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    January 15, 2013: After the Call

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Humor ain’t just something you find in the bathroom

Miscellaneous

I have often been told, “Brian, you’re a numbskull.” Thankfully that has nothing to do with this post, I just wanted to put it out there for discussion. I’ve also been told that there are two types of people, those who laugh at ‘I Love Lucy’ and those who laugh at ‘The Three Stooges’.

I don’t think it’s quite that black and white and read all over, but it gives us a gauge.

What makes an 8-12 year old boy or girl laugh? In my experience… if it’s presented in the proper format, almost anything can make a middle grader crackup. Honestly. Especially when you’re with them in person. But what about in books? That’s where things get like my mom’s liver++… very, very tough.

++ Referring to the liver my mom COOKS, not her ACTUAL liver. Yet I’m craving fava beans and a nice chianti?

Cover and Title:

Probably the hardest part about humor in books is getting the middle grader to actually pick up the book. A good title or cover can make that happen. For example, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey, that’s a book I gotta… um, I mean a middle grader has got to have. Of course, it doesn’t have to be bathroom humor. It could be as simple as Hoot by Carl Hiaasan or as extreme as The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.

Premise/Plot:

Once you have the book in the hands of the questionable reader in question, the author must come through with something funny to read about. The entire book doesn’t have to be humorous, mind you, but slanted in that direction. For example, how about having two kids sneak in and spend the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as in The Mixed-Up Files of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Or how about the Nightmare Academy: Books 1, 2 and the soon to be released Book 3: Monster Wars by  Dean Lorey . The premise: When Charlie Benjamin sleeps, monsters wake up. And sleepovers just aren’t as fun when these horrible creatures try to eat the other children. These books are hysterical. And just wait until you learn about the Trout of Truth.

 

Words, Puns and Analogies:

Certain words will always crack a smile on the face of a middle grader. (As mature adults, we certainly don’t find these funny anymore.) The obvious being ‘poop’ *snickering* and *still giggling* ‘fart’. *laughing* *coughing* Er… ahem. Sorry about that. But even words like ‘fanorkle’ and ‘gloop’ can be funny when used properly. Still better, twist words into puns or analogies and you have yourself a laugh riot that may need defused by teargas totting Tommies. Take the book HECK – Where the Bad Kids Go by  Dale Basye , these pages are just full of it+++.

+++ Referring to puns and analogies, not *snickering again* poop

Characters:

Just like Adult and Young Adult books, humorous Middle Grade books use characters to tell the story.

Voice:

The voice of the author can imbue (how about that for word usage) humor from the get go. The Fudge books written by Judy Blume are perfect examples. (Not to mention ‘fudge’ can be a funny word – see the movie ‘A Christmas Story’.) But voice can go beyond the pages. I read the book Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and was entertained by the tale. When I had the chance to LISTEN to Neil read from the book, it was hilarious. The crowd roared as he became the characters, mimicking their voices as he imagined them.

Illustrations:

To help take humor to the next level, more and more books are including illustrations with the prose. And we’re not talking about picture books, people. We’re talking stick figures! Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney may one day be a bestseller. What? Oh… it is? Um, I meant to say IS a bestseller.

How about You?

I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite humorous MG books in this post, but what about you? What books, growing up or just recently, made you laugh? Or giggle? Or at the very least, give up a crooked smile?

To entice you to reply, I’m going to give away a SIGNED copy of Rapacia by Dale Basye (Book 2 of Where The Bad Kids Go) to a randomly drawn winner.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Laura Pauling  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:20 am

    I love humorous mg. Though, it’s hard to find. I like the Chet Gecko series. Even though I didn’t laugh out loud, I thought Chet was funny. And it was due to the word choice. I’m looking forward to other suggestions. Of course, there is Whales on Stilts, which whil I didn’t crack up, the exaggerated premise makes it funny.

  2. Margo Dill  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:45 am

    What a great post and thanks for all the humorous middle grade suggestions! I’m trying to think of a book that just makes me crack up, and I think there are parts in these 3 that make me laugh (my memory just isn’t what it used to be): Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone–the Dursleys and Hagrid–classic comedy; The Series of Unfortunate Events–it’s that narrator; and Matilda–those characters have to be funny or we’d all be crying.

  3. Lily Kaufman  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:51 am

    A book that I discovered as a mid-grader and still can’t read in public for fear of snorting out loud (causes concern to my neighbours on public transport in this time of swine flu and whatnot) is I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman. Just started thinking about it and woke my husband up giggling. The dedication reads: “There’s fun, and then there’s fun. This is dedicated to those who know the difference.” I Want To Go Home is fantastic stuff, and full of the sort of capital-F fun that’s totally worth the trouble that comes afterwards.

  4. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:59 am

    I suspect you write humorous MG, Brian. You are seriously funny. I love humorous MG. So, so many. All the Fudge books, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. I love the character who is off-kilter, but doesn’t realize that they are doing anything out of the ordinary.

    p.s. It is so true that characters are present in humorous MG, just like adult books. :p

  5. Casey Griffin  •  Jul 19, 2010 @8:14 am

    A series that STILL makes me laugh would have to be Junie B. Jones. Yes, they’re meant for kindergarteners. But they’re hilarious.

  6. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Jul 19, 2010 @8:31 am

    GREAT post, Brian. And thanks for the new book suggestions, too. I hadn’t heard of some of these. Gonna go out and get them! Just The title of “HECK: Where the Bad Kids Go” made me laugh this morning.

  7. T.M. Thomas  •  Jul 19, 2010 @8:50 am

    I never read much humorous stuff as a kid, but I can tell you I’m running to the bookstore with this post later today.

  8. Jemi Fraser  •  Jul 19, 2010 @9:25 am

    I think the most popular humourous books in my classroom are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I have multiple copies of each, and they’re passed around constatntly. Martyn Godfrey, Gordon Korman & Roald Dahl are also popular & fun :)

  9. Tracy  •  Jul 19, 2010 @9:32 am

    (Yes, I am stalking you. I mean, I took your advice on your LJ page and followed you over here. ;))

    Great Post! When I was growing up I loved books Like Amelia Madila and How to Eat Fried Worms. I know I come across as a stick in the mud. And I think you nailed all the ways that humor can be infused in a story from beginning to end.

    (Do you plan to write MG? I think you would be good at it?)

  10. Amie Borst  •  Jul 19, 2010 @9:59 am

    ok i’m going to be biased here and say that Rose Cooper’s forthcoming book, Rumors from the Girls Room is funny as….heck!

    really enjoyed this post brian! thanks for sharing these great titles.

  11. Sydney Salter  •  Jul 19, 2010 @10:21 am

    Some recent funny favorites: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick and Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low–both hilarious historicals. And Shani Petroff’s Bedeviled books make me laugh out loud too.

  12. Susan Quinn  •  Jul 19, 2010 @11:36 am

    This is so timely! Just this weekend, I was thinking of a venturing into humorous MG territory with a new book idea. I clearly need to get reading as well!

    Also: For all the MG authors that haunt the Mixed Up Files, there’s a Meet the Author Blog Hop going on today! It’s for all genres (not just MG), but I would love to see some MG authors represented on there. So if you have a book for sale, or are looking for new summer read, hop on over and join!

  13. Elissa Cruz  •  Jul 19, 2010 @11:57 am

    My boys (okay, me too) love love love The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. The titles alone are great: The Name of This Book is Secret, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and This Book Is Not Good For You. (BTW, in September the 4th book arrives, titled This Isn’t What It Looks Like.)

    Our other absolute favorite is the Alcatraz series by Brandon Sanderson (Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Vs. the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz Vs. The Knights of Crystallia).

    And I do think there is a lot of humor in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, as well as Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. It might not be doubled-over-falling-on-the-floor-in-laughter humor, but they still have fun (and clever) parts that are highly entertaining.

  14. Robyn Gioia  •  Jul 19, 2010 @12:26 pm

    Great post and it is so true that middle graders get a big kick out of silly things that we as adults have grown beyond. I ordered the five favorite books of Australian kids once and they were all silly humorous books. I think one of the things that is lost in the Harry Potter books upon being translated into film, is the vast amount of humor that spans the pages.

  15. Laurie Schneider  •  Jul 19, 2010 @12:30 pm

    Coleen Murtagh Paratore (Mack McGinn’s Big Win & the Wedding Planner’s Daughter series) and Mary Amato (The Naked Mole-Rat Letters) both write great character-centered humor.

    My current favorite funny book is COSMIC by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The humor is so sly it should appeal to just about any reader, from kids to adults.

  16. Beth G.  •  Jul 19, 2010 @1:27 pm

    Thanks for the great post…what an uplifting break on a Monday afternoon!

    When I was growing up I read a lot of humorous books, but the ones that stand out are “Bunnicula” by James and Deborah Howe and “How to eat fried worms” by Thomas Rockwell. I think we listened to these books on tape every summer on vacation and it entertained all seven of us!

    More recently I have been amused by the book “Sealegs” by Alex Shearer. I read that book with my fourth graders and I think I may have enjoyed it more than they did! The voice in that book is wonderful and I found myself reading long into the night to finish it.

    Now I think I am going to head to the library web site and see about getting myself some more humor…

  17. Greg Cruz  •  Jul 19, 2010 @3:20 pm

    I totally loved this post. Thanks for the great pick me up in a slightly downer day!

    One of my favorite books as a 6th grader was: “The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek.” I actually purchased it at the book fair they had at the school. I just loved the excitement and hilarious situations a human got into in the dinosaur world.

    Hmm, maybe it’s time to visit the library and see if they have that book, time for a re-read!

  18. Cathy Ogren  •  Jul 19, 2010 @3:54 pm

    I love humorous books. One of my favorites is “The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School” by Candice Fleming. The chapter on the Dewey Decimal System is a fun way to teach the DDS to my library students.

  19. Cindy  •  Jul 19, 2010 @5:54 pm

    Some favorites: The Moxy Maxwell series, the Millicent Min series, Debbie Garfinkle’s Supernatural Rubber Chicken series, As if Being 12 3/4s isn’t Bad Enough, My Mom’s Running for President.

  20. Jennifer Duddy Gill  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:32 pm

    For those of you suggesting that Brian should write humorous MG novels, well, he does. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of his work and his stories are hilarious!

    I’m glad the Heck series was mentioned and is going to be a prize. I love how the books have some humor that many kids may not get yet but when they’re older and they learn about Nixon or Lizzie Bordon, they’ll be like, “Oh, I get it now!” and it will be funny all over again.

  21. Cathe Olson  •  Jul 19, 2010 @7:46 pm

    The Peter and the Starcatchers series while I would call them fantasy and there is some scary stuff, they are also quite hilarious. Of course, with Dave Barry as one of the authors what do you expect. My daughter just finished Rick Riordan’s new book, The Red Pyramid and was saying how funny it was.

  22. Kristen  •  Jul 19, 2010 @9:56 pm

    I just read the latest by Jon Sciecza – Spaceheadz and it totally cracked me up. Just the two aliens pretending to be kids – heheheheehe – oh man, they would talk in slogans instead of actual conversation – so funny.

  23. Mike Jung  •  Jul 20, 2010 @1:01 am

    I’ll second the recommendations for THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY and THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA. Also, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS is a candidate for funniest book of all time, any age range, any genre. Another recent fave is EIGHTH GRADE SUPERZERO – very, very funny, not so much in a yuk-yuk-yuk broad humor way, and it’s funny while being heartfelt and thought-provoking at the same time. A WHOLE NOTHER STORY is also pretty amusing.

    The thing with “funny” books, though, is that most books have an element of humor to them. There are the obviously humor-based books like WIMPY KID and LUNCH LADY and so on, but as Elissa said, books that fall into other easy-to-identify niches can also be very funny. R.L. LaFevers’ THEODOSIA books, for example – they’re fantasy with a historical bent, but they’re also extremely sly and witty, which is easy to overlook when you talk about them.

  24. Megan/ Inkbabies  •  Jul 20, 2010 @1:43 am

    I think that nothing will get a reluctant kid reading faster than funny books!! I absolutely love the authors that can get me to laugh out loud. (The author of this post certainly happens to be one of that number!)

  25. karen wester newton  •  Jul 20, 2010 @10:52 am

    To reiterate the above commenter’s point, the greatest value of funny MG books is they get kids reading who would never ever read otherwise. They’re a bit like candy-flavored medicine: easy to swallow and good for you, too.

  26. Melina  •  Jul 20, 2010 @7:34 pm

    I keep hearing about Origami Yoda!

  27. Sheela Chari  •  Jul 21, 2010 @10:08 am

    Brian, you crack me up. And you do some outrageous math (see next post).

    I don’t know if anyone has yet mentioned MATHILDA by Roald Dahl. This book made me laugh out loud and the illustrations are over-the-top hilarious. One of my faves.

    And I, too, keep hearing about Origami Yoda! I saw it finally in the store yesterday but resisted from buying b/c I have a huge stack at home to get through. I flipped through and it looks great!

  28. Tracy Abell  •  Jul 21, 2010 @10:32 am

    I met with the acquiring editor for HECK-Where the Bad Kids Go when I was at Rutgers, and got so excited about that book as she described it. I think my enthusiasm unnerved her a wee bit.

    Great post, Brian. I’ve recently loved TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, and always loved The Time Warp Trio books. I’m looking forward to reading your humorous MG someday soon.

  29. Kelly Polark  •  Jul 22, 2010 @10:26 am

    I love to laugh. Thanks for these great suggestions. I’m definitely purchasing a few for my eleven yr old (Oh! and I’ll get to read them, too. Bonus!)

  30. Kerri  •  Jul 23, 2010 @3:05 pm

    I love the BFG by Roald Dahl. My 4th graders laughed until they cried every year when I read this one out loud. Lots of burping and farting in this one!!