[This is the latest in an occasional series by Beth Melo, a Southborough mom who loves to read to her kids. This post was originally published on the Southborough Library website, and has been reposted here with permission. For more of Beth’s book recommendations, click here.]
In honor of April Fools Day, I thought it would be fun to write about children’s books that make me laugh or make my children laugh without making me cringe.
Silly picture books (semi-sorted younger to older):
- Bark, George by Jules Feiffer features a dog frustrated that her puppy answers the titled command with other animal noises. Young readers will be giggle over the absurd reason uncovered, as well as the surprise ending.
- Deborah Fajerman’s Baa for Beginners and How to Speak Moo! make the premise that the single word of an animal language has different meanings based on pronunciation (“Baa is shivery when it snows”). Simple illustrations help bring out the humor (though the adult reader’s vocalization is important here, too.)
- Mama’s Perfect Present by Diane Goode is a cute story about children who have trouble finding a gift. The humor is found in the pictures showing the real reason they leave each store while the narrator rationalizes why those gifts weren’t right. (Hint – they bring their dog with them).
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is a cute example of a seemingly helpless animal outwitting its predators.
- My Dog Lyle by Jennifer Goldfinger builds a list cleverly describing the girl’s dog based on it’s behavior on the previous page. (After he tries to chase a squirrel through the glass door, “smooshed nose” is added to the dog’s listed attributes.)
- Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter series (with some co-authored by wife Gina). The humor comes mostly from the difference between the character’s perspective and reality. I think my favorite of these is Mayer’s At the Beach with Dad (an example of the humor, “‘You’ll be sorry you didn’t come,’ I called to [Mom] from the car. ‘No, I won’t,’ Mom called back. I wondered what she meant.”)
- My kids love it when books “break the 4th wall” to address them directly. Some good examples are Melanie Watt’s You’re Finally Here! and Have I Got a Book for You, Jef Czekaj’s Cat Secrets, and Mo Willem’s We Are in a Book! and his wonderful Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series.
- Melanie Watt also writes the Scaredy Squirrel series which is a lot of fun. (Though its paranoid rodent would warn you that too much fun is risky.)
- More favorites from the prolific Mo Willems (mentioned in previous articles as one of my favorite authors) include Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, and Leonardo the Terrible Monster.
- The classic George and Martha books by James Marshall feature charming little stories, most culminating in a kind of punch-line.
- Bonnie Becker’s A Visitor for Bear is a sweet one that makes my kids laugh when the persistent mouse keeps surprising Bear in strange places.
- Never, Ever Shout in a Zoo! by Karma Wilson is a silly escalation of dangerous animal antics all prompted by a single shout that “you” were “warned” against.
- Leslie Helakoski’s Big Chickens* book tickles my funny bone as the chickens’ panicking causes them more and more trouble until it actually saves them. Their transition from trembling to proudly strutting chickens is fun to read aloud. The sequels aren’t as good, but still enjoyable.
- Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein features a chicken overly engaged and excited by her bedtime stories, constantly interrupting to “warn” the fairy tale characters and quickly give them happy endings.
- As a former Bloom County junkie, I have a soft spot for Berkely Breathed. His picture book Pete ‘n’ Pickles is beautifully and bizarrely illustrated, helping elevate it above the average mismatched-pair story. I also love the author notes on the back flap (with original drawings) that explains how his 5 yr old daughter’s empathetic imagination was the source for the story.
- My Side of the Car by Kate and Jules Feiffer is another father-daughter collaboration, inspired by their real life, about a young girl determined to go to the zoo and insisting that it is not raining on her side of the car.
- Lasso Lou and Cowboy McCoy by Barbara Larmon Failing is the story of wannabe cowboy that makes my son laugh and me smile. (Did you know that you can pick your career based simply on which hat in the hat store suits you? I’m sure I know a lot of baseball cap sporting men that wish that were true.)
- Before your kids are old enough to read Diary of a Wimpy kid, they can enjoy Doreen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm (“I told [my older sister] that no matter how much time she spends looking in the mirror, her face will always look just like her rear end. Spider thought that was really funny. Mom did not.”) and the sequel, Diary of a Spider.
Joke and Riddle books – WARNING: If your child hasn’t started trying to tell jokes (especially of the knock knock variety) introducing them to joke books can be dangerous. In the early stages of joke telling kids tend to share a string of humdingers like “Knock Knock – Who’s There? – Binky – Binky Who? – Binky wooshee badaboo!” However, if you’re child is already telling (or past telling) priceless jokes like that, joke books can be a good way to help them understand and tell real jokes. The jokes in these books aren’t all great, but most of them are either funny or not terribly annoying. (Certainly better than my son’s “How did the pig cross the road? He snorted at the cars!”):
- The Riddle Book by Roy McKie and Bennett Cerf’s Book Of Riddles by Bennett Cerf are the best I found for preschool through 1st grade and share many of the same classic jokes ( such as “Why do Birds Fly South for the Winter? Because it’s too far to walk.”)
- Ten Copycats in a Boat by Alvin Schwartz is another cute one (Q: “If you threw an white stone into the Red Sea, what would it become?” A: “Wet.”)
- The Big Little Golden Book of Knock-Knock Jokes and other Jokes (“Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Avenue. Avenue who? Avenue heard enough knock knock jokes?” I like to substitute “told enough” when I’m tired of hearing them.
- Critter Jitters by Mark Ziegler (“Why don’t leopards play hide-and-seek? Because they’re always spotted”)
As always, if you have any favorites to share please post below. If you have any questions for me, feel free to e-mail email@example.com.
*These books aren’t in the children’s room collection but are available through interlibrary loan.