31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Gross Books for Kids
We’re making a slight deviation away from our regularly scheduled picture books today to bring you some truly and thoroughly disgusting titles.
You know, until this year I’d never thought to track the gross books that I come across. Then I met a little title on today’s list by the name of Packing for Mars for Kids and my life was never the same again. At my workplace (Evanston Public Library) we got into a long debate during the last day of our 101 Great Books for Kids meeting surrounding that title. You see, we were trying to cut all the books we knew and loved of 2022 down to a mere 101. That means killing your babies, and no one likes to do that. Someone had suggested cutting Packing for Mars, and many of us had a kneejerk reaction to that suggestion. Yet as time went on, we came to realize that there are plenty of perfectly good gross books out there. We couldn’t get obsessed with just one! As long as there was at least one gut-churning book of disgust on our list, we should be grateful. And so, I am, today, celebrating titles unafraid of bodily functions, blood, and other seriously icky elements.
Trouble is, most of the good gross stuff in 2022 was written with older kids in mind. There are picture books and early chapter books listed, but they’re few and far between. As such, I apologize to the small spry looking for a good disgusting title. Don’t worry. With any luck you’ll be able to sneak a glance at some of the stuff in these books. And it won’t be pretty…
2022 Gross Books for Kids
American Murderer: The Parasite That Haunted the South by Gail Jarrow
A face only a mother could love?
Hoo boy! I’ll be seeing this one in my dreams tonight! And the crazy thing is, I didn’t even post the grossest picture here (read the book and see if you can figure out which pic I mean).
Remember when I mentioned that my library has an unofficial rule that when we create our annual 101 Great Books for Kids list there should be at least one seriously gross book on the list in some way? Gross isn’t for everyone but when you find a good one, you hold it close (metaphorically). Now we were considering both this book, American Murderer, and Packing for Mars for Kids, each gross in their own unique ways (and both for kids between the ages of 9-12). Ultimately, this was the book that stole our hearts. Why? Because, and I mean this truly my friends, it is terrifying. Imagine me running around the home, thrusting this book into the face of my 3rd grader to show him the terrifyingly toothy hookworm photos inside. I am the best mom! And this is the best book. It really explains perfectly how the American South was effectively crushed for generations by a hookworm named, and this is true, the American Murderer. This is part of the Calkins Creek “Medical Fiascoes” series, and is the first I’ve had a chance to read myself, though I’ve always been a big Jarrow fan. Full of disgusting and fascinating photos and images, a certain strand of kid is going to find this enthralling. Worms worms worms!
Bee and Flea and the Compost Caper by Anna Humphrey, illus by Mike Deas
Now we leap from older nonfiction books to early chapter fiction titles. Bee is bored. She wants to do more than just collect pollen all day, so when Flea hires her to join her investigation into the local compost heap, she’s on board. A magnificent deep dive (literally) into the ecosystem of compost and soil. I like it! I like how weird it is, and how beautifully it really works in the natural ecosystem of a typical compost heap works. I suppose it’s not technically to scale, but who cares? The science is interwoven seamlessly into the storyline, and while there’s probably a lot more poop in there than I’d personally prefer (which makes it ideal for today’s list), you can’t say it isn’t necessary. Love that Flea and Bee have such strong personalities right from the start too.
Buzzkill: A Wild Wander Through the Weird and Threatened World of Bugs by Brenna Maloney, ill. Dave Mottram
I came this close to missing this book. It was only through the intervention of a friend (and well-respected author) that it even came to my attention. Without revealing this friend’s identity, this person is a much better writer than I will ever be and so I put to you a small portion of the recommendation that convinced me to pick this up:
“She’s [Maloney] not only a very funny writer, doing a kind of stand-up about insects (she’s a big researcher) but she’s an incredibly elegant one with metaphors. For example, she talks about the noise cicadas make and she describes the process as being very like the way you make noise expanding and contracting a bendy straw. What kid hasn’t made that bendy-straw noise? When she talks about molting, she explains that the new exoskeleton has to be bigger than the old one, so it’s like having a heavy winter coat underneath a thin, sweat-soaked tee shirt—you have to peel off that tee-shirt very carefully, and lots of times a leg gets torn off in the process. Everything is explained with the utmost clarity, as if she were standing by your elbow.”
The book itself is a whopper, clocking in at a whopping 378 pages. Your kids will read every word. So it is gross? And how! Whether Brenna Maloney is eating mealworms (not crickets, though), talking about eyelash mites, discussing the loudest animal in the world (the water boatman bug that makes the sound by hitting its penis against its abdomen), or what have you, disgusting details abound and are so funny and so smart. I freakin’ love this book. Bugs, man. Who knew?
Northwind by Gary Paulsen
During a great plague in the distant past, a boy must escape The Sick by paddling up the coast and heading North. He encounters many obstacles along the way in this thrilling (and at times incredibly gross) survival story from the late Hatchet author. If 2022 is remembered for anything, apparently it’ll be for some of the grossest books for kids you’ve seen in a long time. This one definitely starts out with a serious “ew” factor, and for that I commend it! Nothing gets a young reader’s attention faster than puke and poop, after all. Paulsen really had writing down to a science, right up until the end. This has all the thrill of Hatchet but with some really remarkable introspective passages about the meaning of a life. I deem this book Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: For Kids. Excellent.
Packing for Mars for Kids by Mary Roach
Did you know that a human body never feels like it has to pee in zero gravity? Did you know that showers don’t work in space? Or that after a couple weeks your nose stops noticing bad body odors? Join Mary Roach for the grossest trip to the stars you will ever EVER encounter. Folks, I don’t want to overhype this, but I think this may well be the grossest nonfiction book for kids I have ever read in my life. You know all those books on poop and snot and what have you? None of them can hold a candle to this. Now generally I dislike Young Reader’s Editions of any adult titles, but Roach’s original book (Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void) came out in 2010. I’d say 12 years is about the right amount of time to get a younger version right. I do desperately wish they’d renamed it, though. Though the book is about life in space, there’s almost no mention of Mars itself until then end, so Mars-hungry kids are going to be pretty disappointed. Also, this book takes about three chapters to really get going. The first two are fine, but I did think about stopping more than once. Then we started talking toilets and everything got really crazy, really fast. I learned so much that I can never unlearn. Let’s just say the section on fecal bags may have scarred me for life. A winner!
The Secrets of Cricket Karlsson by Kristina Sigunsdotter, ill. Ester Eriksson, translated by Julia Marshall
Cricket’s out of school with chicken pox for just two weeks and when she gets back her best friend has abandoned her. Hilarious hijinks, truly gross moments, and some smart takes on adult foibles accompany this Swedish chapter book import. I am definitely picking up on what this wackadoodle little book is putting down. I often think that books for kids never really get into how gross girls really get with one another. Like that whole pretending to have gotten your period part and the part where they smear chocolate brownie all over their faces and come out claiming to have eaten poop. THAT rang so true for me! Some reviewer called Cricket “the Emo Pippi Longstocking” but Cricket’s energy reminded me a lot more of David Shannon’s David books, just more grown up. I thought the family’s attitude towards the aunt’s mental illness was believable, heartbreaking, and (thankfully) clearly wrong-headed. Truth be told there’s a small moment mentioning Tourette’s Syndrome that is NOT good and should have been excised. Aside from that, it’s a title that’s honest about childhood, friendships, and gross stuff.
The World’s Most Ridiculous Animals by Philip Bunting
It’s as if Philip Bunting said to himself, “To please Betsy this year, I shall include an entry into my World’s Most series that contains not one but TWO Simpsons references on the same page!” I’m not even kidding. Check out the entry on tardigrades if you don’t believe. Now I included a Philip Bunting book on a previous year’s list as well (in that case it was The World’s Most Pointless Animals) and I was gratified to see that that book must have sold pretty well since Happy Yak tapped the man to write another in the same vein. Here the only impetus is for these creatures to be interesting. As such you’ll get gross critters like the zombie snail and strangely pretty ones like the ribbon eel. Guaranteed you’ll learn something from this, plus the joke density is fairly high. Even if you don’t know The Simpsons (in which case, how are we even friends?) you’ll find a lot to laugh at here.
You Can’t Kill Snow White by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Karin Snelson and Emilie Robert Wong
The original Grimm Brothers fairy tale comes to life in this dark retelling for older readers. From eating raw hearts to dancing to death in hot shoes (hence its inclusion on today’s list), lurid fever-dreamesque art sucks into the story you thought you knew so well. You know, I never thought of Snow White as the Rasputin of fairy tale characters (in terms of invulnerability) but this title sort of makes me think of her that way. So this book is weird. Purposefully so, to a certain extent, but also by strategic design. Apparently this is published under Enchanted Lion’s new “Unruly” imprint (good name), which creates picture books for adult readers. Reading that, I figured that this would be an adult Snow White. You know, something along the lines of that Donald Barthelme book I had to read in college. Instead, it’s pretty straightforward. It may find more pleasure in showing the evil queen eating the pig heart from a variety of different moments in time, which is … unusual, but this is a Grimm brothers story. Gross is part of the text. Kids don’t care, it’s the adults that get squeamish.
Yuck, You Suck! Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp, Suck by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, ill. Eugenia Nobati
I want you to understand that deranged eyeballs on a poetry picture book will, many times, be sufficient to get me interested in the contents therein. Add in the fact that this book is technically a STEM title, but with a delightfully gross twist, and the poetry itself just becomes a helpful bonus. You want poetry with bite? You got it, babe. Mother/daughter team Yolen/Stemple have conjured up 15 different poems on creatures with sucking abilities. You’ll know some of them already, like mosquitoes or vampire bats. But did you know that pigeons have a beak that works like a straw (unlike many other birds)? Or that remoras don’t (actually) suck? There’s plenty of gross qualities to enjoy (I got one word for you: lampreys) and a wide variety of poetic styles ranging from haikus to concrete poems. Add in the great backmatter (“Anatomical Terms for Parts That Suck”, “Animals Suck for a Reason”, “Other Books to Sink Your Proboscis Into”) which also includes additional info on each sucker AND a glossary and you have yourself one heckuva disgusting class act.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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