Subversive Picture Books (Part 2)- Nakeyness!

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.

"and ONE naked baby goes back in the bath!"
 (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.   

"The sneaky cat pounced on an unsuspecting group of squirrels and gave them all wedgies -- not an easy thing to do, because generally squirrels do not wear underpants"
(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.

"It may help to have on pajamas."
(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.


"I forgot!"
(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.

*And you shared!!! I was oh so negligent in skipping these book on the original post.*

"Eating a cookie totally and completely naked!"
(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? 


  1. C'mon Lauri - you've gotta add to the line up!

    1. lol, Cathy! Of course :) I think the thing here is that this is "innocent" nudity and playing with this stuff. This is not something that's meant to be dirty or inappropriate, but there are people who see EVERYthing as inappropriate. Now, I happen to be a pretty conservative person and see many things as inappropriate that a LOT of people see as "just fine" in today's society, so me saying this really says something about how ridiculous people can be! lol I mean, those are the type people I would suspect would call Animal Rights knowing that I'm sitting here waiting for the annoying fly in my room to light on something so I can WHACK it! lol

    2. I know, I know! I am so embarrassed to admit I haven't read it yet. It's not at my library but I just placed a hold on it to get it from another. I'll rectify this dreadful situation!! :)

      (Donna - I won't tell you that I'm president of the local fly preservation society, but please be kind to Fly Guys! jk)

  2. And of course, let's not forget the ever-controversial Maurice Sendak classic In the Night Kitchen, which I happen to love.

    1. I'm dying because I Naked! and In the Night Kitchen on the short list of books I needed to read before putting up the post and I didn't. Wow, you guys are good. I did look at it online, and there's definitely a lot happening in there. Honest reaction: I found myself questioning whether I was cool enough to expose my little girls to the book - though I felt I wouldn't have any hesitance if I had a son. It's good to see people who have what you have and are comfortable having it. My kids run around plenty saying "boys have weens!" (I don't remember how this term developed in our household, but it's stuck). I've got to read it cover to cover now!

  3. And there's Estelle Takes a Bath.

    1. Oh this one sounds interesting. Adding to my Goodreads, so I can see how I feel about an adult running around naked in a picture book.

  4. Should have read One Naked Baby earlier. I always thought it was my fault somehow that the kids enjoyed running around clothes-free. (Thankfully, they changed their ways. Now, they're all about picking their own outfits.)

    1. Aha! RELATABLE is such a critical element in picture books which work. And this applies both for kids and their elders:) You should just be proud you raised babies comfortable with their bodies and hope you can keep it that way.

  5. Love this post, Lauri! My eldest son's favorite picture book is Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London. It goes well with your nakeyness theme. Here's an excerpt: Froggy looked down. "Oops!" cried Froggy. "I forgot to put on my pants!" Oh, you just have to read it. The excerpt doesn't do it justice.

    1. I have to request that one at the library too! I once wore two different shoes to work, but I'm pretty glad I never forgot pants :)


Post a Comment

**All comments are moderated to avoid attacks by pesky pirates and roving dragons!**