/girlfriend’s name,” and “remember, it’s for life, so either make sure the symbol will mean something to you in twenty years, or else, make sure it’s something you’ll laugh about in 20 years.”

With it’s hipster-y, underground style of illustrations, My Tattooed Dad is one of the most promising titles I came across in my search. This illustrated book of stories by Daniel Nesquens, Sergio Mora, Magicomora is about one boy’s mostly absent father, because, as the boy’s mother explains, “he has ants in his pants.” Probably a very comforting story for similarly unstable families, but arguably not a great book to give to a stable one. All the same, the illustrations are so imaginative and the Dad’s tales of worldly travel and adventure so fanciful that we almost forgive him when he steps out of the boys life another time. He always returns, though, with more stories and, you guessed it, more tattoos.

Dear Readers, help me with this one if you can. Do you know of any other children’s books for “alternative” families, i.e., parents with piercings, tattoos and colored hair? I’d love to hear them! I could do an entirely separate post for other nontraditional families (multiracial, same sex parents, adopted children, etc), and I think I will. 

(top photo from adventures of Beth)

  1. Leda Sox said:

    I haven’t read any of them yet, but I know Colin Meloy (of the Decemberists) and his wife have written a couple of children’s books. I think they might be more like chapter books for the young adult genre. They’re called The Wildwood Chronicles (

    I enjoy reading your blog, Erin!

    • Erin said:

      Thanks, Leda! It’s so great to hear from you. You’re right, the Wildwood Chronicles is a great suggestion. I’d forgotten about it. The Meloys came to the Decatur Book Festival this year (I think) to talk about Wildwood, but sadly I didn’t make it out to hear them. Have you read it?

      • Leda Sox said:

        I haven’t read either of them yet. But from listening to lots of Decemberists songs, I assume the story is pretty good. Also, the illustrations by his wife are amazing. I’m living in Utah now, going to grad school and your blog makes me miss Decatur and towns with good indie bookstores so much!

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