Funny books for kids: a few favorites

Funny books for kids: picture book hilarity

Funny books for kids are my favorite kind of children’s books–of course, since I attempt to write them myself.  I love funny anything–I’m easily amused. I’m less amused when things are trying too hard to be funny. One bugaboo for me in humorous picture books are pointlessly silly names. A place named Silly Town does not make the town silly. But if you thought of a silly made-up word, like Rackamooguchaville, that could be funny. Sometimes you can use “on the nose” names in an ironic sense, as in TV-commercial characters “Captain Obvious” or “Interrupting Chicken.” Those are funny because of their unexpectedness and the way they make us anticipate funny behavior on the part of the character. They are ironic.

Unlike adults, children don’t get irony, so where does the humor come from? Of course, one could write a dissertation on the topic, but here are few thoughts: often, the laughs come from knowing more than the main character, or being smarter than the main character, or seeing a bully get outsmarted. Kids have a strong sense of justice. And they also like reading about kids who get away with things.

Of course, there are lots of good funny books for children to read, some of them recent, but these are just a handful that have reliably tickled my humor bone over the years.

funny books for kids

Silly Tilly by Eileen Spinelli and David Slonim

Actually, one of the really laugh-out-loud books I can think of has “Silly” in the name, Silly Tilly by Eileen Spinelli, who’s one of my favorite picture book writers. Silly Tilly is not only hilarious, but it has heart. It’s the story of a goofy goose whose antics, which include wearing a pancake for a hat, sitting on a birthday cake, and kissing a fish, annoy her farm-mates so much they ask her to leave. But then, they miss her. David Slonim’s soft, unusual color palette and realism remind me of Al Jaffee. This funny rhyming picture book makes me crack up every time I read it!

 

The Wolf Who Cried Boy is a howl. The illustrations alone are enough to bring on joyous glee. To tell the truth, I have no idea if kids find it as funny as I do. I should try reading it to some. Again, the illustrations have an irreverent, Mad magazine vibe. This fractured fairy tale turns the traditional one on its head–a young wolf is interested in feasting on boy, but his parents tell him boys are hard to come by. The burgeoning prankster keeps making up stories about boy sightings, til a troupe of Boy Scouts appear. The story and art both have a real edge and lots of tension, which makes it a memorable funny book for kids. See the video at the end of the post.

funny books for kids

No, David! by David Shannon

No, David! by David Shannon has hardly any text, but the expressionistic paintings capture the unsayable. The cheeky character is truly out there, and the way the images capture the moment AFTER he’s completed his latest transgression is what makes the deadpan humor so successful.

 

 

 

funny picture books

Hoover’s Bride, by David Small

Hoover’s Bride by David Small
When I first read this I thought maybe this funny picture book was better for older kids, because of the longish lines of rhyming text and the fact that it’s a love story between a man and a vacuum cleaner (brand name and all). It seems to be a parody of consumerism. But hey, that’s exactly what little kids need.

 

 

Margie Palatini’s Zoom Broom, or just about any of her books. She’s one of the most reliable humorous authors around. She uses amazing wordplay, with way more zingers than the Dowager Empress in Downton Abbey. I’m glad she did a lot of books back when it was okay to write longer picture books, because I can’t get enough of her words.

Likewise, anything illustrated by James Marshall. I’ve posted a readaloud to Harry Allard’s Miss Nelson is Missing over here. Marshall’s illustrations are so comical. The story is riotous, too. The subtlety is remarkable.

The Wolf’s Chicken Stew by Keiko Kasza–I’ve got wolves on the brain today. This is just a sweet, simple story that has stuck with me for years. The art is beautiful, and the characters, while more or less stock (groan), project warmth. It’s short, but long enough to enjoy the words. The only malice comes from the wolf being hungry and trying to get more mileage out of his dinner. I love how understated the whole thing is.

 

funny poetry books for kids

Falling for Rapunzel, by Leah Wilcox and Lydia Monk

Falling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, illustrated by Lynda Monk. This is another fractured fairy tale, this time taking on Rapunzel. She’s self-absorbed and not listening carefully to her suitor, who’s asking for her hair. She’s like Amelia Bedelia, but she’s not sympathetic and well-meaning like Bedelia. In this case you’re laughing AT Rapunzel, it’s a cautionary tale, arguably feminist, because the ditz doesn’t get the prince. In the end, everyone’s happy. The rhymes won’t fail to get guffaws.

 

As you can see, even in picture books, funny books for kids can be deep, they can have social commentary, they can be wacky or subtle, they can be subversive in the best way, questioning or upturning the order of things. These books are not like broad sketch comedy, they’re about characters. Because they’re picture books, they can go further with absurdity. It was interesting for me to make this list, because I realize these funny books for kids have influenced me not only in what I write and draw, but how I think.

If you’re reading this, can you think of some funny books that have stuck with you and think of why? I’d like to hear about them in the comments.

Goodreads list of funny books for kids:

 

 

 

Here’s a YouTube readaloud of The Wolf Who Cried Boy. (it’s not the best audio, but you can see the art well)

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Free online books for kids: Web site reviews

Free online books for kids

Free online books for kids are vital to me as a children’s writer to help me study my craft. Indeed, they are as necessary as running water–well okay, maybe that’s going too far.

The best sites that I’ve found in my never-ending quest are the ones with has a large selection that includes both contemporary and older books. The books have to be of high quality, of course, recognized and used in school and public libraries, and at this point in history, most of quality books are or were issued in print, though high-quality ebooks only are a fast-growing industry. Though I will concentrate on free picture books, some sites also have easy readers, chapter books, audio books, and graphic novels. They don’t seem to have regular kids’ novels, though libraries and online stores would have ones in ebook format.

Some of these free sites allow downloading; others do streaming.

TUMBLEBOOKS

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Ace Lacewing has been seen on Tumblebooks, sleuthing for free reads!

The public library has lots of free online kids’ books available at the drop of a library card. You may have to download epub or other software to read them. Tumblebooks is a large site with many picture books, easy readers, chapter books, graphic novels, audio books, and educational videos that is accessible for free from many school and library sites. The books are of very high quality, often award winners. Most were print books originally; perhaps some were always ebooks, I’m not sure, but they’ve got authors such as Robert Munsch. They get a bit of added animation and music. Subscribing on your own is very expensive (though cheaper than buying the enormous amount of material). You can “play” books automatically or manually. Rating: Excellent

GPBKIDS

freeonlinekidsbooksGpbkids.org is the Georgia Public Broadcasting Web site. It’s chockfull of excellent, free online books for kids from classics to contemporary, plus lots of other digital children’s content from PBS. Their picture book page has books that are favorites of both kids and librarians, such as Miss Twiggley’s Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox, and Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey. These are actually readalouds, with videotaped readings of prestigious people reading to kids in a library, but unlike on YouTube, they zoom in on the books so you can read along. The production values are very high. The one minor complaint that I have is that the books are on this carousel widget (pictured) and it’s a bit hard to grab the one you want. Keeps your reflexes sharp. This excellent source of free online kids’ books is well worth the trouble, though. Rating: Excellent

STORYLINE ONLINE
Storylineonline has wonderful picture books that were/are also print books read by actors and others. Who wouldn’t want to hear Al Gore read Goodnight, Irene, by William Steig? It also has Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion. Bookmark this site! Rating: Excellent

INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Indy Library (not to be confused with indie bookstores) has excellent books well-produced on video. It’s simple to use, and doesn’t require a library card or a login. Me like! The site is a gem for those looking for free online books for kids and well worth exploring beyond that one page. Rating: Excellent

ONE MORE STORY
One More Story has been around for a long time. It’s got excellent picture books and professional production. You just get one free book, but hey, you’ve probably got more than one device and more than one email addy. Also, you can send one free one, so you can send that to yourself, bringing it up to two awesome picture books. One More Story has subscriptions for schools and libraries and a free one for hospitals, as well as an affordable paid “home” subscription. Rating: Good (excellent books, but not a lot of “free”)

 

freeonlinebooksforkids

Grownups love free online books for kids!

 

NOTE: I do encourage buying books whenever possible and subscribing to paid versions of sites that offer freebies. Authors, illustrators, bookstores, and these sites all need money to survive to keep posting more free online kids’ books, thus making an important contribution to literacy. The most important thing is raising a reader!

YOUTUBE YouTube is easily the place with the most free online kids’ books. It’s got pretty much every picture book, from the moment they come out. I’d recommend sticking to professional channels such as Reading Rainbow. StoryTimeOnline is good too, though I don’t know who is behind it.

If you want to find a specific book, search the title. If the title is a common phrase, like “I Love Cats” or something, you may get many results that are not books. In that case, type the title plus “readaloud,” and the search box may also suggest trying “read aloud,” so try that too. Searching the author sometimes works, but usually does not.

Most of the readalouds are amateur and some downright unintelligible. There are also possible copyright issues, though I don’t think the watcher would get in trouble. Amateur YouTube readalouds are probably of more value to a writer than to a child, because they usually don’t zoom in on the pages or have professional recording equipment. So I do recommend sticking to the professional, legit channels… however, as a writer in an era of few bookstores, I just closed, I’m grateful for YouTube. I do go to kids’ libraries to study the books, but I sometimes get kicked out for not being with a kid!  Rating: Very Good–excellent for studying books, and for readers, a huge treasure trove/junkpile you have to hunt through.

MEEGENIUS

MeeGenius is an ebook publisher owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that has a handful of free ebooks here. These are books that have always been ebooks, not enhanced versions of print books like the other site. The books are of good quality, though you are less likely to have heard of them, since they’re not out on shelves in stores and libraries. Rating: Very Good

MAGIC BLOX

I have just found MagicBlox, a site that give one free ebook per month if you sign up. It does have books that were in print. A lot of the books are self-published. But they do approve the books for the age group, unlike Amazon Kindle, so you can feel safe having your child go through the books. There are some books by well-known and smaller publishers there. Since they offered a $10 per year unlimited subscription, I signed up for that.

It’s easy to become a book snob with all the famous books out there, but giving books that didn’t have the benefit of wide distribution a chance doesn’t hurt–it doesn’t take that long to read a picture book, after all. This isn’t one of my top choices, it’s new territory, and I see a lot of (gasp) Comic Sans on the covers, but I’m looking forward to something new in free online stories. You can actually upload your own books to it, giving it a wider functionality. Rating: Good

Why free online kids’ books? Besides the obvious savings, Web sites are accessible on mobile devices, so children can read or be read to anywhere. These sites have been vetted to have safe content for kids. And, on a digital device, you can carry thousands of books with no extra weight. And when they’re free, you can just go wild! Stuffing yourself with books is a lot healthier than stuffing yourself with candy!

Parents or caretakers and children’s book writers are natural fans. Teachers looking for good books for their students would be another audience for these sites. Some of them offer subscriptions to schools, which teachers would be able to access.

In the beginning of the dot-com era, it was pretty costly to read children’s books online. You had to sign up for a site and usually pay a monthly fee. But there are more and more free online kids’ books sites.

There are also book apps and interactive books for kids, some free books on Kindle or paid Kindle Unlimited. Maybe that will be another post. But I think with these sites, you’ll keep busy for a while!

 

See my post on funny books for kids.

 

 

 

 

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Mystery Books for Teens and Tweens

Mystery Books for Teens

Mysteries for teens, which is the YA market starting at age 12, so includes tweens, is an interesting genre. It combine suspense and sleuthing with all the teenage angst and social commentary you’d find in a regular young-adult novel. Mystery books for teens can have elements of different genres, such as dystopia, psychological thriller, and romance. They don’t need to be strictly about a crime.

As in other juvenile-market mysteries, the character solving the problems isn’t a professional detective, but a teen able to uncover clues that others can’t or don’t care enough to. With young adult books, the sky’s the limit with topics–unlike with books for younger kids, there’s no need to protect kids from the realities of the world. Violence, sex, death, bad parents –it’s all there.

But good mystery books for teens are far from lurid dime-store paperbacks; they’re explorations of the teen psyche, and help young adults process harsh reality. Their own reality is usually a lot less harsh, but fiction is rife with exaggeration for a purpose. It serves as a metapor, helping readers make sense of their own conflicts and desires.

mystery books for teens

One such example is NEED, aimed at kids age 12 and over, which takes a look at the dark side of social media. Clearly, the dark side isn’t fictional; online bullying has resulted in more than one death. The book shows how teens can become evil and almost zombie-like, obeying the demands of a social network.

 

 

 

goodmysterybooksforteens

One very popular, and good, mystery book for teens is John Green’s Paper Towns, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Mystery for Young Adults. It hooks you from the beginning with a sarcastic teen narrator’s keen observations of his high school peers. The writing really stands out with cleverness and keenly observed adolescent life.

YA is known for now being read by adults. Gone Girl is an example of crossover. The characters in it are older than teens, but they obey their less-than-mature impulses.  The directness and emotional zap of YA pulls in those much older.

As well, YA attracts very talented writers. Characters in it can live in the most romantic, risky, and fantastical worlds. Like Katniss in The Hunger Games, main characters can occupy a vortex of hormones, humanity, and history or the future. So it’s no wonder that both authors and readers find teen books particularly appealing, and it’s not hard to find good mysteries for teens.

Books for teens and tweens are often read by those younger than the characters. The Rag and Bone Shop is renowned author Roger Cormier’s last book. It even has a page on Wikipedia. The protagonist here is a boy of only 12 who’s caught up in a murder mystery as both suspect and sleuth. Being a Yeats fan, I love the title. So even though many teens can read like adults, remember that you’re writing for a pretty large age range. There are also YA books read largely by aduls, such as Gone Girl. That book could be considered to be part of the “new adult” genre targets 18 to 30-year-olds.

A Madness So Discreet is a juicy Gothic thriller, something like Girl, Interrupted if it took place in a Victorian asylum in Boston. It’s got historical fiction and social commentary on the treatment of the mentally ill and of women. Protagonist Grace’s sharp memory and powers of observation make her a potent teen sleuth despite her label of madness.

Tips for Writing Good Mysteries for Teens

Like other children’s mysteries, mystery stories for teens will sprinkle clues throughout. They will offer a natural-sounding summary (not a laundry list) of clues at the end.

Also, as with other juvenile fiction, YA tends to have at least a hopeful ending, no matter how filled with despair the story is. Even The Hunger Games ends with SOME hope, despite all the killing. Adult novels can end on a total downer note.

Voice is of paramount importance. You have to capture how teens really talk. Don’t use archaic slang. Learn texting symbols.

The reading age for YA is 12 and up. Kids will read about a character who is older, but are less likely to read about a character who’s younger.

Girls will read novels starring boys, but boys are less likely to read novels with girls as the main characters. Be sure to vary your cast with interesting and diverse secondary characters.

Remember to build suspense. Raise the stakes. The main character should have progress and reversals. Don’t let them get too beaten down. The reader needs to identify with them. And remember that familiar writing techniques such as Chekhov’s gun, red herrings, and Macguffins also apply to teen and tween suspense.

Don’t get preachy or moralistic. Just tell an involving story. Mysteries for teenagers can be plot-driven. They should touch on deeper aspects of a teenager’s life, but they don’t have to deliver a moral or message.

end of Mystery Books for Teens

Also see my posts about picture book mysteries and chapter book and middle-grade mysteries.

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