Weird & Wonderful Booklist

Compiled by Kelly Milner Halls

Not every kid wants to read an award winner for fun.  It isn’t the award that sends them running.  It’s the perception of boredom.  That perception may be wrong.  Books win awards for good reason.  But if you have a young reader on your radar who avoids traditional books like homework or asparagus – a reader not quite ready to tackle the books they fear – check out this booklist.  

Weird books break the ice and open the reader’s mind.  Weird books offer an alternative path to becoming a confident young reader.  They are the frozen yogurt of the children’s book world.  They may seem like they taste too good to be healthy -- like empty calories.  But they nourish and strengthen, in spite of their yummy exteriors…or maybe even because of them. 

Each of these books fall within my special IWIHWTB framework – I WISH I HAD WRITTEN THIS BOOK.  Enjoy!

Aliens are Coming!  The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast

by Meghan McCarthy
Knopf, 2006
7 and up

Publisher Description:  It was an ordinary night in October of 1938 until a news bulletin interrupted the dance music on CBS radio-aliens were invading the United States. Meghan McCarthy's hilarious ALIENS ARE COMING! tells the truth story of the Halloween radio prank that duped much of the country into believing that the Martians had invaded.  The book uses excerpts from the actual War of the Worlds radio broadcast and includes information about the importance of radios in the 1930s (before the time of television and computers) as well as facts about Orson Welles and H.G. Wells, author of the novel on which the broadcast was based.

Kelly's Comment: Meghan McCarthy has her finger on the pulse of research AND a kid reader's funny bone.  As a result, she nails the voice that draws reluctant readers like ice cream.  Brilliant.

AlienInvestigation:  Searching for the TruthAbout Aliens and UFOs

by Kelly Milner Halls (me)
Millbrook, 2012
9 and up

Publisher’s Description: Imagine . . . you're in the woods after dark. Eerie green lights appear in the distance. Then there's a sudden flash and everything is dark again. You decide to take a closer look. You come upon a saucer-shaped craft hovering silently just above the ground. You reach out to touch it, but the object suddenly shoots up into the sky. Have you just seen a UFO?   Some people say they have had experiences like this. Are they telling the truth? To find out, Kelly Milner Halls investigated stories of eyewitnesses from around the world. She explored UFO sightings, landings, crashes, aliens, and even a few hoaxes. She also interviewed several of the world's UFO experts. Examine her findings and decide for yourself whether visitors from other worlds are real.

Kelly’s Comment:  Man, this was fun to research and write.  I hope it’s just as fun to read.

Encyclopedia Horrifica

by Joshua Gee
Scholastic, 2007
8 and up

Publisher Description: Bursting with eerie photos and Special Investigations, a nonfiction compendium of all things ghoulish and ghastly--from Aliens to Zombies!  Vampires, ghosts, monsters, and more--ENCYCLOPEDIA HORRIFICA invites you to join our quest for the terrifying truth about all things ghoulish and ghastly. But beware! Surprises lurk at the turn of every page. . . .  Discover a time line of ALIEN LIFE on earth--beginning 4 billion years ago! Meet a man recruited by the U.S. government to become a PSYCHIC SUPERSPY. Spend a dark and stormy night with professional GHOSTBUSTERS. Visit a mysterious library in search of DRACULA's shocking origins. Witness new photos of the actual sea monster that inspired the mythical KRAKEN, and much more!

Kelly Comment:  How I wish I’d written this fantastic book.  How glad am I that Joshua Gee DID! 


by Sylvia Branzei
Price Stern Sloan, 1995
8 and up
Amazon Review: This book dives face first into vats of everything you're not supposed to talk about, with sections entitled Barf, Boogers, Poop, Pee, B.O. and so forth. The illustrations are disgusting and unattractive, the text is filled with disturbing but entirely true passages such as "Snot is one part of your daily diet that you never think about.... Yup, you swallow about a quart of it each day. Just think: you swallow more snot that you drink milk", and lists of how to say various forbidden words in many languages.  All in all, tasteless, disgusting, and bound to offend many people--but what would you expect of a book in a puke-green plastic covered cover entitled Grossology. And, quite honestly, everything it discusses is happening in and on your body right now. Sorry, but it's all true. 

Kelly Comment:  When Sylvia first released Grossology, I was writing short nonfiction for magazines and newspapers.  I saw her book and was amazed.  She made weird wonderful.  This book is OUT OF PRINT but I couldn’t make a weird list without it.  Truly wonderfully weird. 

Haunted Outhouse

Edited by Kim Griswell
Portable Press

Publisher Description:  What do you get when you cross a classic scary story such as “The Tell-tale Heart” with Uncle John’s trademark sense of humor? You get “The Tell-tale Fart” (Pee-uw!). And that’s just one of many twisted classic and original tales of humor and horror you’ll find inside The Haunted Outhouse. You’ll also find a spine-tingling collection of facts about topics such as real-life mad scientists, history’s terrible tyrants, and the world’s deadliest weather. Uncle John’s scare-fest is packed with page after page of crafts, recipes, poems, jokes, tongue twisters, and experiments straight from Dr. Johnenstein’s Laboratory. Graphic novel-style tales add plenty of illustrated pages to the mix. This haunted book of horrors could only come from the Bathroom Readers Institute, and it’s “For Kids Only.” ENTER IF YOU DARE!

Kelly Comment:  I confess, I am a contributing author to the Uncle John's Bathroom Readers for Kids Only book series edited by Kim Griswell.  But even if I didn't write for these books, I'd buy them and give them out liberally to kids who love Guinness and Ripley's books.  They make me laugh, and I have the heart of a 10 year old kid.  So you can draw your own conclusions.

HowThey Croaked!

by Georgia Bragg
10 and up

Publisher Description: Over the course of history men and women have lived and died. In fact, getting sick and dying can be a big, ugly mess-especially before the modern medical care that we all enjoy today. How They Croaked relays all the gory details of how nineteen world figures gave up the ghost. For example:  
It is believed that Henry VIII's remains exploded within his coffin while lying in state.  Doctors "treated" George Washington by draining almost 80 ounces of blood before he finally kicked the bucket.  Right before Beethoven wrote his last notes, doctors drilled a hole in his stomach without any pain medication. Readers will be interested well past the final curtain, and feel lucky to live in a world with painkillers, X-rays, soap, and 911.

Kelly Comment:  What genius – to explore and write about how famous people met their maker!  Who wouldn’t read this?  

OhYuck!  The Encyclopedia of EverythingNasty

by Joy Masoff
Workman, 2000
8 and up
Publisher Description: Kids love stuff that's gross. From the liquids, solids, and gases--especially the gases!--or their own bodies to the creepy, crawly, slimy, slithery, fetid, and feculent phenomena in the world at large, kids with a curious bent just can't get enough. Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty brings together, in one book, all the good things about some of the baddest things on Earth.  Exhaustively researched and impeccably scientific, yet written with a lively lack of earnestness, Oh, Yuck! is an ants to zits encyclopedic compendium covering people, animals, insects, plants, foods, and more. Here are vampire bats, which sip blood and pee at the same time so that they'll always be light enough to fly away; and slime eels, wreathed in mucus and eating fellow fish from the inside out. Oh, Yuck! explains why vomit smells; where dandruff comes from; what pus is all about; and why maggots adore rotting meant. Other features include gross recipes, putrid projects, 10 foods that make you airborne, and more. With hundreds of cartoon illustrations and real-life photographs, Oh, Yuck! is the complete guide to the irresistible--at least to an 8-to-12 year old--underbelly of life.

Kelly Comment:  Are you sensing a pattern here?  I hope so.  The wild child I was is exciting for the wild child waiting to read this. 

Poop Happened!

by Sarah Albee
Walker, 2010
10 and up
Booklist: In an info-dump redolent with Gosh! Yuck! moments, Albee deposits a heaping history of human sanitation—or rather the lack thereof—and its effects. Developing the premise that three of the four means of spreading disease—air, water, touch, and insect bite—can be blamed on bad plumbing, she pumps out a steady stream of comments on the miasmic effects of urbanization, waste disposal, and the roles of (not) bathing in ancient Greece, Rome, medieval Europe (“The Age of Shovelry”), and the “Reeking Renaissance.” She then digs into the gradual adoption of better practices in the nineteenth century in response to recurrent epidemics of cholera and other horrors. The cartoon illustrations feature sludgy green highlights; frequent sidebars offer stomach-churning profiles of relevant “Icky Occupations”; and if systematic scholarship isn’t exactly her fecal—er, focal point (“Sorry about the Eurocentricity thing,” she burbles in the preface), she does close with generalized source notes. A good choice for readers who feel that Susan Goodman’s The Truth about Poop (2004) and Charise Mericle Harper’s Flush! The Scoop on Poop through the Ages (2007) haven’t quite squeezed the last drop out of the topic. Grades 4-6. --John Peters

Kelly Comment:  What can I say?  It’s a fun, interesting book – for me and the kids I write for.  Love it. 

POP!  The Invention of Bubblegum

by Meghan McCarthy
Simon & Schuster, 2010
5 and up
Publisher Description:  Gum. It’s been around for centuries—from the ancient Greeks to the American Indians, everyone’s chewed it. But the best kind of gum—bubble gum!—wasn’t invented until 1928, when an enterprising young accountant at Fleer Gum and Candy used his spare time to experiment with different recipes. Bubble-blowing kids everywhere will be delighted with Megan McCarthy’s entertaining pictures and engaging fun facts as they learn the history behind the pink perfection of Dubble Bubble.

Kelly Comment:  Shhhh…don’t tell anyone, but this book has won plenty of awards.  Reluctant readers just don’t know it.  Sensational, fun, informative book – like all of Meghan’s books.  

Tales of the Cryptids

by Kelly Milner Halls (me)
Millbrook. 2006
9 and up
Publisher Description: Everyone loves the stories of legendary creatures that just might really exist. This book relies on the latest information from cryptozoologists, experts who study these mysterious beings, and the counter-arguments are explored from experts who strongly believe they do not exist. Stories from eyewitnesses are recounted, as well. Included in the book are Bigfoot (Sasquatch), Loch Ness monster, Mokele Mbembe (Africa), Kongamato, Shunka Warak’in, Mapinguari (South America), giant squids, mermaids, coelocanths, and more. An extensive "For Further Investigation" section, offering readers more places to find information, concludes the book.
Kelly Comment:  When I wrote this book, I wanted to prove Bigfoot was fake.  Boy was I surprised to discover there was strong evidence that it might be real.  I offered evidence for and against, and left it for the young readers to decide.

Truth About Poop

by Susan E. Goodman
Puffin,  2007
7 and up
Publisher Description: We call it a waste product, but poop can also be bricks to build a house, fuel to power a trip to Mars, wipes for a baby’s bottom, buttons for your next sweater. Poop? YES! POP! And that’s not all. Birds drop it as bombs. Mole-rats use it as a password. Sharks track their prey with it. People cook with it, sculpt with it, and even use it as a Frisbee! While we politely avoid the subject, amazing things are happening in digestive tracts all over the world. Kids (and adults too!) will be captivated by the astounding facts contained in this fascinating book, featuring hilarious illustrations.

Kelly’s Comment:  Not all kids will love this or other fun books about poop.  And that’s okay.  Those who will love it, will read without even thinking about the fact that they don’t like to read.  

Witches: TheAbsolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem

by Rosalyn Schanzer
National Geographic, 2011
10 and up
Publisher Description: It was January, 1692, and as an icy winter wind shrieked through Salem Village, Massachusetts, two young girls began to twitch and choke and contort their bodies into strange abnormal shapes and speak in words that made no sense. Their family tried every remedy in the book, but nothing worked. Finally a doctor announced his dire diagnosis: The girls were BEWITCHED! And then the accusations began. This book tells the gripping true story of the victims, accused witches, scheming officials, and mass hysteria that turned a mysterious illness afflicting two children into a witch hunt that took 20 lives and ruined hundreds more.

Kelly’s Comment:  Growing up, I loved all things spooky – especially when they were real.  Rosalyn has created a compelling book – a true story that reads like a novel, in the best possible ways.  

More weird books may follow, so keep checking back.  And feel free to email me at  if you have books you'd like to add to the list.   I'd love to hear from you! 

Kelly Milner Halls

Kelly's Curiosities for MSN


Karen Romano Young said...

What a weird, whacky list. May I add The Beginner's Guide to Animal Autopsy by Steve Parker, with illustrations by Rob Stone?

Whoot! Very weird!

Unknown said...

Fabulous list. I'd also like to add Rebecca Johnson's "Zombie Makers:True Stories of Nature's Undead. Here's a link for more: