Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Books to Make Kids Laugh

The Atlantic recently put out an interview with B. J. Novak about his hilarious children's book, The Book with No Pictures. While I haven't been able to read it yet, (books in English can be tricky to get in hand in this country) the reviews from many sources have me confident I will love it. The humor of the book seems to come from giving children the power to get adults to read to them, even reading silly nonsense words or funny phrases, such as "I am a monkey. I am a robot monkey." What seems most interesting to me is how much work was put into the typography and font size and page layout to help the lay reader with comic delivery. For example, the font for the words "ROBOT MONKEY" looks all digital and robotic, encouraging the adult reading to use a "robot voice."

I had already been thinking of making another big list of kids books (in celebration of my friends everywhere having babies!), so here is a list of books that make kids laugh. Their parents, too.

Let's start with Mo Willems. This man used to write for Sesame Street back when the show was really good, and is now famous for his hilarious kids books. I particularly like the Elephant and Piggie books (you'll find them in the Early Readers section), Knuffle BunnyGoldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, and Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. The humor of his books typically comes from his understanding of the extremes of human emotion in all its quirks and absurdities. The illustrations are also rock solid, and even the early reader structure of the Elephant and Piggie books (simple words, limited vocabulary, extensive repetition) is used for comic effect, as the two characters get more and more anxious or excited or sad. We Are in A Book even has a little inside joke for the readers going through for second time in a row.

Jon Scieszka (along with Lane Smith as illustrator and Molly Leach as the brilliant but under-recognized designer) makes books that are hilarious in an entirely different way from Mo Willems. Scieszka's humor is mostly for a bit older kids than Mo Willems: many of his stories including those in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, are spoofs off of well known fairy tales, so if you don't know the story of the Gingerbread Man, you won't necessarily find it as funny as you could. His books are wacky and rule bending (with jokes on the end papers, the ISBN code, and even the author bio), but in as much as they are irreverent they are also very intelligently put together. Squids will be Squids is in the style of Aesop's Fables, and Math Curse laughs at the silly ways in which people put together math problems for kids, but also shows respect for the honest struggle of figuring out the hows and which ways of numbers.

Some authors that made me laugh as a kid were Steven Kellogg and James Marshall and Shel Silverstein. What I loved best about Steven Kellogg were the tiny details in his wild illustrations. Not only would the pictures be giant mishmashes of unexpected action, but you could see the tiny writing on the advertisements on the walls in the background. My favorite stories of his are Ralph's Secret Weapon (where a kid with a bassoon and a cake defeats a sea monster), The Three Pigs, and Pinkerton, Behave! 

While Kellogg's illustrations are notable for how much he includes, James Marshall's craft shines in how little he needs to put on the page (in words or pictures) to tell incredibly funny and lovable stories. You cannot go wrong with the George and Martha books, but I am also very fond of his Fairy tale/Folk tale retellings.

Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic kept my brother and me giggling for years, but A Giraffe and a Half was the one we wanted Mom to read out loud to us. It's a tongue twister and full of ridiculous combinations of roses and noses, gluey shoes, trunks filled with skunks and all manner of oddities.

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (by Audrey and Don Wood) is a silly book with silly illustrations of a king who refuses to leave his bathtub. All the courtiers (in their hilarious fluffy costumes) attempt to make him leave with enticements of lunch, or dancing, or fishing, but only the little page boy can actually get him out of the bubbles.

The Monster at the End of this Book is the only book that a dear friend of mine would take with her when she went babysitting. It was all she needed because whatever children she was reading to, they'd just want to hear this one again and again. Like The Stinky Cheese Man and The Book with No Pictures, it uses the book itself as a tool for comedy, as Grover tries to get his readers to stop turning the pages so that they can continue to avoid the dreaded monster at the end of the book.

Bink and Golly are a pair of characters who now have three books full of the ups and downs of their friendship. They remind me of Calvin and Hobbes—their banter and their antics, even the illustration style, and they are outrageously funny. Although they do not technically qualify as "I can read" books (because of their extensive vocabulary and creative use of sentence structure,) these picture book/comic book mashups are great for kids starting to read on their own.

Those are some of my favorite funny books and authors for kids. What are some of yours?


  1. And in a concise list for easy printing and taking to a library:
    Novak, B. J. - The Book with No Pictures
    Willems, Mo - There is a Bird on Your Head, We Are in a Book, Knuffle Bunny, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed (among others)
    Scieszka, Jon - The Stinky Cheese Man, Math Curse, Squids will be Squids
    Kellogg, Steven - Ralph's Secret Weapon, The Three Pigs, Pinkerton Behave
    Marshall, James - George and Martha, Little Red Riding Hood, (also the other fairy tales)
    Silverstien, Shel - Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, A Giraffe and a Half
    Wood, Audrey and Don - King Bidgood's in the Bathtub
    Stone, Jon - The Monster at the End of This Book
    DiCamillo, Kate - Bink and Gollie

  2. Thanks, Clara,
    Maybe I'll have funny books be my theme for reading for Storytime at the library next Tuesday!
    Love always,

  3. You are the first person who didn't live in Newtown as a child who knows of Steven Kellogg I've ever met! Every summer, he held a big event at the town library, signing books and posters.
    Having stage managed a production of The Stinky Cheese Man, I can verify that the stories are hilarious if one knows the original plots but still pretty amusing on their own values.

  4. I and my friends all loved Steven Kellogg! And we talked about him in Children's Lit in college too! Wish I could have been at one of those events, though. They sound great!


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