31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Funny Picture Books
There wasn’t a whole lot to laugh at in 2020, that’s for sure. The whole year was one great big tragedy from start to finish. But humor finds a way. Granted, a lot of it comes right down to sweet subjectivity. You know the drill by this point. What’s funny to me may not be funny to you. What you find hilarious I might pooh-pooh. With this crop of books, however, I can say at least that there’s something here for every kind of humor. Pratfalls and urbane jokes. Humor that adult readers will appreciate and slapdash funny stuff for even the youngest folks. As you might imagine, this is one of my favorite lists of the month.
2020 Funny Picture Books
The Alphabet’s Alphabet by Chris Harris, ill. Dan Santat
Letters are sneakier than you think. Take a look as 26 letters pretend to be 26 OTHER letters in the most twisty-turny (not to mention hilarious) alphabet book you ever did see. What hath P is for Pterodactyl wrought? Suddenly we’re seeing all these alphabet picture books that actually took time and thought and consideration to make. Now Chris Harris won my heart years ago with that marvelous poetry collection I’m Just No Good at Rhyming. That was cool, but apparently he thought it wasn’t enough of a challenge. Now he’s made an alphabet book that doubles as a code (no lie). This is meticulously thought out to the finest particle. The only letter that seems to have stumped him is S, and I’m okay with that. Dan Santat, meanwhile, is clearly having a blast. There are enough kid jokes to keep ‘em roaring and enough adult jokes (did you notice on the cover that the alphabet goes to Times New Roman School?) to keep you involved.
The Bear in My Family by Maya Tatsukawa
It’s not easy living with a bear. They’re loud and bossy and hungry. But when you need someone in your corner, it’s pretty darn useful to be siblings with a bear. I think it helped incredibly that I got to hear a talented co-worker perform this book live. The key may lie in how you do the bear’s voice. If you make it gruff and low, it’s just the perfect accompaniment. As an adult I suspected that a twist might be coming, but even knowing that, I think that Tatsukawa just does a killer job with its reveal of the bear’s true personality. It definitely looks, at first glance, like a book by Tamo Gomi, but it has its own unique, distinct feel.
The Best Worst Poet Ever by Lauren Stohler
This Lauren Stohler character is of great interest to me. I have a co-worker for whom all picture book featuring pugs are golden and glorious. Me? I’m pug neutral. Gotta give me a little something beyond breed if you want to earn my love. Now the premise of this one is simple. A pug and a cat approach poetry in vastly different ways. The cat wishes to emulate the great masters. The pug is. . . ah . . . a little more free (let us say) with its verse. And at first it’s all butt and underwear jokes and you might write it off, but keep going. Once the pug and the cat are friendly there’s this laugh-out-loud moment (for adults, the kids will have already have lost it with the “can I type with my butt” sequence) involving the pug trying desperately to come up with a compliment for the cat. If you’ve got a Poetry Month unit coming up, this could be a nice complementary read. It’s funny and the art, quite frankly, is great. If Atheneum isn’t begging Stohler do a graphic novel soon, they’re missing a golden opportunity.
Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale by Sam Wedelich
You know when I occasionally burst into unexpected tangents about things that bug me in picture book literature? Things like, oh for example, the fact that female animal characters always seem to have to have eyelashes or bows or tutus on them so that the reader ABSOLUTELY 100% CAN NEVER EVER EVER EVER FORGET THAT THEY’RE LOOKING AT A GIRL? Yeah. Normalize gender equality in animals, people. Sam Wedelich gets it. In fact Sam Wedelich gets a lot of things. She gets that the story of Chicken Little is really interesting when you look at our world today and how mass hysteria travels at the speed of light. I’m not saying that CHICKEN LITTLE: THE REAL AND TOTALLY TRUE TALE is a metaphor for internet rumor-mongering or anything, but I’m not not saying it either. And yeah, it’s funny. When Chicken Little is hit on the head by something and thinks the sky is falling, you know what she does? She fact checks it with the sky.
No Reading Allowed: The Worst Read-Aloud Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, ill. Bryce Gladfelter
Meet my 6-year-old son’s favorite book of the year. I’ve never seen anything like it before. A “homonym and sound-alike sentence” book that isn’t afraid to use big words, obscure words, and fantastic words along the way. The premise is so simple as to be laughable and so darned complicated to do. Essentially, a sentence is written out twice, but the spelling is changed on key words. So, the first one might read “The children scarfed the mousse” and show children eating chocolate moose. The second sentence will then read, “The children scarfed the moose” and show kids putting a scarf on a moose. Pretty cute, right? Only this is Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter we’re talking about here. They’re the guys behind P Is for Pterodactyl so you know they’re going to get a little crazy. That’s why it’s so delightful to run across the sentences, “My Navy father had blue jeans. My mother was well read. They marooned me,” and show a mother and father leaving on a boat, with a kid left on an island. Then on the other page you get, “My navy father had blue genes. My mother was, well, read. They marooned me.” Yep. That’s a blue father, red mother and maroon kid. Can’t wait to see what book these guys come up with next. Palindromes sounds too easy but isn’t that the inevitable next step?
On Account of the Gum by Adam Rex
Oh no. There’s gum stuck in your hair? Don’t worry, I know a surefire solution. A book where things get increasingly, hilariously, catastrophically worse. when it comes to comic timing, Adam Rex may be surpassing Mo Willems and Bob Shea. This is very much like Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, only instead of a tree it’s a kid’s head. And there is just so much to enjoy about it too. Little details like the rabbit’s never changing expression or the band-aids on the aunt’s chin in the final picture (see if you can figure out how they got there). The jokes land and they land hard. My kids were rolling when I got to the line, “Wait, no. I’m thinking of the old cat.” And on top of all of that it RHYMES!? Try reading this aloud to a group (you’ll need to practice beforehand because some of those rhymes aren’t obvious when you’re just reading a book in your head) and see what the results are.
Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor
Not only did I laugh out loud when I got to the punchline of this book but I kept snorting whenever I remembered it for the remainder of the day. Now I’m the kind of person who lives in a state of perpetual anxiety when someone in a work of fiction doesn’t take proper precautions on the road. Whether it’s someone not watching the road when they drive or a snail that decides to do a dead stop in the middle of a highway and have tea with some ants inside his shell, if you have an anxious child they may be chewing their fingernails down to a nub like me. Assure them that everything will turn out okay. The snail will have his day. The lettuce will be consumed. And all will be well and all will be well and all good manner of things shall be well.
There Must Be More Than That! by Shinsuke Yoshitake, translated by HAKUSENSHA, Inc.
Yeah, all right. That’s it. Someone go and convince Yoshitake to come live here in America. For years I’ve adored his books and the degree to which he continues to be good each and every time is amazing to me. Surely you’ve run into one of his titles at some point, whether it was The Boring Book or Still Stuck. He just has this quirky, skewed, weird little look at life that no one else can replicate. In this particular book an older brother tells his younger sister that in the future we’re going to run out of food due to overpopulation, there will be plagues and wars, and aliens will invade. Freaked out, the girl runs to her grandmother who reassures her that grown-ups have a terrible track record when it comes to predicting the future. She assures the girl that she can try to think up her own futures, and this leads to an extraordinary, kooky array of possibilities, all ending with a nice boiled egg. Tried this one out on my 6-year-old and yes indeed. Laughs ah-plenty. This is one sense of humor that translates with infinite ease.
Unstoppable by Adam Rex, ill. Laura Park
What’s that you say? You say I can’t have two Adam Rex books on the same list? How wrong you are! After reading this and On Account of the Gum, I was inspired to interview Adam and the result is here if you’re curious. In this book, Crab wishes it had wings. Crow wishes it had claws. What happens when you put the two together? They become UNSTOPPABLE! Hilarity ensues and ensues. I cannot tell a lie. I laughed incredibly hard when this book went from a fairly simple concept and then took it to its furthest extreme. And I can see why Rex opted not to illustrate this himself. My sole objection is that you have absolutely no idea what you’re getting into with this cover. Then again, that’s a good solid chunk of the fun. Side question: Why do all the funniest books feature bears?
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
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 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
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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