31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Funny Picture Books
Here’s an interesting question for you: What was the last funny picture book to win a Caldecott Award? Not Honor, Award. You may have an idea, but as it happens the answer to this question is entirely subjective. Someone might think that Finding Winnie had some levity while others prefer Beekle or Kitten’s First Full Moon. For my part, I think the last Caldecott winner that was both meant to be funny and then worked to actively promote a funny storyline was This Is Not My Hat back in 2013.
But as I say, judging a picture book based on humor alone really comes down to the sense of humor of the reader. On that note, let me state clearly that the books you’ll see here were just the ones that highly amused ME this year. Feel free to mention in the comments the ones you think I missed.
2019 Funny Picture Books
The Boring Book by Shinsuke Yoshitake
Let the record show that I believe truly, in my heart of hearts, that Shinsuke Yoshitake’s Still Stuck ranks as one of the funniest Japanese imported picture books of this or any other year. So that set the bar mighty high for this particular title. As it happens, I adore it. I think it does a marvelous job of not just discussing boredom but also the philosophical ramifications of boredom in all its myriad forms. Plus I just love how the guy draws a bored face. Think about it. How do you draw a person who is bored? You get a real sense of that when you get to the wordless two-page spread of what happens when 300 bored people get together. It kind of makes me appreciate how not bored I am as an adult. And this? This is great not-boring-at-all funny stuff wrought from the fodder of boredom.
Five Minutes (That’s a lot of time) (No, it’s not) (Yes, it is) by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, ill. Olivier Tallec
I will cross wide oceans and tempestuous seas if it means seeing the next Olivier Tallec book. As we already imported Herve Tullet to our shores, could we get a Tallec as well? This book stresses our perceptions of time and how they vary depending on the situation. That’s a lofty way of talking up what really is a funny story about a little boy who either believes 5 minutes is an eternity, or has flown by in mere nanoseconds. Hard to make an actual story out of that concept but I think Scanlon and Vernick do a stand up and cheer job. Well done, guys.
Fly! by Mark Teague
Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone means falling out of a nest. In this wordless wonder a baby bird tries desperately NOT to fly, with hilarious results. Now I may be prejudiced towards it since I have to watch the falcon fledglings that are born on my library (outside my office window) learn to fly every year, but it’s Teague’s unique method of storytelling without words that’s the real star of the show. It’s not a comic per se, but even so, speech balloons are an excellent method of communication. Plus that baby robin is just so dang sure of itself. Look at that confidence! Bottle that stuff up and sell it to me, man. I could use a smidgen of it.
The Happy Book and Other Feelings by Andy Rash
You had me at “sad trombone”. Basically I was sold on this book in three pages, which is no mean feat. Someone once compared it to the film Inside Out but I think it’s much more than that. Imagine that someone walked up to you and said, “Hey. Write an original book on emotions”. You’d freak out, right? I mean, talk about an impossible assignment. And I love the dedication too. “My son, Joe, first wrote his version of The Happy Book for his sister, Katie. I borrowed his title and relied on his creative help to write this version. Joe and I dedicate this book to Katie as well.” And it’s definitely the first emotions picture book to make me laugh out loud. No mean feat.
High Five by Adam Rubin, ill. Daniel Salmieri
You probably remember Rubin & Salmieri best for their Dragons Love Tacos title. This, their latest book, is FAR more interactive. YOU, the reader, are competing to be the high five champion of all time. That means high fiving this book manymanymany times. It is honestly funny and I think it could work in a storytime if you let individual kids high five the book when it’s one competitor or another, and then let them ALL high five the octopus at the end. Plus you get to hold up a trophy in the final spread. I’ll say it. This might be one of the most enjoyable books of the year.
How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps by Nicola Winstanley, ill. John Martz
The devil is in the details. There are some pitch perfect picture book pairings out there, and this may be one of them. Kudos to the editor who selected John Martz to do the art of this book. His cat, as you can see by this cover, is beautifully expressionless with a big red nose that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mutts cartoon. As you might imagine the “five” easy steps begin to blossom out into far more than that. Turns out, cats are difficult to corral, let alone wash. It even sticks the landing on the ending, which is often where so many funny picture books fall flat. I gotta say, this is perfect for cat lovers and cat haters alike. Plus it involves a state of increasingly raucous fiasco in the background that’s funny gold. I like it.
How to Walk an Ant by Cindy Derby
Walking an ant is an art, as this wild-haired girl is more than happy to tell you. It takes patience. It takes candy canes. And it takes a wild cacophony of chaos when your ant walking comes in contact with a ladybug walker.
I’m surprised to admit this, but I didn’t actually like this book much on a first read. I think it took a co-worker reading it aloud in committee to let me see how charming it truly is. When you can hear it read, the inherent ridiculousness of the situation (tying the string between the first and second sections of an ant’s thorax, for example) is drilled home. Plus, that little girl has a weird, wild, madcap way about her that just squirmed its way into my heart. Okay. I admit it. I’m a fan.
I Am Hermes! Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods by Mordicai Gerstein
Lest you feel you need to have read its predecessor, I Am Pan!, to understand this book, how wrong you are. It’s particularly fun to read this book after you’ve read Hermes by George O’Connor. A lot of the tales repeat, though by no means all of them. Gerstein had (sniff) a great style and you just have to see the amazing Bibliography at the back of the book. This guy knew what he wa doing! Wonderfully hilarious from tip to toe.
Lenny the Lobster Can’t Stay for Dinner by Finn Buckley with Michael Buckley, ill. Catherine Meurisse
2019 was a good year for child/parent book deals. Finn Buckley was just seven when he wrote this book, so how cool is it that he gets top billing? Even better, the book’s a blast! The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure vibe is limited to single, important choice and who can resist a willfully ignorant protagonist? Particularly one that gets all kinds of EATEN! Loved the art, loved the writing, and it’s really and truly funny to boot. A winner.
Mr. Nogginbody Gets a Hammer by David Shannon
When Mr. Nogginbody discovers an errant nail in his floor, his solution is to hammer it. Which is fine, until he takes his love of “fixing” a little too far. The first time I read this to my kids they thought it was pretty funny. The second time I read it to them they thought it was out and out hilarious. Apparently it improves with repeated readings. This is very much my specific sense of humor, which is to say it involves someone walking around whacking things with a hammer. It’s weird, Lord knows it’s weird, but I sort of adore it now.
My Cat Looks Like My Dad by Thao Lam
Fur babies unite! Sometimes family members don’t look like one another and sometimes they have a LOT in common. Even if you have whiskers instead of a mustache. Okay, well I’ll confess that I just read this book to write it off. Then I discovered that it wasn’t just good. It was REALLY good. I mean, what is going on with dad’s fashion choices? This man is fierce! Lam rocks the cut-paper illustration technique and has a sense of humor to boot. I give in. This is difficult to resist.
1, 2, 3, Jump! by Lisl H. Detlefsen, ill. Madeline Valentine
Having kids has really opened my eyes to the widest range of humor that a picture book can indulge in. One of my unexpected favorites? That classic technique where the main character is almost purposefully getting something wrong. In this book a kid is afraid to swim. She will pretty much do whatever it takes to avoid getting in the water. So when she’s told to put on a suit, she dons a tuxedo. Goggles required? Hello, WWI flying ace. And child readers love that stuff. Me? I kinda love it too.
Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell
An erudite bit of sophistication hitherto unseen in the world of easy books. Either that or it’s about getting people to smell your feet. One or the other. I’m sort of a sucker for Cece Bell, and this employs one of my favorite children’s book tropes (the conceited character too dumb to realize that they’re about to be eaten).
The Very Impatient Caterpillar by Ross Burach
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is my insect soulmate. I am so on board with this. I mean, the readaloud potential is, as my co-worker Brian says, magnificent. And I completely agree with him that it’s particularly noteworthy that it “sticks the landing”. There are so many funny picture books out there that have no idea how to end. This one does so brilliantly. Plus, I really appreciated that when he became a butterfly he looked GOOOOOOD.
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan, ill. Lorraine Roche
You wanted something cool for your birthday. Your grandma gave you a tree. So what are you going to do about it? You know, I kinda dig this one. First off, I’m always on the lookout for funny books with kids that aren’t white. You’d think I was asking for the moon for all that publishers are willing to provide. Love the art, and it’s got a message but I like where it’s going. Plus, who can’t relate to having to act like you’re happy to receive an unwanted birthday gift?
Who Wet My Pants? by Bob Shea, ill. Zachariah Ohora
The subtitle on the cover just slays me. “It’s not the crime . . . it’s the cover-up.” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not usually the kind of person that finds pee-related picture books all the funny. But this? First off, some genius paired Bob Shea with Zachariah Ohora, so can we just give some serious applause right there? Then there’s the fact that Shea has inserted this subtle message about taking responsibility. And kudos to the other characters for not making fun of Bear for his accident. Sole Flaw: Makes me really hungry for donuts.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Easy Books
December 18 – Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Informational Fiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Older Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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