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Monday, January 22, 2018

Books to make students chuckle, laugh, or guffaw.

Renner, Benjamin (2017) The Big Bad Fox  New York: First Second.

Image result for Big Bad Fox

            Opening lines:  Well, it is a graphic novel, and has more images than words, so here are the opening panels (which are not framed panels but more sort of round blobs of color).  Panel 1, a woods with tall trees and undergrowth and a hold in the side of a slight hill.  Panel 2:  A fox’s head emerges from the burrow.  His eyelids are half open.  He is either sleepy or shifty.  Panel 3, he stretches and says “Gnnn…”  Panel 4 his body slumps and he breathes heavily, as if stretching has worn him out. 

            The fox’s life is hard enough to start with.  His attempts to steal a chicken or two for dinner are continually foiled by the farm’s guard dog or the chickens themselves, who have started taking self-defense classes.  Then the huge wolf in the woods, who the fox wants to be like, threatens and bullies him into stealing some eggs and raising the chicks so they can have chickens to eat.  When the little chicks imprint upon the fox, deciding that he is their mom, the fox’s life becomes exponentially more complicated.  Equal parts slapstick, comedy of errors, cringe humor and  touching story, this book is silly enough to make third graders laugh out loud, and serious enough to give middle school students something to think about.  Highly suitable fr your classroom library, this book could also become part of a 5th or 6th grade’s language arts curriculum.  It is a good , funny story with some interesting themes. 




Scieszka, Jon, Ed. (2010) Guys Read:  Funny Business. New York:  HarperCollins

Image result for Guys Read FUnny Business

Opening Lines:  (Since these are short stories, I’ll treat you to a series of opeing lines form different stories)
            --Ernest was a nerd, but it was fourth grade: we are all nerds.
            --Between peeling off his nightshirt and pulling on his school uniform, Will examined himself from head to hairiline.
            --I have four brothers.  That’s five boys altogether all living in a small house, which is a recipe for major property damage at the very least.
            --Dwight Howtzler is an idiot.
--One night in the fall of fifth grade, my dad finally got fed up with me and decided it was time to make me a man.
--My younger brother, Patrick, is a normal, functioning adult.
--My gramps, Papa Red, has been living with us for a year now and is straight-up nuts.
--This all started because I wouldn’t take out the trash.

When I was looking up opening lines for the above section, I started rereading the opening page of one of these stories and ended up rereading the whole thing.  Because although this collection is meant to group together funny stories, they are also stories that are interesting, gripping, well0-written, sometimes exhilarating, and almost always delightful.  Adam Rex’s story “Will” is about a kid going to a school for superheroes even though he doesn’t appear to have any special talents or powers, and of course, he is the one who must face the inevitable peril.   Kate DiCmillo and Jon Sciszka’s “Your Question for Author Here” gives us the letters of a kid who is forced to write to an author for an assignment, and the clever, sarcastic, manipulative, and ultimately encouraging responses from that author.  Paul Fieg’s “My Parents Gave my Bedroom to a Biker” is self-explanatory, but no less funny for it.  I laughed out loud at several points in reading this book, but found myself grinning almost constantly. 
Good-humored readers from fourth grade and up will enjoy this, girls as well as boys.  I didn’t notice anything in here likely to draw any challenges from parents.  It would probably work best as a classroom library sort of book.  There are themes here to be sure, but books whose main focus is humor do not tend to help up well to classroom study.  Buy this one. 




Yorinks, Arthur; Lamb, Braden; Paroline, Shelli (2017) Making Scents.  New York: First Second.

Image result for making scents

            Opening Lines:  The first panel shows a boy’s hand writing on notebook paper the words, “First I was born…”  The inset panel shows a man carrying a baby into the woods.  On the next page, in four panels, the man leaves the child in a hollow in the base of a tree, then walks away.
            Mickey’s mom and dad raise bloodhounds and provide them to police and other people who need to hunt for someone or something.  Mickey is raised alongside their dogs, who thinks of as brothers and sisters, and is taught to use his nose much as the bloodhounds do.  When he is old enough for school, he is at first ridiculed for his tendency to go around on all fours and use his nose to find things.  His parents advocate for him and soon he is showing off his talents in an all-school assembly.  Even as he is gaining the respect of his peers, however, they are killed in a car crash, and soon Mickey is sent away from his dog brothers and sisters to his dog-hating aunt and uncle who live in the city.  They hope to teach him to behave as an ordinary child. 
            This graphic novel is illustrated in a kind of 1950s style that reminds me of Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations of picture books like Harry, The Dirty Dog, or P.D. Eastham’s illustrations of Are You My Mother? and the like..  Though some of the story is serious, Mickey’s dog habits in the context of a very conventional school are funny and should cause second and third grad readers and up to find humor in them.  This is a fun and sometimes silly book that is unlikely to cause any challenges.  Good for your classroom library and a special hit with kids who are dog lovers. 




Lawrence, Mike (2017) Star Scouts  New York:  First Second.

Image result for Star Scouts

Opening Lines: 
The first panel is a two-page spread of a spaceship in orbit of a planet.  A narration box says “QDS Pumpernickel,  Deli class destroyer.  Low Zirdon orbit.”  One inset panel shows a close up of the ship with a single speech balloon coming from what looks to be the bridge. “Mabel!  You’re going to be late!”  The other inset panel is a still closer view.  Two speech balloons.  The first asks, “Have you finished your scout homework yet?”  The second responds, “Almost done!  Be there in a minute!”
            In this colorfully rendered graphic novels, Mabel is a space alien who accidentally teleports Avani, an earth girl who is having a hard time in a new school, up to her spaceship (Mabel was trying for a newt, but accidentally nudged the controls).  They become friends, and then Mabel asks Avani if she wants to join her Star Scouts Troop.  The next thing Avani knows, she and the other scouts are embroiled in a competition to figure out which troop is the best at a variety of space-based events.   What follows resembles a Disney kids comedy with hijinks and goofiness galore, and, of course, in the end, the plucky youngsters show they can compete with the rest of them through a combination of teamwork and good sportsmanship. 
This one is best for younger elementary readers, maybe second through fourth or fifth.  It would be a good one for a classroom library.  Nothing offensive here. 





Renner, Benjamin (2017) The Big Bad Fox  New York: First Second.



            Opening lines:  Well, it is a graphic noel, and has more images than words, so here are the opening panels (which are not framed panels but more sort of round blobs of color).  Panel 1, a woods with tall trees and undergrowth and a hold in the side of a slight hill.  Panel 2:  A fox’s head emerges from the burrow.  His eyelids are half open.  He is either sleepy or shifty.  Panel 3, he stretches and says “Gnnn…”  Panel 4 his body slumps and he breathes heavily, as if stretching has worn him out. 
            The fox’s life is hard enough to start with.  His attempts to steal a chicken or two for dinner are continually foiled by the farm’s guard dog or the chickens themselves, who have started taking self-defense classes.  Then the huge wolf in the woods, who the fox wants to be like, threatens and bullies him into stealing some eggs and raising the chicks so they can have chickens to eat.  When the little chicks imprint upon the fox, deciding that he is their mom, the fox’s life becomes exponentially more complicated.  Equal parts slapstick, comedy of errors, cringe humor and  touching story, this book is silly enough to make third graders laugh out loud, and serious enough to give middle school students something to think about.  Highly suitable fr your classroom library, this book could also become part of a 5th or 6th grade’s language arts curriculum.  It is a good , funny story with some interesting themes. 




Scieszka, Jon, Ed. (2010) Guys Read:  Funny Business. New York:  HarperCollins

Image result for Guys Read FUnny Business

Opening Lines:  (Since these are short stories, I’ll treat you to a series of opeing lines form different stories)
            --Ernest was a nerd, but it was fourth grade: we are all nerds.
            --Between peeling off his nightshirt and pulling on his school uniform, Will examined himself from head to hairiline.
            --I have four brothers.  That’s five boys altogether all living in a small house, which is a recipe for major property damage at the very least.
            --Dwight Howtzler is an idiot.
--One night in the fall of fifth grade, my dad finally got fed up with me and decided it was time to make me a man.
--My younger brother, Patrick, is a normal, functioning adult.
--My gramps, Papa Red, has been living with us for a year now and is straight-up nuts.
--This all started because I wouldn’t take out the trash.

When I was looking up opening lines for the above section, I started rereading the opening page of one of these stories and ended up rereading the whole thing.  Because although this collection is meant to group together funny stories, they are also stories that are interesting, gripping, well0-written, sometimes exhilarating, and almost always delightful.  Adam Rex’s story “Will” is about a kid going to a school for superheroes even though he doesn’t appear to have any special talents or powers, and of course, he is the one who must face the inevitable peril.   Kate DiCmillo and Jon Sciszka’s “Your Question for Author Here” gives us the letters of a kid who is forced to write to an author for an assignment, and the clever, sarcastic, manipulative, and ultimately encouraging responses from that author.  Paul Fieg’s “My Parents Gave my Bedroom to a Biker” is self-explanatory, but no less funny for it.  I laughed out loud at several points in reading this book, but found myself grinning almost constantly. 
Good-humored readers from fourth grade and up will enjoy this, girls as well as boys.  I didn’t notice anything in here likely to draw any challenges from parents.  It would probably work best as a classroom library sort of book.  There are themes here to be sure, but books whose main focus is humor do not tend to help up well to classroom study.  Buy this one. 




Yorinks, Arthur; Lamb, Braden; Paroline, Shelli (2017) Making Scents.  New York: First Second.

Image result for making scents

            Opening Lines:  The first panel shows a boy’s hand writing on notebook paper the words, “First I was born…”  The inset panel shows a man carrying a baby into the woods.  On the next page, in four panels, the man leaves the child in a hollow in the base of a tree, then walks away.
            Mickey’s mom and dad raise bloodhounds and provide them to police and other people who need to hunt for someone or something.  Mickey is raised alongside their dogs, who thinks of as brothers and sisters, and is taught to use his nose much as the bloodhounds do.  When he is old enough for school, he is at first ridiculed for his tendency to go around on all fours and use his nose to find things.  His parents advocate for him and soon he is showing off his talents in an all-school assembly.  Even as he is gaining the respect of his peers, however, they are killed in a car crash, and soon Mickey is sent away from his dog brothers and sisters to his dog-hating aunt and uncle who live in the city.  They hope to teach him to behave as an ordinary child. 
            This graphic novel is illustrated in a kind of 1950s style that reminds me of Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations of picture books like Harry, The Dirty Dog, or P.D. Eastham’s illustrations of Are You My Mother? and the like..  Though some of the story is serious, Mickey’s dog habits in the context of a very conventional school are funny and should cause second and third grad readers and up to find humor in them.  This is a fun and sometimes silly book that is unlikely to cause any challenges.  Good for your classroom library and a special hit with kids who are dog lovers. 




Lawrence, Mike (2017) Star Scouts  New York:  First Second.

Image result for Star Scouts

Opening Lines: 
The first panel is a two-page spread of a spaceship in orbit of a planet.  A narration box says “QDS Pumpernickel,  Deli class destroyer.  Low Zirdon orbit.”  One inset panel shows a close up of the ship with a single speech balloon coming from what looks to be the bridge. “Mabel!  You’re going to be late!”  The other inset panel is a still closer view.  Two speech balloons.  The first asks, “Have you finished your scout homework yet?”  The second responds, “Almost done!  Be there in a minute!”
            In this colorfully rendered graphic novels, Mabel is a space alien who accidentally teleports Avani, an earth girl who is having a hard time in a new school, up to her spaceship (Mabel was trying for a newt, but accidentally nudged the controls).  They become friends, and then Mabel asks Avani if she wants to join her Star Scouts Troop.  The next thing Avani knows, she and the other scouts are embroiled in a competition to figure out which troop is the best at a variety of space-based events.   What follows resembles a Disney kids comedy with hijinks and goofiness galore, and, of course, in the end, the plucky youngsters show they can compete with the rest of them through a combination of teamwork and good sportsmanship. 
This one is best for younger elementary readers, maybe second through fourth or fifth.  It would be a good one for a classroom library.  Nothing offensive here. 




Riordan, Rick (2015)  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer  Los Angeles:  Disney Hyperion.

Image result for magnus chase the sword of summer

Opening Lines:  “Yeah, I know.  You guys are going to read about how I died in agony, and you’re going to be like, ‘Wow!  That sounds cool, Magnus.  Can I die in agony too?’
            No.  Just no.”
            This is the first book in Rick Riordan’s Norse mythology series.  And he somehow manages to write about the Norse gods in a way that is faithful to the original source material (Come on, am I the only one who has read Snorri Sturluson’s Edda ) bu is also funny most of the time.  The main character, Magnus, is living on the streets of Boston when the book opens.  Though he is a street kid, he has a pretty good sense of humor.  But when he gets attacked by a fire demon and finds out that two of his street friends are actually and elf and a dwarf and then gets killed and wakes up in a luxury hotel that is Valhalla, he does so with irreverent humor.  Don’t get me wrong, he is a likable character and as the story goes on, he reveals himself to be loyal, compassionate, strong of heart, and occasionally funny.  There were parts in this book where I laughed out loud.  The context between Blitz and the master forger is one example. 
            While Magnus is the main character, a secondary character named Samirah al-Abbas is a high school student and a Valkyrie (one of Odin’s Choosers of the Dead).  The dynamic is similar to the Percy Jackson books.  Like Annabeth, she is not on every page, but when she is, she is amazing and dynamic and fun to read about.  This may be enough to draw female fans of Annabeth into the series as well. 
            I did not notice anything in this book that would cause anyone to challenges it (other than the fact that it is fantasy literature.) It is perhaps best for fifth grade and up (at 497 pages, it is a big book, which could be rather daunting to less-accomplished readers.)  This book is funny and exciting.  Visit your independent bookstore and buy it. 


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