Gift Guide: 2016’s Best “Alternative” Adult Coloring Books

Adult coloring books. That’s right: last year’s big gift trend is still going strong. But just looking at the sheer wall of coloring book titles can get overwhelming. How do you pick one? Aren’t they all the same, really? In my experience, a lot of them are. Like any pleasure worth the emotional investment to cross the threshold into guilty pleasure, you have to dig in to find the really good stuff. How do you do that? You ask an expert. As the inventory manager for this section, I see a lot of adult coloring books, and I can tell you with certainty that not all coloring books are created equal. If you’re looking for a gift (or to treat yo’self) here are my nine favorite alternative adult coloring books.

What makes an adult coloring book an “alternative” coloring book? It matches the completely arbitrary criteria I just made up. Basically, if it gets a second glance from me, it gets a pass. It can’t have the words “mandala,” “patterns,” “peace,” or “nature,” or “garden” in the title. (Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of really good coloring books with those in the titles–and I definitely have recommendations for the best of that category as well–but they tend to blend together for me).

1. The Post-Structuralist Vulva Coloring Book

Let’s belly flop right into the deep end, shall we? This coloring book will strip away your preconceived notions of gender: you very well can’t define gender by biological features when literally everything has a vulva, can you? By overwhelming your visual landscape with vulvas*, this coloring book challenges you to look critically at the gendered messages hidden in the images you see everyday, and question how these images reinforce oppressive social constructs. Vulvas are not mysterious. Vulvas are everywhere.

2. Failure is Always an Option: Negativity to Color and Display

Let’s face it, not everything in life is beautiful. Not all of us give a damn about inner peace, love, nature, or magic. Embrace your inner cynic by coloring 30 helpful mantras and reminders that lowering your expectations is a perfectly adequate response to the overwhelming nature of work/society/family/yourself.

3. F*ck Off I’m Coloring: Unwind with 50 Obnoxiously Fun Swear Word Coloring Pages

This coloring book is a confluence of two cathartic activities: being creative and swearing. Strangely enough, these two activities might be healthy to perform together. Studies show that swearing helps you to be more emotionally expressive**. And coloring is shown to be calming. Who said emotional language can’t be beautiful? (Reminder: please swear and color responsibly. Saying swear words is certainly cathartic, but hearing swear words can be harmful, particularly if those words are pejoratives. Fortunately, those words aren’t in this book.)

4. To the Moon: the Tallest Coloring Book in the World and To the Ocean Deep: The Longest Coloring Book in the World

Who needs a book when you can color a 15-foot fold out poster? Completion is the name of the game here: rather than normal-size pages that contain individual images that you can color in an evening or two, these two “books” contain only one huge image. In To the Moon, take a trip into the outer space, starting at your house and flying past space ports, witches, and flying elephants! To the Ocean Deep invites you to dive down to the most mysterious parts of our world, starting on the surface in a boat and swimming past sharks, mermaids, sea dragons, and robots! These are great for both children and adults to enjoy on family nights together!

5. Mystic Cats In Secret Places: A Cat Lover’s Coloring Book

Cat-lovers know that felines are creatures that have dual-citizenship to our world and Some Other Place. They are graceful. They are enigmatic. They are independent. They bury their own poop. This absolutely stunning coloring book illustrates the secret lives of our furry friends in arcane and whimsical places…definitely not in that empty shopping bag. A must have for all cat-lovers!

6. The Wonderful Insect Coloring Book

I lied a little when I said I wouldn’t focus on nature. This coloring book is dedicated to the largest animal population in the world: insects! With 64 beautifully hand drawn illustrations by biologist Emma Hulten, you can explore insects from all corners of the globe. Personally, I am in constant awe of the work that insects do for the planet, and I hope that this coloring book will make people more aware of the beauty behind these workhorses of our world.

7. Pop Manga Coloring Book: A Surreal Journey Through a Cute, Curious, Bizarre, and Beautiful World

Speaking of strange beauty, allow me to introduce you to the wonderous world of Camilla D’Errico, an Italian-Canadian artist who is making waves with her intersection between surrealism and pop manga styles. By coloring in her styles, you can choose the emotions you want these illustrations to convey. Makes a great gift for teens interested in pop manga styles (and a primer for surrealist imagery as well). Art is important.

8. The Official Bob’s Burger’s Coloring Book

And while we’re on the subject of pop culture, prepare to have your heart poop its pants: Bob’s Burgers has a coloring book! With coloring and activities, this is a great gift for the smart, strong, sensual Belcher in your life. Use a marker because These Collards Don’t Run.

9. Jean Cocteau Coloring Book

Austin is a town that is not short of hipster film lovers. I live with one myself. This book features the colorful, original avant-garde drawings from classic French filmmaker Jean Cocteau, director of La Belle et la Bête (1946) and Orpheus (1948). Includes a full color print of the poster from La Belle et la Bête and various doodles of early 20th century Parisian life.


*My spellcheck wants me to know that the plural of “vulva” is “vulvae.” I thought you should know as well.

**For more on this topic, What the F?: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin K. Bergen.

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