Disclosure: I received review copies of many of the books listed in this post. Making purchases through the affiliate links helps support our writing, Thanks!
The problem with writing lists in December is that everyone assumes they’re year-end lists, best-of lists, or gift guides. But the fact is, I’ve got stacks and stacks of books (yes, you might say they’re overflowing) and I haven’t been keeping up. So, let’s all agree that this is a list of books that just happened to be written near the end of the year, not a year-end list. Okay?
I know I’ve written Stack Overflow columns about funny books (cf. #LOL, Funny Pages) but here at my house, funny seems to trump just about all else, especially when it comes to books I read with my kids. So, here’s a hefty dose of the best medicine.
Let’s start with picture books:
We read a lot of picture books at our house, but the ones that get read most often are usually the funny ones.
The Princess in Black (by Shannon and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham) is a fun cross between picture and chapter book. The illustrations look like something out of a classic Golden Book, but the story is decidedly modern. Princess Magnolia sneaks out to battle monsters as the Princess in Black, but she needs to keep nosy Duchess Wigtower from discovering her secret.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen) is a hilarious, mind-bending book about two boys (and a dog) looking for something exciting–but they keep missing. Klassen’s style is a perfect fit for Barnett’s understated text. My kids love this, over and over and over.
Zombie in Love 2+1 (by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell) is a sequel to the popular Zombie in Love. Now that Mortimer and Mildred have found each other, it’s time for the next stage: parenthood! They discover a (non-zombie) baby on their doorstep, and struggle to figure out what to do with it.
A Perfectly Messed-Up Story (by Patrick McDonnell) is a meta story by the creator of the Mutts comic strip. Louie just wants to enjoy his perfect, lovely story–but then the sloppy reader drops a blob of jelly on the page. And what’s this? Peanut butter? Fingerprints? The realistic messes–and Louie’s reactions to them–are perfect.
I Didn’t Do My Homework Because … (by Davide Cali, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud) is a list of excuses for not completing homework, accompanied by literal illustrations depicting said excuses. From giant lizard invasions to missing armadillos, this short book is quite entertaining, even if you can only use each excuse once.
Uni the Unicorn (by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager) is about a silly unicorn who believes little girls are real. The other unicorns make fun of her, but she covers her room with drawings of little girls and dreams of finding one to be her best friend. This one’s not quite as laugh-out-loud funny, but my daughters love this twist on the unicorn story.
Fairy Tales I Just Made Up! (by Ray Friesen and lots of cartoonists) is just what the title says. Friesen raised funding on Kickstarter for this picture book, and it’s full of more of his nonsensical humor, illustrated by a slew of cartoonists. Each story has a silly moral at the end, sure to teach you some valuable life lessons… or not.
While You Were Napping (by Jenny Offill, illustrated by Barry Blitt) is the story a sister tells her little brother about all the amazing things he missed while he was napping: robots, pirates, dinosaur bones, astronauts, construction workers, and more. The jury’s still out on whether it’d be a good idea to read this to a child who still takes naps but doesn’t pick up on the absurdity of it all, but my older daughters and I enjoyed it.
Next up: Comics!
Andrews McMeel Publishing has a lot of titles in their “amp!” line of comics for kids. There are classics, like Peanuts and FoxTrot collections; newer favorites like Pearls Before Swine and Big Nate; and breakout hits like Phoebe and Her Unicorn. The amp! line comes in a nicely-sized paperback, comparable to other kids’ graphic novels, which makes them easier for on-the-go reading than the large, floppy comic strip collections I’m used to. It’s been fun sharing these collections with my kids, since we haven’t had actual newsprint funny pages since before they were born. One note about Phoebe and Her Unicorn: you should look this one up. It’s about a little girl who saves a unicorn (from being trapped by the beauty of its own reflection), and thus gains a new best friend with magical powers. It’s hilarious and smart.
Of course, those big, floppy collections are available, too. Get even more Pearls Before Swine with Breaking Stephan, or read the adventures of Bucky and Satchel in You Can’t Fight Crazy. (There are plenty of others, too, but I haven’t read them all: Baby Blues, Zits, Mutts…) And if you’re a big spender, go for the Complete Far Side, now out in paperback. (It’s a 3-volume set with a slipcover, including all 4,000+ strips ever published plus lots of extras.) Seriously, this like the Holy Grail of newspaper comic strips right here, and is going on the shelf right next to my Complete Calvin & Hobbes that we finally bought last year.
Moving on to other non-strip comics, my kids get a kick out of Bird & Squirrel by James Burks. We’ve got two books so far, On the Run! and On Ice. Bird is flighty (heh) and Squirrel is an anxious nutcase, and the two of them approach life very differently. Of course, things always work out, so I suppose Bird won’t ever learn a lesson about being responsible, but they’re pretty entertaining nonetheless. Another fun series is Ariol by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant, translated from French and published by Papercutz. I’ve got two of these as well, Just a Donkey Like You and Me and Thunder Horse. Ariol is a donkey, and the comics are about him and his other animal friends in a series of vignettes. The humor is different from what you’d see in American comics, with sort of a sideways sort of funny. There are several more volumes already available.
Finally two more for older readers:
Starling by Sage Stossel is a superhero comic for people who don’t read superhero comics. Starling (aka Amy Sturgess) isn’t a fashion icon or a supermodel, and Stossel’s illustrations are more New Yorker cartoon than Marvel. But Starling does have superpowers, which she uses to fight crime … but that doesn’t solve her work crises, dealing with her problematic brother, or her failing love life. It’s rated teen and up, mostly because younger readers probably won’t appreciate the humor, but it’s a good pick for adults, too.
Finally, The Little World of Liz Climo (by Liz Climo, naturally) is a collection of little animal-based cartoons, and they’re adorable and hilarious. I’ve got it here rather than under the kids comics primarily because there are just a handful that have stronger language in them, but for the most part they’re kid-friendly. You can read a lot of them at her Tumblr page, but you know me: I love having the actual book to flip through, and this one is a gorgeous little volume.