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Adventure of Meno by Tony & Angela DiTerlizzi

Book 1: Big Fun!

Book 2: Wet Friend!

Simon & Schuster; Oct. 09; 48pp; $9.99 HC

978-1416971481 / 978-1416971498

Core Audience: giggly children 2-6 and retro-loving adults

Strengths: Appealing square trim, poppy visual approach, silliness

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to talk about books, partly because all of the industry upheaval this year has directed my attention to larger issues, and partly because I am in the middle of writing a book myself. So it was a real pleasure to tear open an envelope recently and have these two books tumble out.

Just the antidote to too much heavy thinking.

Meet Meno, the supercute space-elf hero of Tony & Angela Diterlizzi’s new series for the peepers. With his green beanie, irrepressible cowlick, and nifty sweater & tie set, Meno is the embodiment of My Three Sons meets Dennis the Menace with a pinch of Japanese-inspired Friends With You thrown in for good measure.

Tony and Angela have said they were inspired by lots of mid-century influences when creating these books. Things like “Little Golden Books, old Fisher-Price toys, and vintage cereal boxes” as well as funny words like pickle, weasel and spork. They must have had a lot of fun doing this project, and it shows. Populated with friends like Yamagoo, Wishi, and—my favorite—Zanzibar who lives in his HAPPY FUN BOWL, Meno’s world is full of interesting names to roll around on the tongue.

Presented in “Vibrant MENO-COLOR” the books’ clean layout, punchy full bleed art, and bouncy text add up to a high-style package that will be equally at home on a children’s bookshelf or a pop-culture lover’s coffee table.

Because of their strong aesthetic and minimal, playful text, it would be easy to dismiss these books as a design exercise, but that would be a big mistake. In our house we’ve tested these books on a range of ages from 2 to 8 (as well as 40) with great success. We’ve even adopted some “menoisms” into our daily routine. We sometimes drink “moo juice” and like Meno, we always want it to be “sunshine time” at our house.

This cheeky series may not appeal to all parents, especially those who are overly concerned with the occasional silly potty joke or creative play with language. Dick and Jane do not make an appearance in Meno’s world, but that’s part of the appeal. These books will entertain in direct proportion to an adult’s willingness to get goofy. They fall into the same category as tickle tag, making silly faces, and rolling around on the floor. Lots of fun, and a great opportunity to share some all-ages giggles.

Meno is BIG FUN for sure.

Rating: 8.5

***

Bonus videos:

Tony & Angela discuss the project

Tony and Angela read Meno (I especially like their rendition of the diminutive farts at the end. So silly!)

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duck for pres

I have found my candidate!

I have loved him from afar for years and years. I can’t believe that in this moment of national crisis I didn’t think of him sooner.

This arrived in my box today:

Undecided Voters Flock to New Candidate

Barn Party Announces Duck as Presidential Nominee

NEW YORK (January 30, 2008): In a mass migration from established party politics, undecided voters are flocking to a new political party that promises change—real change. The Barn Party offers Americans an agenda of domestic goals supported by children’s booksellers and librarians, first and second graders, and the cracked corn industry. Leading the party’s charge for more reading aloud, recess and protecting the family farm, is Duck, an Avian-American who is making a splash among independent voters across the country.

Duck, a farmyard hero, has declared his entry as the Barn Party’s presidential candidate for the election of 2008. Previously holding elected offices as Farmer and Governor, Duck is seeking the Presidency to present a new face of the United States to the global community. “This election will be a quack heard round the world,” said the Barn Party campaign chairman, Paul Crichton of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Duck’s authorized biographer, children’s author Doreen Cronin, says, “Duck’s time has come. He worked hard on the farm, and even harder as Governor. Hard work brings change, and Duck is a choice for change.”

Amen.

It’s not as if we don’t have the lamest duck in the office now. And the barn is a fairly egalitarian place, as far as I can tell. Maybe we’d all be better off in the long run. I hope I get a pin or placard for BEA.

Cluck, cluck, cluck.

Find out more: www.duckforpresident.com

Okay, this has nothing to do with books, other than being a brutal way to dispose of another electronic threat.

However, it made me laugh, and so I will share.

By the by, I have been on a little hiatus as I get this whole “Baby -vs- Life” thing worked out, but you will see regular postings starting next week. I have a backlog of reviews to share, and some ideas about a total overhaul of the book industry as we know it.

Stay tuned, peeps.

I’m the biggest thing in the ocean

I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

Penguin/Dial; May 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC

978-0803731929

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Braggarts everywhere

Strengths: Bold punchy artwork; Very funny

Let’s start with the basic premise of this story. Here we have a giant squid that just can’t get over himself. After all, he is bigger than most things in the ocean, and if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s the BIGGEST thing in the ocean.

Shrimp? Bigger.

Clams? Bigger.

Jelly fish? Bigger.

Sea turtles? Yup. Bigger.

He even says he’s bigger than the shark, but he’s careful to say it quietly. In fact, he’s so busy proudly telling us how big he is that he doesn’t even notice the (very big) whale that’s behind him. But you know what they say…pride go-eth before a fall.

I really love this book both for the incredibly appealing artwork, and for the absolutely irrepressible squid. Anyone who has ever worked with children will recognize in this squid the child who has unshakable confidence about their own abilities, no matter what reality has to say about it. Preschoolers will adore everything about this book, and with successive readings they will join right in. (Fun bonus: Bathtub stickers are included so kids can play out the story in the tub.) Although our squishy hero does wind up on the inside of the whale at the end, he won’t be kept down, and he finds a way to see the bright side.

This is Kevin Sherry’s first book, and I hope it won’t be the last. It’s fun, charming, well executed, and a delight from start to finish.

Bravo.

Rated: 9.0

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Extra Bonus: Squids must be a thing for Kevin Sherry, because he also has a fun online venture called Squidfire, featuring very hip T-shirts printed with great designs including—you guessed it—squids!!

Booksense.com

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Incredible Book Eating Boy

The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

Penguin/Philomel; April 2007; 32 pp; $16.99 HC

978-0399247491

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Ravenous readers of all ages

Strengths: Awesome artwork, fun play on words

I don’t know what it is about Irish humor that I love so much, but I can’t resist it when I come across it. Maybe it’s the storytelling tradition over there, but there is a wonderful drollness and a slight off-kilter quality to it that is distinctly zany, and it never fails to amuse me. This book is an excellent example.

It starts out innocently enough: it’s about a boy who loves books. Can’t get enough of them. He devours them, really.

Really.

He eats them up.

For the hero of Oliver Jeffers’ newest story, it starts out small. A distracted lick. Followed by a nibble. A page, or two. By Wednesday he had eaten a whole book. And come to find out, the best part is it makes him smarter. Pretty soon he’s smarter than his dad, and smarter than the teacher. He’s eating books left and right, and red ones are his favorite. He loves being smart. But like so many things that diminish when you over-indulge, our hero soon finds himself feeling a little ill. Then alot ill. Then he finds he can’t eat another book if he tries.

What will happen to our little book lover now?

Of course, this bibliographic parable has a happy ending when our hero finds that there’s more than one way to enjoy books. Kids will love the kookiness of the story from start to finish. Jeffers’ art style is full of funny details and punchy visual elements which will give young readers plenty to look at during multiple readings. I am particularly fond of the bite-shaped diecut in the back cover of the book, and the disclaimer that reads “Please do not try to eat this book at home.”

Jeffers has won critical acclaim in Europe, including a nomination for the Kate Greenaway Medal (the UK equivalent of the Caldecott) for his second book Lost and Found. With this third book, Jeffers has a nice body of work going, and I think he’s definitely an author to watch.

I’m looking forward to his next tasty treat, for sure. Yum, Yum.

Rated: 8.75

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Bonus: Check out Jeffers’ lovely little website

 

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17 Things

17 Things i’m not allowed to do anymore by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter

Random House/Schwartz & Wade; December 2006; 32 pp; $15.99 HC

978-0375835964

Core Audience: Children 5-8; Adults who remember being less-than-perfect

Strengths: Engaging art; Funny, funny, funny

This book is an ode to every sassy girl who has ever lived. (I am one of those sassy girls, and I bet many of you are as well.) It is a laugh-out-loud litany of one troublesome idea after another and the consequence is always the same… “I am not allowed to (insert idea here) anymore.”

From gluing her brother’s bunny slippers to the floor, to setting Joey Whipple’s shoes on fire with the sun and a magnifying glass, to a reoccurring obsession with beavers, to my favorite—giving her brother the “gift of cauliflower” [by flinging it off his forehead with a fork], the heroine of this picture book is irrepressible.

The artwork in the book is just as lively, with a wonderful combination of pen and ink illustration, collage, and mixed media. It spills across the page with great exuberance, and does an excellent job of working with the text to give you the full flavor of its spirited protagonist.

There are many books about behaving badly, but it is much rarer to find one that celebrates the individual with as much warmth and humor as this one.

Because of the weird 12/26/06 release date, I hope this book doesn’t fall through the cracks and get lost in the shuffle for awards and recognition.

It’s a gem.

Rated: 9.5

Booksense.com

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Okay, prepare to laugh out loud.

Check out this video post on Brotherhood 2.0 by author and funny-man John Green, (the genius behind An Abundance of Katherines, and Looking for Alaska).

You will never look at your bookshelf the same again.

A hearty shout out to the fabulous wit-ress A Fuse 8 Production for catching this gem.

Lemonade Mouth

Lemonade Mouth, by Mark Peter Hughes

Delacorte; March 2007; 352 pp; $15.99 HC

978-0385904049

Core Audience: 14+ readers of both genders

Strengths: Nice blend of characters; told in both male and female voices; good feel for the trials and tribulations of small town high school life

Remember that famous scene in the Breakfast Club? The one where they’re all hanging out in detention? A bunch of kids from all areas of the high school food chain, brought together by circumstance for one fateful moment. Okay—now imagine what would happen if everyone in that room was musical. Including the teacher.

That’s the unexpected jumping-off point for Mark Peter Hughes’ new novel, which chronicles the unlikely rise of five students from the freshman ghetto to teen rock visionaries in a small-town RI high school. Told in the alternating voices of the various main characters, both male and female, this is a story of some students who improvise a song one day in detention out of boredom, using whatever they have on hand. The teacher hears it, and contrary to everyone’s expectations, suggests they try playing together. The five students, who prior to that day have never had much to say to each other, decide to give it a try. In the process they manage to create a band—the aforementioned Lemonade Mouth—that is so original and genius that it starts a little revolution in the school and unseats the popular hierarchy in the process. All of the classic high school archetypes are here: the shy and misunderstood poet, the rebellious transplant, the overachiever, the insecure funny guy, and the bohemian hipster to be, but Hughes manages to flesh them out with thoughtful writing and some very honest situational comedy.

For those of you who read Hughes’ wonderful first novel I Am the Wallpaper (which I adore, by the way. The paperback is coming in February from Random House- 978-0440420460)—you may recognize Wen, who played a peripheral but important role in that story. Here he is front and center, dealing with the discomfort of having a crush on his Dad’s curvaceous new girlfriend, and trying to get through his days in the grind. Although there are passing references to the previous story, this novel is fully independent, but it’s fun to see him in his context if you’ve read the other one.

I’m pleased that Hughes turned in such a strong effort for his second novel. His writing has an offbeat honesty that will put him in the pantheon of great YA writers if he can keep it up. I am especially impressed with his ability to write spicy and believable girls’ voices. This story has just enough teen angst and edginess in it to ring true without crossing any discomfort lines. This is one of those unusual novels that you can recommend to every reader with a clean conscience.

Rated 9.0

Booksense.com

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365 Penguins

365 Penguins, by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joëlle Jolivet

Harry Abrams; November 2006; 48 pp; $17.95 HC

081094460X

Core Audience: Children 4-8; Lovers of retro and modern design; Penguin huggers

Strengths: Beautiful bold artwork, great concept, hysterical writing, large trim size

Imagine one day that the mailman shows up and delivers to you a penguin with a note attached that says “I’m number 1”. It would beg the obvious question, “Number 1 of what?” The answer is 1 out of 365.

Penguins that is.

So begins the hysterical tale of one family who must figure out what to do when a penguin a day is delivered to their house for a whole year. The first one is cute, and then the next few are interesting, but it’s not long before the whole house descends into smelly chaos. Where to put them? What to feed them? How to keep track of them? It’s an organizational nightmare.

Combining bold illustration with counting, rhyming, and plenty of visual play, this book is a treat from start to finish. Joëlle Jolivet’s artwork makes good use of the penguins’ naturally graphic physique, and the restrained palette of black, orange, and white with punches of blue give the whole book an appealing retro flair. Kids will love the exuberance of the illustrations and the math puzzles among the silly slapstick. The over-sized trim size of the book (14.3 x 11.3) will prevent you from putting it in all but the biggest bookshelf, but that’s not such a hardship since it will look just as good on your coffee table.

Listen to Daniel Pinkwater’s review of this book on NPR from 12/16/06

Rated: 9.25

Booksense.com

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Larklight

Larklight

By Philip Reeve

Bloomsbury; Sept. 2006; 250 pp; $16.95 HC

1599900203

Core Audience: Children ages 8-12

Strengths: Humor, great blend of genres

Imagine what would have happened if Jules Verne had written a Jane Austen novel for the junior set, and you start to get an inkling of what Larklight by Philip Reeve has in store. It’s a delicious blend of tongue-in-cheek Victorian propriety, comedy and swashbuckling space adventure, revolving around a rambling house called Larklight that just happens to be traveling through space.

As the novel opens, we are introduced to Arthur Mumsby and his sister Myrtle, who live with their father (a slightly forgetful professorial type), in a huge and rambling house containing not a few mysterious secrets. Not much seems to happen here at Larklight. The children fret about their boredom until one day they receive notice that they are to have a visitor. Of course, the nefarious visitor is not what he seems, and soon the siblings are off on an adventure all over the galaxy.

This novel is more evidence that Reeve, who received much critical acclaim for his Hungry City Chronicles, is an author whose imagination produces the most amazing material. He combines genres, time periods, the familiar and the fantastical into an extraordinary romp. What I loved most about it is the offhand way he manages to convince us that it is the most normal thing in the world for these two Victorian children to be living in space in the first place, as if it were no stranger than some sleepy town in the English highlands. A thoroughly original book and tons of fun!

Rated: 8.5

This review originally appeared in the 9/14/06 issue of PW Children’s Bookshelf.

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Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry.

What rates?

When I read books they get rated on a 10 point scale. What I like is subjective, but basically I look for great content, excellent design, and fresh ideas. Generally, only books that receive a 7.0 or higher make it on to the site.

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