Reality Is Overrated: 5 Completely Insane Books You Should Read with Your Kid

by Tom Burns

Image credits: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake; Tuesday by David Wiesner; Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith; Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan; Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.

Sometimes you and your kids just want to read something CRAZY — am I right? I’m talking about something that’s totally off-the-charts nuts, the kind of story where ridiculously crazy, improbable, mind-blowing stuff happens.

If you want to feed your child’s imagination, here are some of my favorite books for young readers where science and fantasy lose their minds and the odd and outlandish soar to weird new heights.

  • Baloney (Henry P.)

    by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

    Available from:

    How can you not love a picture book that uses one kid’s desperate attempts to avoid “Permeant Lifelong Detention” to celebrate the complexity of linguistics? And did I mention he’s an alien kid named Henry P. Baloney? Your kid will adore watching extraterrestrial Henry spin the most outrageous “late for school” excuse of all time, blaming his tardiness on an insane series of intergalactic coincidences, but the real genius comes from how Scieszka creates a whole alien vocabulary for Henry out of unusual words from languages like Finnish, Swahili, and Esperanto.

    Great for: Pre-K (3–5)

    Also available from:
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon

    by Crockett Johnson

    This classic picture book seems like the simple tale of a boy and his crayon, but it’s about SO much more. It’s the story of a kid who can manufacture his own reality. That’s insane. That’s a “Twilight Zone” episode. Young Harold holds in his hand a tool that creates everything he sees — it creates his entire world — opening endless possibilities. Fortunately, Harold is a benevolent creator, who will even whip up a very hungry moose and a deserving porcupine to help him finish some pie.

    Great for: Pre-K (3–5), Growing Reader (6–8)

  • Tuesday

    by David Wiesner

    This is a completely wordless picture book all about how, one Tuesday evening, around 8:00 PM, frogs start flying. They fly and they fly and then … they stop flying. That’s the whole book. And it is, without question, one of the best children’s books ever published. It is strange and beautiful and hilarious and proof that fiction makes reality so much sweeter.

    Great for: Growing Reader (6–8)

  • James and the Giant Peach

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

    Nobody does crazy better than Roald Dahl, and this is one of his all-time lunatic gems. What else can you say about a book where a kid’s parents are killed by a rhinoceros, the world’s most massive peach takes flight (crewed by a team of anthropomorphic talking insects), that peach is attacked by sharks and cloud-men, and then the titular orphan comes to live inside the peach in the middle of Central Park? It’s a completely looney tale that’s perfect, perfect, perfect for kids.

    Great for: Tween (9–12)

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia

    by Shaun Tan

    Perhaps best known for The Arrival, author/illustrator Shaun Tan is an expert at showing kids all of the surreal wonder that the world has to offer. Tales from Outer Suburbia collects fifteen short, odd tales, all accompanied by Tan’s masterful black-and-white illustrations. One story involves a water buffalo with ESP, another has a small forest creature coming to live with a family in a kind of foreign exchange program. But each weird tale comes with a surprisingly amount of emotional heft, which will inspire thoughtful readings from your kids and bend their minds in the most delightful of ways.

    Great for: Tween and Teen (12+)