31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Funny Picture Books
Humor, as often said, is subjective. And to have an adult selecting picture books that she deems funny for this list, well it does seem a bit anti-intuitive. Shouldn’t a panel of five-year-olds be the true judges of today’s youth literature? Maybe so, but bereft of a resident cluster of small people, I’ll have to rely on my own person sense of humor. Happily, that humor is fairly immature and may prove a fairly reliable litmus test of books that satisfy children’s hopes for hilarity. You may not agree with all the choices here today, but I think it’s fair to say that you’re likely to find at least a couple books that cause kids to guffaw outright.
Previous lists of funny picture books are well worth seeking out too. They include:
2022 Funny Picture Books
Boobies by Nancy Vo
Remember that board book from a couple years ago What Does Baby Want? by Tupera Tupera? If you ever want to restore your faith in humanity, check out the reviews on Amazon which, as of this writing, are almost universally positive. That book dared to break the taboo of women’s breast in children’s literature, possibly because it showed them as practical tools for feeding infants. Boobies by Nancy Vo is for an older crowd and has a good strong sense of humor. After all, if you cannot find the funny in a blue-footed booby wearing a snazzy summer hat and a bikini top, we may have to rethink our friendship here. It’s a Canadian creation this book, which probably explains a lot. Chock full of fascinating breast-related facts, this is part of the ever growing trend of helping kids (and, quite frankly, adults) be comfortable with all the different kinds of bodies out there. One stop shopping for all things booby related.
The Homework by Ashwin Guha, ill. Vaibhay Kumaresh
This Indian import was originally supposed to come to the states a year or even two ago, but I suspect COVID put a bit of a delay on its release. It tells the universal tale of two boys trying desperately to do their homework without doing any actual research at all. Their assignment? To “write an illustrated essay about a big mammal”. What to do? Ask big sister Meena, of course! Without even looking up from her book Meena advises the two to do something on a rhinoceros. She describes everything they would possibly want to know, and they write it all down dutifully. A horn on its nose. Armor-like skin. On the day of their presentation they read out her words and things seem to be going well . . . until they show their picture of a rhino and you get to see the results on the bulletin board. The art is hugely engaging and who can’t relate to the laziness of trying to get your siblings to do your work for you? I love finding funny from overseas. This fits the bill.
I Can Explain by Shinsuke Yoshitake
It’s a banner year when two Shinsuke Yoshitake books hit the American market in a single year. How did we get so lucky? Dunno but let’s not worry about it. While my heart perhaps adores I Won’t Give Up My Rubber Band a hair more, it’s hard to resist the self-justifications abundant in this catalog of terrible habits. Heck, even the cover display an amazing array of impolite actions. The story’s even better. Our hero is caught picking his nose right at the start. Instead of apologizing, though, he launches into a complex explanation of how he has a button in the back of the nose that, when pressed, makes the people around him happy. You get this incredible page then of the mom, eyes clearly not buying any of this, saying with exceeding evenness, “In that case, I’m already happy enough, so would you please stop releasing any more of your cheerful beams?” This sets the stage for more bad habits (chewing your nails, shaking legs under the desk, spilling food, not sitting still, etc). And each one comes with an increasingly ridiculous explanation. All this comes to a head when the son actually catches his mom in an act of pulling on her own hair and she creates the perfect explanation of her own. Even better than this, though, are the endpapers that show all the mom’s bad habits (including, last but not least, picking her nose). There’s a bit of nudity in the book, with our hero justifying not putting clothes on immediately after a bath saying he does this to train to fight clothes-stealing aliens, that will make the squeamish… uh… squeamish. Otherwise, it’s more than a bit hilarious, and just makes you desperate to see what the next Shinsuke Yoshitake book coming down the pike might be.
I Can’t Draw by Stephen W. Martin, ill. Brian Biggs
Interestingly this is not the only picture book about a kid worried that drawing isn’t a natural ability for some out there in 2022. However, it may well be the funniest. In this story you meet Max, who pretty much tells you on page one that he can’t draw. This feeling is confirmed not by his drawing (which, quite frankly, are pretty good) but by the fact that his friend Eugene’s art is so much better. So, like this year’s Bad Drawer by Seth Fishman and Wally the World’s Greatest Piano-Playing Wombat, the book makes it clear that no matter your skill, there will always be someone out there who’s better. At first Max asks Eugene to share tips and tricks for becoming a better artist. Then they discover tracing and all is well… until Max realizes that his stories are a lot more fun when he does them himself. The jokes in this one land and they land hard. For example, it has something in this book that I’ve been waiting for for years but am only just seeing now. You know those step-by-step drawing instructions they have in certain art books for kids? In this book there’s a “How to Draw a Dinosaur” section that actually made me laugh out loud. That and the line, “That’s what a robot from the future would say” (which works in context). This feels a bit like Battle Bunny, but with a legit message about what “good” actually means when it comes to art.
I Hate Borsch! by Yevgenia Nayberg
I know we’re categorizing this one as fiction, but there is a LOT of reality in this funny tale of this “red, thick, disgusting soup”. I don’t think there’s a kid alive that, if they’re unfamiliar with borsch, won’t identify with its heroine. I imagine reading this one aloud, saying the ingredients with infinite disgust. “The beets… The cabbage … The carrots… And, above all, the slippery, slimy tomato!” It’s infused with Ukrainian jokes, mentions, allusions, and art. I love it. I thought the art was a hoot and as a picky eater myself who, like the heroine in this book, came to love certain foods in her age, this book speaks to me at every age level. Even the recipe in the back is funny (“If this does not sound like the borsch your grandma makes, I apologize. I am sure she is a wonderful lady and a great cook.”)
I Won’t Give Up My Rubber Band by Shinsuke Yoshitake, translated by PHP Institute, Inc.
This rubber band? It’s mine. No one else’s. And if you want the world’s greatest (and funniest) listing of what you can do with a single rubber band, you’ve come to the right place. It is a fact universally acknowledged that should a new Shinsuke Yoshitake book come out, I will probably like it very much. That said, if this were the very first Shinsuke Yoshitake book I’d ever seen, there is no doubt in my mind that I would be just as rabidly enthusiastic about it as I am now. He just really knows how to tap into a kid’s way of looking at the world. I love the moment at the beginning of this book when our heroine goes through all the things she encounters regularly that are NOT just for her. The expression on her face as she shares? Priceless. Extra points for the little after-the-credits image on the back cover of her asking for a ribbon as well.
Like by Annie Barrows, ill. Leo Espinosa
I know that I’m slipping this into the “Funny” category, but I am also THIS close to also putting this in the Science/Nature category as well. Why? Because Annie Barrows has penned a remarkably clever book that systematically, and in a remarkably simple way, shows how human differ from other objects and creatures on this good green Earth. The book is full of some pretty slam dunk but subtle zingers. An early favorite of mine was, “We are not at all like tin cans. We are not shaped like tin cans. We cannot hold tomato sauce like tin cans. If you open up our lids, nothing good happens.” I just love the sheer subtlety of a line like that. All told, I could see a preschool teacher introduce a science unit on what makes human beings the same start with this book. Meanwhile, Leo Espinosa is doing double duty this year in the realm of picture books. His style here is far more subdued than what he accomplished in Jackie Woodson’s The World Belonged to Us, though I did notice one significant similarity. Look close and you’ll realize that for whatever reason, Espinosa tends to draw working guys the same. They all look like the Little Caesars logo. In this book it’s a delivery guy and in the Woodson book it’s a shaved ice guy. Sorry, I’m getting off topic. The point is that this is a deeply funny book, but also one that has a lot of different potential applications inside and outside of the classroom. A hard one not to (forgive me) “Like”.
Meet the Super Duper Seven by Tim Hamilton
The Super Duper Seven are here to save the day! Wait, scratch that. Hungry Kitty just ate four members. How can the team stick together when members keep, ah, disappearing? Welp, color me a convert. Have I mentioned enough times how hard it is to write easy books for kids? Let me rephrase that. How hard it is to write GOOD easy books for kids. After all, any joe schmoe can write a book. I swear I’ve seen Tim Hamilton books before but the man has really hit his stride with this title. Part of my love is probably based in how funny I find it when one character eats another. And the moment the team members yell at Hungry Kitty for eating the birds and they say, “You ate them? But they’re on the cover of our book!” I was in love. The repetition is used beautifully here and I legit found it funny. It does beautiful things with the rule of threes. Add in a satisfying ending AND simple words all the way through and you’ve got yourself a new easy reading winner.
My Parents Won’t Stop Talking by Tillie Walden and Emma Hunsinger
Molly is so stoked to go to the park with her family . . . until they start talking to their neighbors, The Credenzas. WILL the parents ever stop talking? WILL Molly be able to go to the park? WHY is her brother so calm about all this? A hilarious and universal childhood moment. My favorite book of the year. I’ll repeat that for you. FAVORITE. BOOK. OF. YEAR. And yes, I originally wrote that statement in January of 2022 but that attitude never really changed. This is every childhood frustration rolled into one big, beautiful book. And talk about relatable! The art is fantastic (reminds me a lot of Jules Feiffer) the text hilarious, and I just love how it works itself into a worst case scenario so seamlessly. You want funny? You want this book.
Telling Stories Wrong by Gianni Rodari, ill. Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Antony Shugaar
Boy, Grandpa just cannot get the story of Little Red Riding Hood right. First he says it’s Little Yellow Riding Hood and then he says she has to take a potato peel to grandma’s. Fortunately his granddaughter is ready to correct him at every turn. A funny take on getting things “right”. I actually get a fair number of European translations sent to me in a given year, but only a handful feel particularly extraordinary to me. This is one of the few, but that may have a lot to do with the fact that the art is by Beatrice Alemagna and I ADORE Beatrice Alemagna. I just love the premise too. I’m sure I’ve seen it before, but here it’s just done so exceedingly well. I’m sorry but I just found the idea of Little Red having to take a potato peel to her grandmother’s the height of funny. It’s a sly take on something a lot of us grown-ups do to our literal-minded children. A hoot.
That’s MY Sweater! by Jessika von Innerebner
Okay! You know, until now Jessika von Innerebner has been toiling away on unicorn books that she didn’t even write. A book by her has been long overdue, and this little delight shows us what she’s truly capable of. I’d say this book shares some kinship, tonally anyway, with titles like Leave Me, Alone! and the aforementioned My Parents Won’t Stop Talking! In this particular tale a girl discovers, to her infinite horror, that her much beloved sweater is now the property of the droolly, smelly, resident baby. Incensed, she wages a low-key war on the baby (I mean, it doesn’t even fit him!) until she comes to the shocking realization that she too was not the sweater’s first owner. Now the art’s hilarious, the writing top-notch, but what really pushed this book over the scales for me was the simple fact that it sticks the landing. This book has an ending that works so very, incredibly well. And for that alone, I would sing its praises to the hills. Funny AND a bit of clever writing to boot!
The Three Billy Goats Gruff retold by Mac Barnett, ill. Jon Klassen
The classic tale of three hungry goats and an even hungrier troll is told with flair and humor. Get ready to laugh out loud with this hilarious new interpretation. Barnett and Klassen tell it straight! That’s a bit of a surprise. When I’d heard that they were tackling that old tale of goats and a hungry troll I just assumed they’d wacky it up in some way. And sure, it has their signature style to it, no question. There’s actually this visual gag where you see the biggest billy goat that literally had me laugh out loud. Still and all, this is pretty much precisely what you’ll expect when you read the story. I was a bit sad that Asbjørnsen and Moe weren’t credited but that’s just the Norwegian in me. It’s not like every edition of Little Red Riding Hood mentions the Grimm brothers, after all. Altogether, this is an absolute hoot to read aloud. The troll’s rhymes about how he’ll prepare the goats are pitch perfect. Favorite line: “A goat flambé with candied yams. / A goat clambake, with goat, not clams!” I envy the lucky suckers that get to read this aloud to large groups of kids.
Tiny Cedric by Sally Lloyd-Jones, ill. Rowboat Watkins
What do you do when you’re a grumpy monarch of particularly tiny size? You throw out everyone who’s taller, of course! But what happens if all the people left are babies? Wackiness. So, Rowboat Watkins doesn’t do your usual run-of-the-mill picture books. I absolutely adored his Rude Cakes book from a couple years ago, but then he sort of got distracted by marshmallows and my attention wandered. Now he’s illustrating a book by picture book longstanding, reliable author Sally Lloyd-Jones and I wholly approve. Because frankly, this is a book that takes its ridiculousness to its logical extreme. I absolutely loved the weirdness of the whole endeavor. Now, I will confess that originally I was worried that the book was making fun of shorter people, and that’s not cool. But Cedric’s story isn’t realistic in the least, and I think it’s pretty clear that Cedric’s true flaw is how he pumps his ego up in unhealthy ways. A great BIG thumbs up from me.
Too Many Pigs and One Big Bad Wolf by Davide Cali, ill. Marianna Balducci
Oof! This book came dangerously close to being missed on my radar this year, and that would have been a crying shame. Now it is a well-established fact that I have an inherent fondness for picture books in which the protagonist gets eaten. I suspect this has a lot to do with being raised on The Muppet Show in my youth. Whatever the case, I feel it taps into some deep, psychological understanding about the wider world, presented in a child-friendly way. This book is very much in the same vein as Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs in that it involves a very wolf p.o.v. But this also has a lot of similarities to this year’s Telling Stories Wrong by Gianni Rodari, ill. Beatrice Alemagna, in that it involves an adult of some sort telling a story “wrong” in some way. In the case of this book, someone is telling a story about a wolf and some pigs and in every single solitary story (save one) the pigs are eaten. Initially the narrator (that you could assume was a wolf) is telling very short stories about pig eating. As the child stand-in complains, the stories get “longer” but usually in some pretty funny passive-aggressive ways. My favorite is the one where the story needs to get longer so the narrator just gives all the pigs names. Prior to being eaten. The timing on this text, by the way, is magnificent. Whole picture book writing schools should study it. This all sounds so dark but artist Marianna Balducci has done some infinitely clever things with the brightly colored art. You only see the pigs themselves, and never the wolf eating them. Often they are portrayed as beads on an abacus, with illustrations making them pig-like. None of them look particularly perturbed. And then there’s this killer ending where the wood on the abacus is broken at the end. I could literally read this a hundred times and find something new with each read. Funny and clever all at once. Don’t miss this like I almost did.
The Very True Legend of the Mongolian Death Worms by Sandra Fay
You know, Mongolian Death Worms are a shockingly overlooked cryptid in our children’s literature. It really feels like, with this book, Sandra Fay is making up for lost time. The ample backmatter at the end will tell you all the things you need to know about the worms, where they live, where they’ve been spotted, etc. They’re essentially the bigfoots of the Gobi Desert. Now this cover has some serious The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip energy going on, which I appreciated. And Faye does a good job of treading that line between horror and harmless. There’s just something about seeing a Mongolian Death Worm sporting a nametag that says “Hi! I’m Bev” that really works for me. Deeply silly and deeply weird, which is precisely what you want in a book. Drool-worthy.
The World’s Longest Licorice Rope by Matt Myers
With a bagful of nickels in his hand Ben decides to pay one to eat the world’s longest licorice rope. But has he bitten of more than he can chew? Hilarity ensues in this delicious tale. Okay. I know I really liked Children of the Forest (the other Matt Myers picture book of 2022) and I do. But I really really REALLY like The World’s Longest Licorice Rope. Even more, actually. For some reason it reminded me of old Peanuts strips, the way the girl in the book is able to bilk so many nickels out of our main character. And then that ending! I’m sorry, but as too many picture books this year have proven, it is so hard to nail a good ending on a funny picture book. This one really does a great job. Funny is often hard, and I thought this book was unexpected, hilarious, and weirdly touching all at once. Plus, I love any book that goes to logical extremes.
Eager to read other lists this month? Then be sure to stay tuned for the following:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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 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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