Silly Stories for Summer

Tickle Your Child’s Funny Bone with these Tails

By Kathleen Krull

Some of the best kids’ books are just plain fun – without having to make a point. Some of your favorites may get funnier every time you read them, but aren’t we all on the lookout for new books that scratch at our funny bone? Here’s what’s new in silly books for kids: 

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A Bit More Bert, by Allan Ahlberg; Farrar, Straus, $16; ages 3 to 6.
In large, Dick-and-Jane declarative sentences, Allan Ahlberg spins a sequence of tiny stories relying on repetition of “Bert.” Bert has a dog … named Bert, plus he gets a haircut, fools his mother, shares a snack, and wanders into a final story in which everyone is named … Bert. Artist Raymond Briggs contributes rounded, plucky fellows mostly named … Bert!

Chance, by Dian Curtis Regan; Philomel/Penguin, $15.99; ages 3 to 7.
Tall tales, when done well, tickle our funny bones and in Chance the author does a laugh-out-loud job. “It all made me right cranky,” declares newborn baby Chance at the itchy diapers, dog slobber, “gooky mush” for dinner, and all those baths. So he grabs his blankey and leaves. Turns out Chance is a ramblin’ baby, adventuring with bears and other animals not normally partial to babies, all the while writing home so his folks don’t worry. Older and wiser, he comes full circle by his first birthday. Wonderfully exaggerated chalk drawings by Dee Huxley enhance the droll use of language.

Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age, by Raymond Briggs; Knopf, $15.95; ages 7 and up.
As author and artist, Raymond Briggs scores another bull’s-eye with Ug. In colorful comic-book panels, a primitive cave boy struggles with basic questions: What is time? When will cooking be invented, and also a ball that’s not made of stone? Why do they have trees? And, most urgent of all, when will soft trousers be invented so he can stop wearing these painful stone pants? All day long Ug bugs his dim parents about when life will be nicer, softer, warmer. The dialog is so funny that kids might want to do dramatic readings of this with their parents. Ironic footnotes highlight anachronisms and Briggs’ social commentary.

The Experiments of Doctor Vermin, by Tim Egan; Houghton Mifflin, $15; ages 5 and up.

Tim Egan is another author/artist whose wry, sly silliness makes his books offbeat. Doctor Vermin is sort of about facing fears, but it takes the long route. Sheldon is a short-order cook, and also a pig. One unfortunate evening, he falls into the clutches of a mad scientist, Dr. Vermin. The twisty plot takes off from bad-movie clichés to show Sheldon facing down one fear after another in genuinely surprising ways, with comical drawings. Readers won’t be able to flip the pages fast enough.

Man on the Moon (A day in the life of Bob), by Simon Bartram; Candlewick, $16.99; ages 5 and up.
In this absurdist tale with no moral to speak of, it’s Bob’s job to keep the moon clean and tidy. Except for his actual duties, Bob’s day is ordinary – the crossword puzzle on his way to work, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, joking around with his friends, the Man on Mars and the Man on Saturn, and constantly explaining that there’s no such thing as aliens. Author/artist Simon Bartram has a blast with his deadpan text and surreal acrylic paintings, which are (of course) loaded with gigantic aliens.

Palindromania!, by Jon Agee; Farrar, Straus, $15.51 – of course; ages 7 and up.
Palindromes are words or phrases that read exactly the same backward or forward, and the possibilities are endlessly ludicrous: “Madam, I’m Adam” and “As I pee, sir, I see
Pisa” segue into “Lonely Tylenol” and “See boffo bees” and from there into “Oh, cameras are macho” and “Mr. Owl ate my metal worm.” With contrived drawings to match, this is perfect for kids who are into words.

Gus and Button, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers; Arthur A. Levine, $15.95; ages 4 and up; and Dog Food, by Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers; Arthur A. Levine, $12.95; ages 4 and up.
The prize for silliness in photography goes to Saxton Freymann and Joost Elffers of Play with Your Food fame. In Gus and Button, the main characters are mushrooms – and you have no idea how funny this can be until you see it. The story is meant to teach colors, but mostly it teaches giggling. In Dog Food, our playful food experts indulge in outrageously bad puns.

Jabberwocky, by Joel Stewart; Candlewick, $15.99; all ages.
Finally, you can’t go wrong with Lewis Carroll and his famous nonsense poems from Alice in Wonderland: “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe …” No child should  be without one of the many editions of Jabberwocky, with the latest one illustrated by the very imaginative Joel Stewart. Matching the made-up words that roll deliciously off the tongue, Stewart dreams up fanciful creatures to create an elegant volume for sharing: “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

For more tips and advice about books and reading
check out our Books and Beyond Archive

Kathleen Krull reviews books for United Parenting Publications.