Humor Both Dark and Light: The Picture Books of August
A book that can make a little kid laugh is a book he or she is going to remember and want to read again. But different kids laugh at some very different things.
Is your child more of a "hee hee, look at the monkey's silly face" type? Or more of a "ha ha, the monkey just got eaten by that crocodile" schadenfreude fan? Here, we look at five new picture books, in order from sweet to sardonic.
"Spork" by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault (Kids Can Press, $17)
This adorable allegory casts a young spork as a piece of flatware stuck between two worlds. With inherited parts from both his spoon mother and fork father, he doesn't feel like he fits in anywhere. Of course, he finds that there are certain culinary dilemmas for which he is the perfect solution. The kitchenware characters supply a lot of the humor with their expressive reactions. It's a book that will make you smile, even if it doesn't make you laugh out loud.
"Disappearing Desmond" by Anna Alter (Knopf, $18)
Desmond is a young cat who shuns attention. He always tries to blend into the background, whether at school or at play. And some of the wonderful illustrations, showing Desmond "hiding" by, say, standing in front of a portrait of William Shakespeare while wearing a fake mustache, are great laugh-getters. The story is super sweet and incredibly likable in its own right, but the art makes this comically entertaining for young kids.
"Interrupting Chicken" by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick, $17)
The book's running gag takes off right there on the cover, with baby rooster literally interrupting the title. The repeated set-up and punch of the plot -- papa chicken tries to read bedtime stories to baby chicken, but never gets very far -- works with the same kind of comic efficiency as a good sketch comedy routine. After the very first laugh, you get the pattern, and then, when you know it's going to happen again, you eagerly anticipate the joke you know is coming. And you still enjoy it when it delivers.
"Binky to the Rescue" by Ashley Spires (Kids Can Press, $17)
This second adventure of Binky the Space Cat (who is really just a house cat with delusions of sci-fi grandeur) is funnier than the first. Told in graphic novel format, the story follows Binky on an imaginary mission to rid his home of aliens (i.e.bugs). Throughout the 64 pages of this meaty story, the jokes range from subtle visual bits to absurdist plot twists. The action ostensibly takes place within a realistic home-with-a-pet-cat environment, but the story takes wonderfully wacky turns at times and the situational humor works very well.
"Just Too Cute!: And Other Tales of Adorable Animals for Horrible Children" by Mike Reiss, illustrated by Johnny Yanok (Running Press Kids, $17)
The creators of this volume -- which contains three stories and a smattering of quick-hit poems -- hold nothing sacred in their attempt to make kids laugh. Typical picture book conventions are either ignored or intentionally skewered. The first story is about a baby seal who escapes from the zoo and wreaks havoc throughout an entire city by being so darn cute (a genuinely hilarious twist on the expected), while the closing tale tells of a performing polar bear who can't fight his hunger and keeps eating his fellow circus acts. Strangely, the middle story is kind of cute and sweet, and feels out of place here. But those other two tales and the poems that come between them are utterly un-saccharine. Sensitive children who need happy ending payoffs in their bedtime stories should probably steer clear. But there's a certain kind of subversive tyke out there that is going to absolutely love this book. If your kid fits into that latter group, keep an eye on him.
Related: Read to Kids Often to Encourage a Love of Books
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