Let’s all take a second to admit that children’s books are weird. Remember when the mother in Love You Forever drives to her son’s house at night and climbs through his window to declare her love to him? Or how about the classic I Wish Daddy Didn’t Drink So Much? Even the children’s books you’ve always loved can start to seem strange if you think about them too much. (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: childhood dream world or drug-induced coma?)
It makes sense, then, that many of the authors of your favorite kids’ books also published other work that was definitely not the type of literature your parents would have approved of:
1. Stan and Jan Berenstain
You know them as: The duo behind the adorable bear series that taught you important life lessons, like not to be a bully.
But they also wrote: Collections of very different cartoons with the title Lover Boy (Bedside Lover Boy, Office Lover Boy, etc.). The couple met while studying at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts and then worked as a cartooning duo before publishing the Berenstain Bears series. The first Lover Boy collection was published in 1958, and The Berenstain Bears followed four years later, in 1962, as an effort to create a new series that the Berenstain’s two sons, who were big Dr. Seuss fans, could read — since, you know, Lover Boy isn’t exactly bedtime story material.
2. Dr. Seuss
You know him as: The man who rolled in his grave when Mike Myers starred in an adaption of his work.
But he also wrote: The Pocket Book of Boners — though it’s not what you think. Boner means blooper, you guys. Stop being gross.
3. Judith Viorst
You know her as: The author of the ultimate validation of every bad mood you’ve ever been in.
But she also wrote: Politically correct footnotes to the most famous ode to Christmas ever. Her 1977 tongue-in-cheek adaptation, unlike her Alexander books, is not for children (even liberated ones).
4. Roald Dahl
You know him as: The author of children’s books that made you thankful that your family was at least semi-normal.
But he also wrote: A novel for adults called My Uncle Oswald, which was published in 1979. The book tells the story of Uncle Oswald and Yasmin Howcomely, who use the aphrodisian Sudanese Blister Beetle to seduce famous men and steal their semen. Dahl was notoriously vulgar, even in his children’s writing (he snuck penises into Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), but My Uncle Oswald takes his dirty mind to a whole other level.
5. C. S. Lewis
You know him as: Your favorite chronicler of Narnia.
But he also wrote: A subtly Christian sci-fi series, the first book of which was published in 1938. In it, Lewis invented words and creatures, like the “sorns,” humanoids with light feathers and hands with seven fingers, and though there might seem to be nothing Christian about the sorns, even Lewis’s science fiction work had religious themes. Lewis himself admitted, “Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under the cover of romance without their knowing it.”
6. Shel Silverstein
You know him as: The man who just wouldn’t give that poor tree a freakin’ break.
But he also wrote: A series of plays you wouldn’t want your children seeing, which were first produced in 2001 by the Atlantic Theater Company under the title An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein. Skits featured included “Buy One, Get One Free,” which starred two prostitutes trying to give a man a good deal. A sample of some of the charming lines composed by Silverstein: “Okay then — kiss my knee … you S.O.B / And take your dollar 23 / And your teenie dick down to Avenue B / And find yourself some chimpanzee / With a crack-crazed pimp and some bad V.D. / And I hope she gives you H.I.V. / And puts your motherfuckin’ ass in the cem-e-tery.” Yep, there’s that rhyming we all knew and loved as children.
7. L. Frank Baum
You know him for: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
But he also wrote: John Dough and the Cherub, which is basically The Wizard of Oz on acid. Published in 1906, John Dough is a children’s book about a living gingerbread man and his friend Chick the Cherub and their adventures on the Isle of Preex, where they encounter the “Freaks of Preex”: the King of the Fairy Beavers, a female executioner and a two-legged horse, among others. John Dough was so widely read when it came out that its publisher held a contest asking children to make a case for Chick the Cherub’s gender, which just makes it seem like everyone in 1906 was dropping acid.
8. William Steig
You know him as: The author and illustrator of Shrek. (What is it with children’s adaptations and Mike Myers?)
But he also wrote: A book of “symbolic drawings” with characters like kleptomaniacs and “one who would like to be left alone.” Steig’s cartoons were called “too personal and not funny enough” by The New Yorker but were later published in a 1939 collection called About People and the subsequent The Lonely Ones (1942) and All Embarrassed (1944).
Have you read any of these lesser-known literary accomplishments from the writers you knew and loved as a child? Or are there any other dirty or just plain weird novels that are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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