There are so many funny books for children out there – even many books that are not outright funny employ gentle humor to engage young readers. The best humorous kids’ books will amuse adults, too, of course. Here are a few authors and titles with a brief explanation on why they will make your kids – and you – laugh. These are books for kids ranging from babyhood to almost teens.
For the youngest readers
Sandra Boynton board books. The Going to Bed Book and Moo, Baa, La-La-La were staples in our house, and I still have their rhyming texts memorized after over 12 years of no longer reading them. Boynton’s humorous yet pleasantly drawn animals are the main characters of these sweet, silly books. Other titles include Blue Hat, Green Hat and Doggies: A Counting and Barking Book, among many others. Ages baby and up.
Chicka-Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and George Archambault (a picture book that also comes in a shortened board book version): This catchy rhyme has the lowercase letters of the alphabet climbing up a coconut tree with a funny outcome. Just excellent – a classic. Ages baby and up.
Picture books for preschoolers and school kids
There is a whole series of Little Princess picture books (some in board format) by Tony Ross, but my kids and I had only I Want My Potty and I Want My Dinner. These two books are wonderful. In the potty one, the princess is tired of nappies, but she is still not entirely convinced about her little green potty. Somehow Ross manages to work in the points of view of both parents and children while utterly avoiding didacticism and using funny, expressive illustrations. He gently does the same for “Please” and “Thank you” in I Want My Dinner. Ages preschool to 7 or so.
Books by Mo Willems: Pigeon is one of his best-known characters in books for younger kids and early readers. Pigeon has some struggles and demands similar to those of small children, as in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! and The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. The simple drawings are expressive and delightful. For preschool age and up.
Gerald the Elephant and Piggie are best friends and star in over 20 “early reader” books by Willems. Gerald is Bert to Piggie’s Ernie: Gerald is the worrywart and Piggie the slapdash, enthusiastic one. Their goofy exchanges are endearing and always end up confirming their friendship. Ages preschool to 8, more or less.
Anything written and/or illustrated by James Marshall. Marshall created, among his many other works, the hippopotamus picture book characters George and Martha (they appeal to ages 4 and up). The illustrations are sweetly silly and charming. They are very good, supportive friends to each other, but that doesn’t get in the way of a few gentle tricks from time to time, as in this sequence from George and Martha Rise and Shine:
One day George wanted to impress Martha.
“I used to be a champion jumper,” he said.
Martha raised an eyebrow.
“And,” said George, “I used to be a wicked pirate.”
“Hmmm,” said Martha.
George tried harder. “Once I was even a famous snake charmer!”
“Oh, goody,” said Martha.
Martha went to the closet and got out Sam.
“Here’s a snake for you to charm.”
“Eeeek,” cried George.
And he jumped right out of his chair.
“It’s only a toy stuffed snake,” said Martha. “I’m surprised a famous snake charmer is such a scaredy-cat.”
“I told some fibs,” said George.
“For shame,” said Martha.
“But you can see what a good jumper I am,” said George.
“That’s true,” said Martha.
James Marshall worked with author Harry Allard to create the Miss Nelson series and The Stupids (Marshall illustrated and Allard wrote both picture book series). In Miss Nelson Is Missing!, the kind schoolteacher Miss Nelson, who presides over “the worst class in school,” fails to arrive at school one day. Instead, the more sinister Miss Viola Swamp takes over the class. Soon the kids learn to show more appreciation and manners (of course). Ages 6 and up.
The Stupids Step Out is the first of four picture books about a family who is amazingly, yes, stupid. It begins, “One day, Stanley Q. Stupid had an idea. This was unusual.” The rest of the family comes out from beneath the rug, and their adventure begins. With a painting of a tree labeled “Flower” and a painting of a flat field labeled “Mount Stupid” on the family’s walls (and more!), the illustrations add plenty of amusing detail to the stories. Though highly recommended by libraries and children’s book specialists, The Stupids books are sometimes banned in the U.S., because some parents worry that they glorify stupidity or the use of the word “stupid.” The books are so delightfully over-the-top that your children will just enjoy the silliness, and you can always remind them that “stupid” is not a word to throw around. My mother-in-law was concerned about saying “stupid” too much when she read it aloud, so she called them “The Sillies,” which was a good workaround when my kids were begging to hear The Stupids Step Out for the umpteenth time. Ages 4 and up.
Amelia Bedelia books. These “I Can Read” books have been around since the 1960s, written first by Peggy Parish, then taken over by her son Herman in the late 80s. Peggy Parish was an English teacher who began writing the series to teach children that words aren’t always meant to be taken literally. In those original books, Amelia is a maid who executes each request from her employers to the letter – incorrectly. For example, when asked to “dust the furniture,” she applies dusting powder to the furniture. Thus her employers learned to say “undust the furniture” to Amelia, so that she will wipe dust away from the furniture (which does make sense when you think about it). Herman took over the series in its original format and has added on some Amelia Bedelia chapter books, where Amelia is a girl (who still has language misunderstandings, of course). Great for language awareness!
Chapter books for school-aged children, and audiobooks
The original Paddington Bear adventures, beginning with A Bear Called Paddington, are novel-length books by Michael Bond. The basic premise of each chapter usually involves Paddington – who is a real bear, by the way – trying to help solve a problem, then making a mistake or a mess of some sort, and then having it all come right again in the end. Bond describes him this way: “Paddington is not the sort of bear that would ever go to the moon – he has his paws too firmly on the ground for that. He gets involved in everyday situations. He has a strong sense of right and wrong and doesn’t take kindly to the red tape bureaucracy of the sillier rules and regulations with which we humans surround ourselves.” It’s true – when the Brown family seem about to thwart one of Paddington’s mysterious and often eccentric plans, he will treat them to “a hard stare.” Still, they are his sensible, delighted caretakers. Ages 6 and up.
The Wayside School series by Louis Sachar is what started Sachar’s (the author of the Newbery-award-winning Holes) writing career back in 1978. The school is 30 stories high with one classroom on each floor, due to a construction error. The humor is wacky, a bit supernatural, and sweet. There are five books in the series, the latest one published in 1995 – timeless and funny, even for parents. Ages 8 and up.
David Walliams is a comedian many of us may know from “Little Britain,” but he started writing children’s books with The Boy in the Dress in 2008 and quickly grew popular for writing books with humor and empathy. Comparisons with Roald Dahl (I won’t go into detail about Dahl here, but if you haven’t read him with your kids, please rush out to the library immediately) are common, as some adults in his books can be as cartoonishly wicked as adults in Dahl’s books often are. Children love him. Ages 8 or 9 and up.
Bill Harley’s stories: Bill Harley is a talented and intelligent storyteller and songwriter for kids. My kids (and I) listened to his CDs over and over: “From the Back of the Bus,” “Cool in School,” “Weezie and the Moonpies,” “Blah, Blah, Blah,” “Teachers’ Lounge,” and “Come On Out and Play” (there are others, but those are the ones we could get our hands on). Almost all of these are still in print (as audiobooks), and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Parents with grown children still sing “Zanzibar” (from a story about Bill’s super-last-minute school report on Zanzibar) or “Abiyoyo.” All of his stories have heart and humor. He has created songs and stories that can appeal to preschoolers up to junior high kids and beyond. The ones aimed at older kids might not appeal to preschoolers, but they are some of my favorites.
This list is far from complete, but they are some reliable favorites of mine. I asked some school librarians if they had any recommendations, and they reminded me that A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books are quite funny, in a sweet, subtle way, and that B. J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures (it really has no pictures) is a hilarious book to read aloud to children.
Here is one last recommendation: don’t forget joke books in general. Kids love to learn and tell jokes, and many jokes involve word play and are good for language.
By Carol McDonald
Carol has been living in Zurich for 18 years. Her kids are both teenagers now but will still laugh if she manages to chase them down to read aloud a bit from, e.g., Wayside School is Falling Down or The Stupids Step Out.
Illustration by Lemady Rochard
Lemady is an artist who also runs Storycraft classes for children aged one-and-a-half to eight years in Ruschlikon, ZH. She is currently studying a Masters in fine arts and also has a background in theatre arts and children’s literature. Lemady lives in Thalwil with her two young children. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org