31 Days, 31 Lists: 2019 Older Funny Books
Ever since I edited Funny Girl (a collection of stories, comics, etc. from some of the funniest women writing for kids today) I’ve been keeping a sharp sharp eye on those books that I personally deem hilarious. Each and every year I make a note if I find a title significantly funny. A lot of books out in 2019 had laughs, but today’s list is of the ones where I felt like the humor was integral to the storytelling. This marks my first list of 2019 that includes middle grade fiction, but it will certainly not be the last!
Hold onto your butts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
2019 Older Funny Books
Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala
Earlier this year I had an assignment to read four funny middle grade novels all by women (this probably had more than a little to do with the aforementioned Funny Girl). Of the four, only one actually made me laugh out loud in an embarrassing way, which I sort of consider the bar for funny books. Caroline Cala knows how to write a first chapter. This book grabbed me right away, and not just because I read The Babysitters Club when I was a kid (though it probably didn’t hurt). Turns out, Cala also knows how to write a second chapter. And a third. By the time I got into the book I wanted revenge on Malia’s evil older sister Chelsea even more than Malia did. Granted, the adults in this book are 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs (the hippy mom is practically a walk-on from I Love You Alice B. Toklas), but the kids are keen. You want the funny? You want this book.
Dog Man: Brawl of the Wild by Dav Pilkey
Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey
Here’s a little secret about end-of-the-year-lists. Once a book series hits a certain level of popularity, the list makers of the world pretty much figure the series doesn’t need any help anymore and that placing it on any kind of list would just be a useless act. As a result, Dog Man may have won our children’s hearts, but from a serious, critical perspective it often gets left out. A pity since the longer that series goes, the more it has to say about the essential goodness of . . . well . . . Petey. Petey, the series’ evil cat stand-in, is forever wrestling with his better nature, and he’s helped along the way by L’il Petey, his tiny clone. But since today’s list is “Funny Books” and not “Strangely Poignant Books Buried in a Lot of Fart Jokes” I’ll just say that Dog Man just keeps the kids laughing. Note that the only reason I haven’t included the latest release, Fetch-22, on this list is because I haven’t read it yet. One day, my library hold will come . . .
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
While I wouldn’t call this a funny book on every page, there’s so much humor in Reynolds’ National Book Award finalist that you can’t separate it out from its more serious elements. School’s out and ten different stories are all happening at the same time. These kids are planning an escape, a con, a show, a romance, an apology, and more on just an ordinary day. The problem with reading a Jason Reynolds book is that it almost always is better than 90% of the other titles you’ve read in a given year. The man knows how to put words to a page. Heck, he can write about boogers and manage to make the conversation encompass all the matter in the universe (and I’m not even exaggerating about that). Funny and moving by turns, this is a standout title of the year
Lupin Leaps In: A Breaking Cat News Adventure by Georgia Dunn
I don’t include many comics on this list. Just the ones that made me seriously guffaw. This just in! Elvis, Lupin, and Puck are three cats brave enough to bring the latest in Cat News. Whether it’s spiders, houseplants, a new baby, or the cats upstairs (what are they DOING up there?) these intrepid reporters are here to give YOU the story. This is a newspaper comic series turned into a book, and I always have complicated emotions about that when I consider these titles for my lists. I myself would be mixed on it, were it not for the fact that it makes me laugh. Hard. So hard that I was reading it in my bedroom and my husband called up, “Why do you keep giggling?” Georgia Dunn knows cats, yes, but even if you don’t like them you’ve gotta adore the funny stuff at work here.
Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce
I can’t believe it but I really really like a Lincoln Peirce title! When it comes to his Big Nate series, I’ve always been a bit lukewarm on poor Mr. Peirce. But now that he’s branching out a little and trying his hand at fantasy, I kinda dig what he’s laying down here. My kids were big time fans of this book (it’s a lot of fun to read out loud). It is also the only 2019 I listened to, in its entirety, on audiobook. The full-cast audio recording is wonderful for filling up those long car rides. Shotting on all cylinders, this book is.
Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles by Thomas Lennon, ill. John Hendrix
When a writer makes no bones about the fact that they are looking to emulate the works of Douglas Adams, it gives one pause. Adams is pretty site-specific when it comes to fiction. You need to cultivate a certain level of detachment and anything-can-happen humor where it’s concerned. Lennon manages rather well. You sympathize with Ronan, though you might not feel a real emotional investment in him. But emotional investment is not what this book is aiming for. It’s aiming for some pretty good gags, my favorite being the fact that harpy bites give you bad ideas like, “Take the harpy to London, get a record deal, then invest all the money we make into cryptocurrencies!” It ends on a cliffhanger, which is a bummer, but if you need something pretty hilarious, this is a safe bet.
The Size of the Truth by Andrew Smith
Of course, there is a possibility that I’m just a sucker for John Hendrix covers . . .
If the thought of an Andrew Smith middle grade baffles you, I kind of love the reasoning behind its creation. Apparently whole hoards of young readers have been reading Smith’s very YA stuff for years. Just seemed logical to write something with a slightly dialed down weirdness for them. The result is this oddly sweet and touching novel. Part of what I like about it so much is the fact that this is, at its heart, a book about kids trying to protect their parents’ feelings. It’s also about the fear of parents in this helicopter age. And there’s a talking armadillo who quotes Bartleby the Scrivener. So, y’know. Normal stuff.
To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer
I was good this year. I kept track of every single instance where this book made me snort out loud. Big loud snorts too. Like when one of the girls in this book (Bett – a good name) says she’s not a good speller. “I’m okay with that because Snoop Dog + a man named Churchill, who wrote the slogan that goes on shopping bags saying: KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON, were both bad spellers. So maybe Churchill first wrote it as KEYP COMM AND CAREY ON. We may never know.”
Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia
Another book that isn’t giggles from start to finish, but so funny along the way that you can’t have the story without it. Gum Baby is, without a doubt, my favorite character. So much so that I need to hear an audiobook of this and soon. Thrown into a world where African-American folk heroes mix and mingle with West African gods, it’s up to seventh grader Tristan to use his newfound powers to heal a dying world.
We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey
If 2019 typified anything for me, it was middle grade novels that don’t waste time and get right to the point. Eventown was a good example of this, and so was We’re Not From Here. Funny post-apocalyptic space opera stuff? Baby, that’s my jam. Told by Lan (no gender mentioned or particularly needed, thanks) it discusses how humor saves humanity. Well, humor and singing, but essentially humanity is rescued by America’s Funniest Home Movies type stuff. The book itself utilizes a wide range of different kinds of humor, and is just a joy to read. I sped through it with delight. Of course, I knew I was in safe hands. Geoff Rodkey’s one of the middle grade funny greats. You ever read his Chronicles of Egg series? If not, get thee to a library.
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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