We are talking subversive books this month, and today I want to cover the oh-so-shameful topic of nudity in picture books. GASP! Since nudity has caused books to be banned, it's appropriate to consider in a subversive light.
I'm going to start with the blatant books which use NAKED right in the title.
"They brought Wilbur to a giant portrait of Grand-pah, the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever."
(Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed, by Mo Willems)
Please use your best movie commercial voice for the following: "In a world where everyone is naked, one naked mole rat dares to wear clothes." Mo turns the tables on us. He makes us feel uncomfortable not by the nudity, but by the un-nudity. And in doing so he weaves a lovely tale of being yourself.
(One Naked Baby, by Maggie Smith)
This book has been a staple in our house for six years, because it made my kids (who are champion streakers) laugh and it made me feel like a normal mom. I understood what it was like to chase a wet streak down the hall only to have that same baby roll around in a muddy puddle within hours. Plus, it has counting to ten and back, exploring the outdoors, and just enjoying life on every page.
(Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door, by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri)
This book could get attacked by a critique group for many reasons.
"The MC is named Mr. Fookwire- have you read that out loud?"
"There's a lot of violence."
"There's only adults and animals."
But I want to focus on the most disturbing part. I have been haunted by the image of squirrel wedgies on page 22. I've found myself asking, "Does the squirrel wedgie move the story line along?" I've also found myself asking, "Why can I not stop staring at these squirrel buttcheeks??" But it is relevant to the story, because a wedgie so perfectly establishes the pain of the squirrels and the character of the mean bully cat Muffins.
(Stars, by Mary Lyn Ray and Marla Frazee)
Oh you didn't see this one coming! But this gorgeous, thought-provoking, heart-warming picture book holds a secret on page 25. Yes, there is one boy with his jammies not quite on. My kids can find a butt from a mile away, so this is obviously the best part of the book. Do you need a butt? No. Is a butt-giggle a nice bit of comic relief after thinking about days when you don't feel shiny like a star? Yes, it is. And when it comes to including something relatable, why not a tushie? We all have them.
(David Gets in Trouble, by David Shannon)
David Shannon doesn’t wait so long - by page 9, poor David is headed for school in his tighty whities. More pictures of David's wrong-doings fill every page. Even I felt a little unsure reading this to my first child. Do I want her to see cat-tail-pulling and funny-face-at-the-wrong-time-making? And what is wrong with my spawn that she is laughing at every page? But if we didn't go on a naughty ride with David, we wouldn't so appreciate the "I'm Sorry" spread at the end.
Yes, all of these books have a little bit of nudity, but they all make it necessary to the story or the experience of the book. If you have other favorite books which fit here, please share them in the comments.
(Naked!, by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi)
It's fun to celebrate being naked and having a good run around the house. But Black also warns us of the danger of nakedness - getting cold. Ridpath Ohi does an expert job of "keeping it vague." It's clear the boy is naked, but you never see any naked parts - not even a butt cheek.
"And fell through the dark, out of his clothes."
(In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak)
I can't lie: a lot of Sendak books scare the doody out of me. The thought of nearly being baked alive definitely scares the doody out of me. Thankfully Mickey is resourceful enough to save the cake and save his hide. Speaking of his hide, we see a lot of it! Many illustrators use a well-turned body of a well-placed prop to hide the goods, but not Sendak who gives a full frontal 4 times. I think it's relevant to read this 1970 book in context of the streaking craze which began in the late 60s. Are we less free now than we were then?