Category Archives: picture books

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

 

 

Mystery books for kids, part 2: Picture book mysteries

Mystery books for kids, part 2: Picture books

missnelsonismissingDa-dah-DUNNH! The concept of mystery books for kids written at picture-book level may seem counterintuitive at first. Mysteries are by nature complex, right, so how could they work as picture books? This is especially perplexing for authors trying to create the short texts publishers demand these days.

One way to create a mystery for this age is with illustrations playing a major role, often to have the illustrations telling the story beyond the text–possibly leaving clues the intrepid investigator misses at first.

If you’re an author submitting picture book manuscripts, you’re told to leave out as many art notes as possible. But you can have them when they are essential to understanding the story.

mysterybooksforkidspart2Others construct the mystery combining text and pictures, and others tell the whole story in text, with the pictures adding to the fun.

Mystery picture books often use humor and spoof. The ABC Mystery, by Doug Cushman, is a funny, rhyming, alphabet mystery.

Miss Nelson is Missing is a classic from the 1970s and one of my favorites.  Sweet teacher Miss Nelson, who has been facing a misbehaving bunch of students, suddenly disappears and is replaced by the witchy Viola Swamp, who defies the stereotype of a substitute teacher who can be taken advantage of. What has become of Miss Nelson? Detective McSmaug is on the case. With a witty text by Harry Allard and hilarious illustrations by James Marshall, this book still makes me laugh even after multiple readings.

You can enjoy it here in a YouTube readalong.

You’ll notice that there really aren’t any clues, nor does the reader know the answer ’til the end, though some may figure it out (I didn’t). It’s not written in a tongue-in-cheek, hard-boiled detective voice. But it still builds considerable suspense. The tension increases as we watch the rowdy class transform into a frightened, obedient one.

picturebookmysteriesWho Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? by Bonnie Lass and Philomena Sturges, and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, uses the schoolyard rhyme to tell a mystery tale. Skunk interviews other animals, all of the American Southwest, to find the culprit. Naturally, each has an alibi. But the reader can pick up some clues. This book is a lot of fun for very young kids and even comes with a song and game instructions. This is one of the mystery books for kids that drops some clues in the illustrations.

 

mystery books for kids

 

Steven Kellogg’s The Missing Mitten Mystery has stood the test of time. It’s a very simple story about a girl and dog searching for a missing mitten. The girl imagines increasingly unrealistic things that could have happened to it, such as the possibility of it someday growing into a mitten tree. Eventually they find it, but there’s no clear answer to how it got where it got. Whether or not you feel the end is satisfying, it shows how a child’s imagination can be sparked. The illustrations don’t tell a different story than the text.

Unlike most chapter book and middle-grade mystery books for kids, picture book mysteries still deal with larger themes, the way non-mystery picture books do. The mystery category isn’t quite as distinct in picture books. Still, they are more plot-driven than a lot of picture books.

One that really cracks me up is The Mystery of Eatum Hall, that’s both a mystery and sendup of a horror story. Horace and Glenda Pork-Fowler, a pig and a goose receive a mysterious invitation, and are fattened up by high-tech inventions at a mysterious place. Despite clues, the couple is clueless. This book is full of puns and delightful.

There’s also Grandpa’s Teeth, one of those old-books that involves a whole town, the media, and a grandpa who talkths like thith because his teeth are missing. It has wonderful illustrations.

Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back is a very short text where the illustrations tell things that are not known to the character. It’s a fun mystery book for kids who may not even be of reading age. In fact, it has appeal for all ages, because readers like to feel like they know more than the character, who in this case is quite oblivious to obvious clues.

mysterybooksforkids

Eileen Christelow’s The Great Pig Search is also a picture book with mystery elements that will give plenty of giggles to kids 4 to 7 and is a good choice if you’re looking for mystery books for kindergarteners.  Here, as in I Want My Hat Back, the reader knows more than the silly main characters, in this case adults. The reader gets to feel smarter than they are. In most mystery books for kids, the child mystery-solver is smarter than the adults around her or him.

More traditional types of illustrated kids’ mystery stories that have longer texts and are spoofs of Sherlock Holmes or film noir include the Ace Lacewing books, by David Biedrzycki, and Mark Teague’s Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation. Those would be good mysery books for kids who can read on their own some, such as kindergarteners to third grade.

There are so many great picture book mysteries that it was really hard to pick from them–though I think there’s plenty of room for more. There’s one about a missing library book–I can’t remember the name of it– but it’s a clever idea and is well done.

I’d love to hear about other favorite mystery picture books.

Takeaways:

-Mystery books for kids under age 7 can rely a lot on artwork to tell the story.

-Picture book mysteries are more plot-driven than most picture books. Character development is not the main thing, nor is a deeper theme, though they can touch on deeper themes.

-A picture book mystery can take traditional picture book formats, such as using songs, alphabet books, rhymes, and detective types of stories.

These books, with their elements of suspense, are, like the best picture books, enjoyable for adults as well.

Also see Mystery Picture Books for Kids, part 1: Chapter Book and Middle-grade mysteries