In Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices by Ralph Fletcher, the author talks about how the female-dominated landscape of elementary school has created a culture clash. Female teachers often (not always, it is certainly getting better as the younger generation become teachers) have a very particular way they like things, and that often clashes with the types of humor that appeal to boys (and many, many girls as well). It doesn’t mean either “side” is wrong, but rather that we need to meet our students on their terms. If you want someone to read & write, you can’t just let them read books that you like or write in a way that pleases you. The job is to teach them the skills and let them find their own voice & opinion. This means being open to horror, science fiction, and toilet humor. But, of course, it must remain appropriate for the school setting. Still, these books would be fantastic ways to get kids excited about reading.
In my last year of teaching, I encountered a rather chilling instance of teachers letting their personal discomfort take knowledge away from students. An innocuous illustration of the muscular system was deemed “too inappropriate” for students in 3rd grade. The majority of teachers chose to leave it out of the lesson. I was shocked & angered because the job of the teacher is not to shape children to have the same perspective as them but to ensure they have all the necessary information to lead a good life. Understanding how our bodies work is not inappropriate; they are our own bodies, for god’s sake! That incident has stuck with me as a reminder of how troubling things are in American public education right now.
Poop (Cameron Kids)
Written by Poppy Champignon
Illustrated by Mark Hoffmann
For ages: 3-7
This is a call & response book focused on a raccoon mistaking things for poop. The raccoon calls it “poop,” and his mouse friend corrects him, with the objects all being things that rhyme with the word “poop.” Our raccoon buddy keeps saying the word louder & louder, causing the mouse to get increasingly annoyed with each iteration. Mark Hoffman’s cheery, pastel illustrations help underline who this book is intended for: our littlest readers, just beginning to make sense of words. This kind of book will be a child’s favorite, letting them think they are getting away with something naughty.
I Need a New Butt! (Dover Publications)
Written by Dawn McMillan
Illustrated by Ross Kinnaird
For ages: 3-7
One day a boy discovers a problem; his butt has a crack! He’ll need to get a replacement. But what sort of butt would be best, he wonders? An armor-plated booty? A robo-butt? Rocket buttocks? The message here is about accepting yourself as you are and not getting caught up in perceived flaws. But it would also make a great read-aloud with the right reader. There’s a video of a Scottish granny reading this book to her grandchild on YouTube that showcases just how great these silly, gross books can be. I came across reviews from some parents caught up in the current reactionary frenzy over books who claimed this book “sexualized” children. I think sharing these thoughts reveals much more about what is happening in these parents’ heads than what is in the books.
Poo! Is That You? (Macmillan Children’s Books)
Written by Clare Helen Welsh
Illustrated by Nicola O’Byrne
For ages: 3-7
Lemur is on vacation in the Amazon rainforest, far from his native Madagascar. A disgusting smell wafts his way as he’s about to nap in a comfy tree. Thus begins an exploration of the rainforest and its many creatures. On the surface, this is a gross book, but it is also a way to introduce children to the diversity of life in one of the most fascinating biomes on our planet. By the end of this book, children will learn about sloths, anteaters, stink bugs, and more. I even learned about some animals I’d never heard of before. Digestion & waste are a natural part of life, and this book shows how an animal’s poop is one way to learn more about their diet & life cycle. It’s also an entertaining, silly read.
I Spy – Eww Gross! (Webber Books)
Written & Illustrated by Webber Books staff
For ages: 3-7
I just discovered that there is a whole series of I Spy books aimed at younger kids. The images are not quite as cluttered as the traditional books, and these are illustrations rather than photographs. This way, it is easier for our youngest readers to spot what they are looking for. I know from experience in the classroom that I Spy books are magnets for kids. If you have reluctant readers in the classroom or at home, think about how they would respond to being given this particular book. I imagine you would have a kid laughing and wholly locked into this book.
No One Likes a Fart (Penguin Workshop)
Written by Zoe Foster Blake
Illustrated by Adam Nickel
For ages: 4-8
It’s always Dad, isn’t it? In this story, Dad lets a toot slip “silently, invisibly, when no one was paying attention,” as the book tells us. The family catches a whiff and lets their disgust be known. That hurts little Fart’s feelings, who decides it must be time to leave if he’s not wanted. He drifts to another room, where the dog gets the blame. A mother out with her baby mistakenly believes she has a full diaper to deal with when poor little Fart drifts by. In setting after setting, people get upset and think that others are responsible for the odor. Eventually, Fart meets some stinky smells in a dumpster behind a cafe and finally finds his people. This is a definite read-aloud, with the reader playing things very straight, voicing sympathy for the poor little Fart.
Does It Fart? (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Written by Nick Caruso & Dani Rabaiotti
Illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
For ages: 4-8
Caruso & Rabaiotti have put together a book of seemingly endless facts about the farting habits of the animal kingdom that will rope in kids who love having silly facts to share. For example, have you ever wondered which animals fart? And then, for the ones that do, what do those farts smell like? Do spiders & octopuses Fart? You’re going to know those answers after reading this one. Students will learn which animal has the definitive stinkiest Fart and which are known to fart the most. They will even learn the secret of an animal that uses its farts to communicate with others in its environment. An essential reference book that should be in every elementary classroom and library.
Your Amazing Digestion from Mouth through Intestine (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
Written by Joanne Settl
Illustrated by Steve Björkman
For ages: 7-10
There’s this wonderful book about the science of our digestive system for slightly older children. It’s not just a boring science textbook; it is a story told in rhyme, starting with a slice of pizza. There is plenty of extra information included, like why we sweat when we eat spicy food or why our urine often comes out yellow. Kids will learn about farts, burps, saliva, and why garlic breath is so hard to get rid of. The various organs in the system have their purposes explained, including the not-talked-about-enough liver. This one has an excellent full glossary in the back, plus a bibliography of tons of other books & resources to keep students learning.