Theresa Julian, Author of The Joke Machine, Shares Some of Her Favorite Funny Kitlit Books
Yesterday a block of cheese arrived at my door. I didn’t order it, and I didn’t know who did—so I ate it. I eventually figured out that it was nacho cheese because someone kept knocking on my door yelling: that’s nacho cheese, that’s nacho cheese. Apologies for the cheesy joke, I just wanted to make you laugh. Making someone laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. Laughter helps us connect with others, build rapport and trust, reduce stress, and overlook social differences. It’s hard to be mad at someone you’re laughing with. I’ve always been interested in humor and after many years of research, I wrote The Joke Machine, a book that teaches kids how to be funny and create their own jokes. The book explains how to use simple techniques such as comparing and contrasting, exaggerating, specifics, and literalness to create funny lines. It has many exercises, examples, and of course—funny jokes! My book is just one of the many very funny books available for kids today. If you want to keep laughing, check out some of my favorites below.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, by Mo Willems
A pigeon is dying to drive the bus in this adorable picture book which has the perfect blend of silliness, cartoon-style illustrations, and interactive fun. The story opens with a bus driver asking the reader to make sure the pigeon does not drive the bus. Once the driver leaves, the pigeon pleads with the reader for a chance behind the wheel. The fun part is when parents read each page in the pigeon’s goofy voice and kids answer. And what kid doesn’t like yelling NO?! This Mo Willems classic is sure to keep the littlest readers giggling as the pigeon eventually has a meltdown, the bus driver returns, and the pigeon turns his attention to an even bigger prize.
The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier
The laughs are as big as the adventure in this comic dystopian tale in which a team of mismatched kids face a crazy array of strange creatures after a monster apocalypse hits their suburban town. Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” tells the story with the perfect mix of humor, humility, geekiness and heart. The bold, action-packed, black-and-white illustrations add to the humor. Just flip through this illustrated novel and giant fangs, monstrous googly eyes, and gangs of shocked-faced zombies jump out at you, and suck you into this thrill ride of an adventure.
Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, by Booki Vivat
Abbie Wu is frazzled, flustered and very funny, in this graphic novel about middle-school stress and anxiety. In an effort to fit in, and overcome the injustices of middle school, Abbie organizes an underground lunch swap, hoping this just might be her “thing”. The dialog is snappy and the humor is imaginative and spot on middle grade, as Abbie narrates in an embarrassingly honest voice about her fear of change and social adjustment. The book is packed with hysterical illustrations, doodles and exaggerated typography that punctuate what’s it’s like to be stuck in the “middles,” be buried under a mountain of books, and feel like you’re on a different planet than your perfect family.
The Bad Seed, by Jory John
This picture book starts with a funny and pun-y concept: a grim little sunflower seed who’s a “bad seed”. A baaaaaaaaaad seed. Young readers will surely giggle at this mischievous seed who admits a long list of hilarious offenses, such as he’s always late, lies, stares, glares, and tells long jokes with no punchlines. The humor is in his baaaaad behavior and the shocked reactions of the corn kernels, pistachios, and peanuts around him. But luckily, this bad seed has a good message. He decides he doesn’t want to be bad anymore and works hard to change. At the end of the book he says please and thank you and smiles. The message resonates with all ages: positive change is possible.
My Brother is a Superhero, by David Solomons
This modern-day, laugh-out-loud superhero story has it all: capes, masks, superpowers, mega-villains, math homework, and a girl next door. In the opening scene, Luke learns that his brother Zack was chosen for greatness instead of him for one simple reason: Luke was in the can when fate bestowed the powers. After that, the story races forward with twists, turns, surprises—and the future of two universes at stake. What really sets this book apart is the deadpan narration, which has just the right amount of snark, snap and honesty. Despite being the only person who can save the world, Zack still has to help peel the potatoes, find a superhero name that hasn’t been taken, and face something more fearsome than aliens—the girl of his dreams.
The Mercy Watson series, by Kate DiCamillo
It’s hard not to laugh along with Mercy Watson, a plump and loveable pig who relentlessly pursues a single goal: hot buttered toast. The humor in this early chapter book series is sweet and innocent in an almost retro sort of way. In the first book in the series, Mercy snuggles into bed between good-natured Mr. and Mrs. Watson. They’re all too busy sleeping to hear the floor moan from their weight. When the floor cracks, and the bed begins to fall to the ground floor, Mercy jumps out and races to save her family. Or, is she just on the hunt for more buttery food? Either way, a toast to Mercy and the warm way she makes us smile.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar
Oddball humor abounds in this classic novel about a school that was supposed to be 30 stories high, but was mistakenly built 30 classrooms long. (The builder said he was very sorry!) Instead of a traditional plot, the book consists of 30 separate stories, each with off-the-wall characters and absurd scenarios. In one chapter, a teacher turns kids into apples; in another, students learn math by counting mosquito bites; in a third, a smelly rat sneaks into the classroom dressed as a boy in layers of raincoats. This book has sideways logic, upside-down plots, and backwards situations—but is always funny. Sideways Stories is the first book in the enormously popular Wayside School series. Be sure to check out this series, or Mrs. Jewls will write your name on the board under the word DISCIPLINE and send you home on the kindergarten bus.
The Joke Machine is on B&N bookshelves now!