31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Funny Fiction for Kids
Eh. I’m the gal that edited a book called Funny Girl. Of course I’m going to dedicate an entire days to the subject. And to make today’s list work, we’re going to have to cover ALL aspects of children’s literature that involves the funny. That means that today’s list isn’t just middle grade chapter books but early chapter books and poetry and comics. The bulk of what I read in 2020 wasn’t funny. The bulk of what I lived in 2020 wasn’t funny. Be that as it may be, there were hilarious books released this year that deserve to be praised. There are too few books on this list, but humor is subjective. I’m sure you’ve seen your own fair share of hilarious fare. This is stuff to read if ever you knew a kid that needed a pick-me-up.
2020 Funny Fiction for Kids
Albert Hopper, Science Hero by John Himmelman
And since we’re jumping right in here, why not begin with an early chapter book? Join intrepid science explorer Albert Hopper and his equally fearless (sorta) niece and nephew as they drill down to the center of the Earth! Science facts merge with wacky adventures. Fun for all! Thank goodness for John Himmelman. I still consider his Bunjitsu Bunny books to be the gold standard for early chapter book fare. This book is launching in a more science based direction, but you don’t feel bombarded by the factual evidence that’s hidden on the page. I do honestly feel like I learned quite a lot about the Earth’s interior with this title. My 6-year-old just liked it because it was funny. Win-win.
Class Act by Jerry Craft
If there’s one thing you can rely on Jerry Craft for, it’s good jokes. Look, any book that makes a direct reference to books like Hereville and This Was Our Pact, of all things, is going to earn my love anyway. It doesn’t have to be a sequel to New Kid (though, that probably doesn’t hurt). Now usually when an author has a sequel to their Newbery winner come out, you expect that it’ll be a good try but not really hit the same notes as the previous book. But darned if this actually might even be better than its predecessor. If the first book brought up ideas I’d never seen discussed in a children’s book before, its companion novel doubles down. In my favorite moment, the kids have been forced to watch an adaptation of the (not #ownvoices) cinematic adaptation of “The Mean Streets of South Uptown” (I mean, the name alone). Afterwards a bunch of white people experiencing white guilt just start giving stuff to Drew while Jordan gets nothing. After they’ve left, Jordan yells in a fit of pique, “How come I didn’t get any reparations?” This book honestly had laugh-out-loud funny moments and characters you care about. It also has some examples of the best poorly done equity work I’ve ever seen in a book period. My god. Should be required reading.
Fly On the Wall by Remy Lai
Henry Khoo’s family treats him like a baby, so he does the only natural thing in response. He buys a ticket and hops a plane to Shanghai. Oh me, oh my. It sounds crazy but I actually like this even more than Lai’s last book Pie in the Sky. That book was great but exhibited a real sadness at its core that made it hard to enjoy sometimes. This book also features a boy struggling against the dictates of his mother and an absentee father but the tone and feel could not be more different. This book is purely enjoyable. Lai expertly manages to make her hero, Henry, have a meaningful turnaround regarding his online activities, and every character felt real to me. This is an adept piece of writing for young people. One of the standouts of the year.
A Hatful of Dragons: And More Than 13.8 Billion Other Funny Poems by Vikram Madan
What a delightful surprise! I feel so bad that I put this book off for as long as I did. Don’t make the same mistake I did. The members of my library’s 101 Great Books for Kids committee came to this book one by one and each time someone read it they’d start proselytizing like the newly converted. These poems are fantastic! So inventive and funny. The tongue twister rivals anything you might find in something like Fox in Socks. Plus, how can you resist a poem that has 13,841,287,207 possible answers? It’s incredibly funny, so hand this to your Silverstein/Prelutsky fans.
Mister Invincible: Local Hero by Pascal Jousselin with Laurence Croix, translated by David Bryon and Ivanka T. Hahnenberger
Yeah, I’m pretty much weaseling this title onto every single remaining list from here on in. If I can find a way to get it onto the Nonfiction lists, you know I’ll do it. But no lie, I found (and more to the point, my kids found) this to be a comic that is as hilarious as it is clever. Evildoers, beware! Mister Invincible is here! A more inventive comic you will not read this year. This book is AMAZING!! Mr. Invincible’s power is that he can use comic panels to his advantage. Along the way the book plays with time, perspective, and the very nature of comics themselves. It doesn’t read like a translation and it is so much fun! Please read it. It may be my favorite comic of 2020.
Once Upon a Space-Time! by Jeffrey Brown
Aliens have landed! Thanks to a kindly invasion two kids are tapped to explore outer space with a cadre of friends from other planets. But will the grown-ups sabotage their plans in the end? I’ve always like Brown’s series with the Neanderthals, but the jokes didn’t always land on their feet. That is not an issue with his newest series. Like the Neanderthal stories, this one is full of facts (this time about space), but it’s also consistently funny. If fault be found, it may lay with the ending, which sort of pulls together a last minute crisis that’s hard to get invested in. Still, gotta love that Toby.
Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet by Zanib Mian, ill. Nasaya Mafaridik
“Affable” is a real good word for Omar here. I read this book to myself and then liked it so much I just had to read it to my kids as well. Definitely on the younger side but manages to deftly weave serious issues into the narrative with skill. I liked the tone and the fact that it’s set in England doesn’t affect the read at all (I suspect some of the words were changed for the American edition). Strong and funny #ownvoices stuff.
Rory Branagan Detective by Andrew Clover, ill. Ralph Lazar
Interesting. I think 2020 may be the year when illogical logic holds greater sway over the youth of tomorrow than usual. Consider, if you will, the fact that this is the year that not only produced a new Wayside School book from Louis Sachar, but also brought Rory Branagan across the pond to the States. Unapologetically British, Rory feels like a book written solely to confound grown-ups like myself. As I read his story to my kids, my daughter would periodically turn to me and say, “Do you think any of this is actually happening?” A fair question since Rory is your usual paranoid kid who gets in over his head with normal suburban dealings, only to find that every wackadoodle theory he’s ever thought up is REAL! Clover’s writing keeps you just a little off-center at all times. It’s not all that dissimilar from the Timmy Failure series, except that where Timmy is deluded, Rory is dead on the money. Happily, he’s also hilarious, thanks to the art of Ralph Lazar. Hand this to the fans of Wimpy Kid and Timmy, but only if you want to blow their little minds.
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, ill. Jon Klassen
Yeah, no, I got thoroughly charmed by this one. And not just because Algonquin got all kinds of crazy on us and pulled out all the stops on the book. Tipped in full-color glossy illustrations on occasion? Check. Thick creamy pages? Check. A cover that actually feels good to the fingers? Check and check. Timberlake is going for a Winnie-the-Pooh vibe, but I think she’s tapped into something far better. This book has “bedtime” written all over it. It has long words that are fun to listen to, a sly sense of humor, and (of course) Jon Klassen’s art. Mind you, Klassen has gone in a very different direction with the pictures in this book, and I like what he’s done with it. You know how I say kids won’t pick up books with sepia-colored covers? This one might be the exception to the rule. Deserving of all the praise it has received so far, this book’s a winner from tip to smelly tail. Check out the audiobook where the reader (actor Michael Boatman) does a tremendous job on everything (with the possible exception of the stoat) and makes the book even more fun.
Wannabe Farms: Where Dreams Never Come True at Least Not the Way They Usually Do by Brian McCann, ill. Meghan Lands
What happens to a dream deferred? Well, if you’re a chicken, it goes a little haywire. Farm animals indulge in truly terrible ideas in pursuit of their misguided dreams. Laugh out loud humor combines with wacky poetry to tell the tale. You know what? I LIKE this goofy little book! It really benefits from reading it aloud, though, so be warned and ready. Plus, I’m just so starved for anything legitimately funny these days. We NEED some humor and this book fits the bill.
Wink by Rob Harrell
It’s hard to blend in when you’re losing your hair, forced to wear a floppy cowboy hat, and get called “the cancer kid” behind your back. But when Ross Maloy get obsessed with learning the guitar, things go from awful to awesome. This is quite the funky little book. I adored Harrell’s Monster on the Hill when it came out in 2013 and I was always sad he didn’t do another comic after that. Turns out he got the rare eye cancer featured in this book. This story also includes a lot of what I love. Really really gross details, a bully who isn’t, and interstitial comics. I don’t always agree with the people who write the blurbs for middle grade, but in this case I think Max Brallier said it best when he wrote, “It’s fun, it’s important, and it’s got songs!”
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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