The best nonsense in children’s books

Who am I?

I am the Illustrator of 45 books for kids, 9 of which I authored as well. I have always been attracted to joyful nonsense. I am drawn to books and writings that turn norms on their heads. From the time I was super young, my favorite poem has been Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” with its delightful slithy toves gyring and gimbling in the wabe. In fact, of the books I’ve written to date, every one has had some kind of nonsensical element to it.

I wrote...

The Hiccupotamus

By Aaron Zenz,

Book cover of The Hiccupotamus

What is my book about?

On the surface the book is about a hippo with hiccups and the disasters caused by such a large creature’s ailment. But really it is about nonsense: vivid pink trees and yellow elephants, medical cures that involve licorice and buffaloes, and delicious nonsense words. There was a hippopotamus / Who hiccupped quite a-lot-amus / And every time he got'emus / He'd fall upon his bottomus.

I really didn’t have any particular interest in writing a story about an animal who can’t control his bodily functions. But… the chance to craft and then read words like “bottomus,” “yellowphant” “cementipede,” and “dental flosserous”?  Sign me up!  It’s all about the nonsense.

The books I picked & why

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Du Iz Tak?

By Carson Ellis,

Book cover of Du Iz Tak?

Why this book?

This gorgeous book is set like a stage and populated with a variety of bugs who speak a language invented by the author. Within the short space between the covers, our cast experiences the full gamut of life, death, villainy, victory, nature, building, community, beauty, growth, decay, loss, hope, and transformation – an amazing feat! While the invented language is full of delightfully silly words, every sentence can be accurately decoded by tracking how individual words and phrases are reused and by looking for context clues. A sampling of the nonsense you’ll find: “Du kimma plonk?” “Iz unk gladenboot.” “Booby voobeck!”

There's a Wocket in My Pocket!

By Dr. Seuss,

Book cover of There's a Wocket in My Pocket!

Why this book?

The works of Dr. Seuss are known for their imaginative creatures, landscapes, and language. Why, his name has even led to the creation of the adjective “Seussian” to describe something playful, inventive, fantastical, or whimsical. Possibly the most purely Seussian Seuss is “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket” which consists solely of imaginary creatures, rhyming nonsense, and nothing else getting in the way. Some of the great words you’ll encounter: Wasket, Woset, Bofa, Yottle, and Nooth Grush


By Bruce Degen,

Book cover of Jamberry

Why this book?

The catchy sing-song rhyming text is a delight for both tongue and ear. Packed with alliteration, consonance, and nonsensical compound words, this book is a super fun read-aloud. The artwork is just as wild and surreal as the text, showcasing swaying toast trees, tumbling blueberry waterfalls, and bursting strawberry fireworks. Here are some of my favorite nonsense words found inside: Jamble, Canoeberry, Boomberry, Razzamatazzberry, Clickety-clackberry

Good Zap, Little Grog!

By Sarah Wilson, Susan Meddaugh (illustrator),

Book cover of Good Zap, Little Grog!

Why this book?

A little cave boy from another world hops through his day while encountering bizarre-looking flora and fauna with equally funny names. He is greeted in the morning, afternoon, and night with a friendly “Zoodle Oop” “Yoop Dooz” and “Good Zap.” The pages blend a perfect mixture of alien and familiar. Give the book a whirl and you’ll be enjoying gems like these: “The ooglets are tuzzling…” “…all the blue zamblots are covered in flumms,” “A tiny paroobie is churling ‘Zlink-zlink!’”

The Longest Letsgoboy

By Derick Wilder, Catia Chien (illustrator),

Book cover of The Longest Letsgoboy

Why this book?

One might assume that nonsense words are inherently bound to the realms of wackiness and humor. Not so. Here is a book that is poignant, tender, sincere, and full of heart. An old faithful dog nears his final hours with his young owner and narrates the sights and sounds of his last day from his own perspective using his own unique words for things. Trees are tallsticks, memories are waybacks, and the child is his foreverfriend. The illustrations are soft, warm, and full of color. The pictures serve to ground and comfort, contrasting (and therefore balancing) the unusual words we hear and unfamiliar experience the characters are slowly approaching. Some made-up words I love: Gurgleburble, Diggiedirt, Fuzzhoppers, Rumbledrumming.

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