Aug 18, 2020
In this episode we take a break from the seriousness of life and laugh at some fun and humorous books.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” (Proverbs 17:22, NLT)
Welcome to Books that Spark, a podcast for parents and caregivers where we review books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and conversations leading to teachable moments with our kids.
Today, with all the seriousness of our times and the stress people are under with school changes, illness, finances, and the whole political arena, I want to talk about the importance of laughter and play for our children. We are very blessed in the kid lit marketplace to have some great books that can make us laugh together.
The Bible tells us in Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” (NLT) And we certainly can feel that sometimes, that we just don’t have as much energy as we usually do because we are burdened by what’s going on in our lives.
Play is important work for a child. Laughing is excellent for a child’s spiritual and emotional well-being, but it also stretches their lungs and helps them feel better physically as well. So, having fun together and laughing together is not only fun, it’s excellent for your child’s well-being.
Learning humor helps a child understand culture. We lived overseas, and I always found it interesting what each culture finds humorous. I also found out how we can offend others with our humor cross-culturally…and that’s a very important lesson to learn quickly when you go to another culture!
Plus, it is very important for children to develop the ability to laugh at themselves. Once they cross that threshold, they will find it easier to have and keep friends and to be happier in social situations.
Think back to your childhood, most likely some of your favorite memories were when you were laughing and having fun with your family. Sharing humorous books with your children can create some fun memories with the whole family. It’s healthy and good for you and your kids to do this together besides making memories, and it helps your child to develop in his understanding of cultural and social interactions. So, there are a lot of benefits of reading funny stories together besides it just being fun and a nice break.
I’m sharing with you some of my favorite silly books today, but there are so many available. The main warning that I will give you is to read a book before you share it. I found some books that say they are funny to either be empty, not really have a story to them, and not very funny at all, but more strange than funny. And I found some to have humor I found inappropriate, although I know some kids enjoy that more. In addition, be aware that very young children will have trouble understanding sarcasm. We have to with any books we’re reading think about our child’s developmental age and what they’ll be able to process. So, we should always look at the book before we read them to our children.
We all should know the story of The Three Little Pigs. But have you heard the story from the Wolf’s perspective? It’s an old book called The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by A. Wolf as told to John Scieszka and illustrated Lane Smith. “Everybody knows the story of the three little pigs, or at least they think they do. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story because nobody has ever heard my side of the story. I’m the wolf. Alexander T. Wolf, you can call me Al. I don’t know how this whole ‘big bad wolf’ thing got started, but it’s all wrong. Maybe it’s because of our diet. Hey, it’s not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep and pigs. That’s just the way we are. If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you’re big and bad too.”
Then he tells his side of the story. The pigs are very impolite throughout the story, and the wolf has a cold, so he sneezes, and the straw house fell down killing the first pig. He didn’t want to waste food, so he ate him. He goes through the rest of the story, and at the end he says, “The news reporters found out about the two pigs I had for dinner. They figured a sick guy going to borrow a cup of sugar didn’t sound very exciting, so they jazzed up the story with all of that huff and puff and blow your house down. And they made me the big bad wolf. That’s it. The real story. I was framed.
If you haven’t read this one, you should. It’s a fun one. And there are quite a few different fractured fairy tales and fairy tales where they fix the fairy tales and retellings of fairy tales with a twist, that are so much fun. And some are not appropriate for some children, so do vet them ahead of time, read them ahead of time and make sure they are appropriate for your child. Some of them are truly hysterical. One of my favorites is actually a version of Hansel and Gretel which is not appropriate for certain ages of children because the kids in the story are not well-behaved and they have a lot of sarcasm, but for an older child, they would really enjoy it. I didn’t put that one in the program exactly just because I know for little children it wouldn’t really be good. But I will put that in the show notes in case you’re interested in looking at that particular story for a little bit older elementary, middle school kid. And this same writer has other funny fairy tale retellings that are irreverent and silly that I think older kids might enjoy.
Another fun, hilarious story is called Carnivores. It’s by Erin Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Sintat. It starts out, “The Lion is known throughout the animal kingdom as the king of the beasts. The great white shark is the most feared predator in the oceans. And the timber wolf’s howl strikes terror into the hearts of fuzzy woodland creatures everywhere. But even savage carnivores get their feelings hurt. The lion tries to ignore it when the gazelles whisper behind his back. He pretends not to see the zebras looking down their noses at him. The wildebeests call him “bad kitty” just because he’s eaten half the neighborhood. It hurts; it really does. The great white shark, he gets such a bad rap. All those shark movies don’t help. Everyone talks about his feeding frenzies. But he’s simply a fast- eater. Nobody understands.”
So, in the story they try to go vegetarian. Toward the end, we finally understand this is who they are, and we should accept them as they are—that they aren’t bad for being who they were meant to be.
Most of Mo Willems books range from heartwarming and silly to outright hilarious. One of my favorites is Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. It starts out, “Once upon a time there were three dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.”
So, from the beginning your children will laugh because Willems has changed the story unexpectedly. In the original Three Bears story, they are oblivious to this girl coming to their home. However, in Willems’ book, the dinosaurs have an evil plot.
It says, “One day, for no particular reason, the three dinosaurs made up their beds, positioned their chairs just so, and cooked three bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures.
“‘Oh boy,’ said Papa Dinosaur in his loud, booming voice. ‘It is finally time to leave and go to the—uh—some place else.’
“‘Yes!’ continued Mama Dinosaur. ‘I hope no innocent little succulent child happens by our unlocked home while we are…uh….some place else!’
“Then the other Dinosaur made a loud noise that sounded like a big, evil laugh but was probably just a polite Norwegian expression. The three Dinosaurs went Someplace Else and were definitely not hiding in the woods waiting for an unsuspecting child to come by.”
Willems also brings in reality which every kid will enjoy. It says, “Sure enough, five minutes later a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks came traipsing along.”
Throughout the book is talks about how she doesn’t listen to people and is poorly supervised, so it’s kind of funny. Throughout the story are surprises, but it follows the basic story except that everything is huge because they are dinosaurs. Goldilocks comments, “The bears that live here must be nuts.” Then, she looks around and starts to realize it’s not the bears’ house, but it is some dinosaurs’ house, and she escapes out the back door.
The story has two morals. One: If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave. And for dinosaurs: Lock the backdoor.
Another one of my favorites is by Ryan T. Higgins. It’s called We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. This one is perfect for the start of school too, so it’s a great one to get right now. Penelope is a T-Rex, and Higgins puts right in the front of the book a disclaimer to the kids that no T-Rex will eat them because T-Rexes are extinct which is very kind of him to help our children not to be afraid.
Penelope is very nervous about her first day of school. She asks questions and gets her backpack ready, and when she gets to school the next day, she learns that her classmates are children! And children are delicious, so she eats them.
The teacher tells her, “We don’t eat our classmates,” so she spits them out. The next picture shows the kids all covered with slobbers. They don’t want to be her friend anymore. We can talk with our kids what it means to be a friend and when we lose our friend’s trust it is sometimes hard to get it back. She tries to tell her classmates they can sit by her, but they are too afraid. She is very sad and alone. The next day she tries really, really hard not to eat her friends, but she couldn’t stop herself and she eats one boy. A child tattles and she spits him out.
So, all the students won’t go near her. They don’t trust her. She’s very sad. But then she sees the goldfish Walter, and she says, “Will you be my friend.” She puts her finger in the bowl, and the fish looks at her and “Chomp!” bites her finger. She screams and says, “He’s eating me!” and realizes being eaten hurts!
She eventually is able to make friends with her classmates and not eat them. She understands how to be a better friend. This book has a lot of cute themes throughout that, even though it is funny, it may open up some great conversations about school and making new friends, keeping a friend’s trust, and thinking about how others feel when we do what we do.
A perfect book to read today since it’s Tuesday is Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. It starts out, “Hey, kid! Did you know that dragons love tacos? They love beef tacos and chicken tacos. They love really big gigantic tacos and tiny little baby tacos as well.” But then we are warned that dragons hate spicy salsa. So, the boy in the book plans a party for the dragons, but of course, he accidentally gives them spicy salsa. Soon everything is destroyed as the dragons burn down everything. The story ends with the dragons helping to rebuild everything.
It is just a silly story, very entertaining, very funny, but it is so much fun to read. And I love how the dragons help after they made such a mess of everything.
Another goofy book is Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and illustrated by Max Lang. I love this book. One beautiful day Monkey named Jim wakes up grumpy, but he keeps insisting he’s not grumpy. Everyone has ideas of how to make him feel better and keeps asking him why he’s grumpy until he explodes, insisting he’s not grumpy. He walks away and sits by himself and realizes that maybe he is grumpy. His friend Norman the gorilla comes by, and Monkey asks if he’s grumpy too because he looks upset. He says, no, that he had been dancing with porcupine, and he has quills he’s pulling out of his hind end.
They sit on a tree, and Monkey asks if he still hurts, and he says yes, but he thinks he’ll feel better tomorrow. Then he asks Monkey if he’s still grumpy, and he says yes, but he thinks he’ll feel better tomorrow too. Norman says, “It’s a wonderful day to be grumpy.”
Both of them start feeling a little better.
I love that this book is about feelings and understanding that they are temporary. I love that all the friends like to try to help, but it also shows that sometimes it’s better just to sit with someone rather than trying to fix their problem or change their mood. It’s a cute, funny book with a lot to offer.
Two alphabet books are very funny. One is P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, illustrated by Maria Tina Beddia. This whole book is about words that don’t follow the rules of pronunciation. E is for ewe, A is for aisle and aeon. It’s a great book for introducing these wacky words and to give your kids some great new vocabulary words. It’s a fun book to read and try to pronounce all the words in it. I would say this book is for a little bit older kid. It would be too much for a really young kid who is literally just learning their alphabet. But for older kids who already know the alphabet and phonics and know how to read, I think it would be a fabulous book to read with them.
Another one that I love that would work with younger children who know the alphabet and are still learning is A Is for Salad by Mike Lester. A is for salad shows an alligator eating a salad. B is for Viking shows a beaver dressed as a Viking. So, each picture has a word that matches the letter shown, but the page chooses the wrong part of the picture for its line. Kids will have fun correcting each page with the word that matches. It’s really cute and a lot of fun. It will make really young children crack up.
But Not the Hippopotamus is a book by Sandra Boynton. This is a cute book. The animals are all doing things together except for the hippo. Finally, the animals invite the hippo to join them, and he joins in, but not the armadillo. This is a cute board book that shows that someone can be left out if we aren’t careful. And when we include someone, we need to see if someone else is being left out. Boynton also has several other funny books. Some about hippopotamuses. They are very cute and entertaining. I love her books. They are fun.
Giggle, Giggle, Quack is a great book. I love it because the child infers information throughout the story. A farmer goes on vacation and leaves instructions for his brother to take care of the farm, but he warns his brother to watch out for the duck because he’s trouble and a bad influence on the other animals. It’s so funny. Kids will love it. I don’t want to give away the story, but it really is adorable.
Some oldies that are still fun to read are any of the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish. She has several different illustrators for her different books. Each of these books has a play on words throughout the story, and the children have so much fun realizing she has misunderstood and is doing the completely wrong thing. In one book she’s told to dust the furniture which she thinks is very strange, but she gets powder and puts dust all over the furniture. In another book, she checks her boss’s shirts by literally painting checks on them and removes the spots on Mrs. Roger’s dress by cutting out the polka dots. These are great books for learning to play with words, understanding literal and figurative meanings, and it helps kids anticipate the reaction of her bosses when they see what’s she done.
Another book that plays on the literal versus the figurative meaning of words is the book Just a Minute by Teddy Slater, illustrated by Dana Regan. It also teaches math for grades K-2 and has math activities by Marilyn Burns. Fred wants to share his picture with his family, but everyone keeps telling him “Just a minute.” Then his brother tells him he needs to walk the dog, and Fred says, “Just a minute.” In the meantime, the dog has an accident on the floor. So, they have to talk about how long a minute is. And everyone learns not to say “Just a minute” unless they really mean it. You’re dealing with math and the length of time a minute is, but you’re also dealing with the figurative language when we say, “Just a minute.” It could mean 15 minutes or half and hour if we’re not careful.
Also, when thinking of middle schoolers, another great series of books that are humorous but educational are the Horrible History series and the books related to those. These are certainly not going to be appropriate for young children. They deal with a lot of disgusting things from history, but those books, in particular, helped all of my kids develop a love for history. And it helped them so much to just jump into their educational history books, the curriculum they had to learn, but they had such a fascination by then with what really happened in the past. So, I do recommend those for the middle schoolers and high schoolers if you’re okay with the rough edges in those books.
Many picture books and board books share humor. Some are meant to make you laugh out loud, but others just make us smile at the subtle humor. Either way, they can be a blessing to you and your family as you share them together and take a break from the heaviness and seriousness of life now and then. And remember, you’re always creating wonderful memories with your kids as you do this.
Thank you for joining us today for Books that Spark, a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will spark meaningful conversations with your kids. You can sign up for my mailing list to get weekly reminders of this podcast and my blog. My website is terriehellardbrown.com.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, and discussion. For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
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