Introduction and Rationale
Who doesn’t love a good laugh? I have selected fifteen humorous picture books aimed at the primary grades for this bibliography. As a teacher on call, I primarily find myself in elementary schools and recent changes to my job situation have seen me teaching in more libraries and primary classrooms. Often, I am asked to facilitate story time and the enjoyable job of book selection is left to me. Knowing I would find it useful to have a bag of tricks in the form of hilarious picture books upon which to draw, I researched this list. It contains a few favourites that I have known and loved for years and mostly consists of new-to-me books I have discovered through resources such as Carrie Gelson’s “There’s A Book For That” blog, Betsy Bird’s “Make 'Em Laugh: Funny Picture Books” list, and the Austin Public Library’s “You Crack Me Up Silly Stories Summer Reading 2016” list.
I believe read alouds are important for all ages as they allow the listeners to process language at a higher level than they are currently able to read and write, they give the students a chance to hear text read fluently and with expression, and they are a shared experience that can be a jumping off point for all manner of lessons. I chose to focus on humorous picture books because funny books are universally loved and humour is a quick way to connect with a class that you may only be teaching for thirty minutes. These books often have animals as protagonists (e.g. A Visitor for Bear) or may even bring inanimate objects to life (e.g. Little Pea) to the delight of students. Several of these stories break the fourth wall (e.g. Warning, Do Not Open This Book!, The Book With No Pictures) leaving space for the gleeful children to contradict or goad the reader, a role reversal that they find entertaining. If a class has enjoyed their story time, the book is often checked out by a lucky student who wants to examine it in detail. For this reason, I will attempt to read books that are in the school library’s collection, but now that I’ve discovered some newer books that may not yet have reached some schools, I will be sure to keep a few of these treasures in my travel bag.
Animals should definitely not wear clothing by Judi Barrett. Illustrated by Ron Barrett.
Humorous illustrations detailing some very good reasons why animals have no need for clothing. I particularly like the giraffe wearing seven neckties.
The princess and the pony by Kate Beaton.
Princess Pinecone, the smallest warrior, is initially disappointed when she receives a cute pony instead of a warhorse, but in the end her steed helps everyone connect with their cuddly side.
A visitor for bear by Bonny Becker. Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.
The reappearances of the persistent "small, grey, and bright-eyed" mouse in this book eventually thaw the heart of the curmudgeonly bear.
A girl and her gator by Sean Bryan. Illustrated by Tom Murphy.
Would your life be restricted by the presence of a gator on your head? In rhyming text, said gator tries to convince Claire otherwise. I'm still trying to decide whether I prefer Pierre the gator in swimwear or skiwear.
We're in the wrong book by Richard Byrne.
In a story reminiscent of David Wiesner's The Three Pigs, our protagonists have left their book and travel through several different genres (counting book, comic book, spot the differences book, etc.) before returning to their story.
I want my hat back by Jon Klassen.
The dry humour and minimal illustrations simply enrich the story of a bear who is searching for his missing hat. The ending leaves something to the imagination and children will enjoy theorizing about the fate of the rabbit.
It's a tiger! by David LaRochelle. Illustrated by Jeremy Tankard.
No matter where he goes, the tiger is one step ahead of the main character (even captaining the boat he escapes onto!). Fortunately, it turns out that the tiger is rather friendly.
Warning, do not open this book! by Adam Lehrhaupt. Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.
I'm telling you now, if you open this book, chaos will ensue! Monkeys and toucans are just waiting to escape! You've been warned!
The book with no pictures by B.J. Novak.
True to its title, there is nary a picture in this book, but the silly text will have students giggling. Be prepared to read some extremely ridiculous sentences! The mention of the reader's friend, a hippo named "Boo Boo Butt" is guaranteed to set the class off.
Sparky! by Jenny Offill. Illustrated by Chris Appelhans.
A subtly hilarious story of a girl who is determined to have a pet and finds a way to circumvent her mother's stipulations that any pet she gets mustn't require feeding, walking, or bathing by taking her teacher librarian's suggestion (shout out to teacher librarians!) and ordering a sloth. Sparky the sloth may not know many tricks, but he's really really good at Statues.
Wink: The ninja who wanted to be noticed by J.C. Phillipps.
Wink is flunking out of ninja school despite his many attempts to be stealthy. Fortunately, he finds his true calling and is free to be himself when he joins the circus.
What animals really like by Fiona Robinson.
Beaver composer and conductor Mr. Herbert Timberteeth is dismayed when the animals performing his composition start ad libbing. His carefully-planned song goes off the rails when the animals speak out about their true preferences. From flower-arranging lions, to deep sea diving horses, to pigeons performing ballet, this book is full of unexpected pairings with charming illustrations. Note: there are several fold-out pages that may make it slightly more difficult to show to a class.
Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Illustrated by Jen Corace.
All Little Pea wants is to eat healthy foods, but as a good pea, he must eat his candy first. The reversal of expectations will appeal to children who are often told to take just one bite of broccoli. Imagine having to take one bite of ice cream!
The slightly annoying elephant by David Walliams. Illustrated by Tony Ross.
Always read the small print. Sam didn't when he filled out the "Adopt an Elephant" form at the zoo and is surprised when his adopted elephant shows up for a visit. The elephant causes chaos by ripping pictures from the walls, flooding the bathroom, and eating all the food in the house. Poor Sam reminds me of Bilbo Baggins trying to accommodate a growing group of dwarves except Sam's dealing with a herd of elephants!
Leonardo the terrible monster by Mo Willems.
Leonardo is really not so great at being a monster. He can't scare anyone. When he finally finds someone who cries at his antics, it turns out it wasn't because Leonardo was scary but because Sam has just had an incredibly bad day and needs a friend.
Barrett, J. (1970). Animals should definitely not wear clothing. Illustrated by Barrett, R. New York: Atheneum.
Beaton, K. (2015). The princess and the pony. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc.
Becker, B. (2008). A visitor for bear. Illustrated by MacDonald Denton, K. Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press.
Bryan, S. (2006). A girl and her gator. Illustrated by Murphy, T. New York: Arcade Pub.
Byrne, R. (2015). We’re in the wrong book! New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Klassen, J. (2011). I want my hat back. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.
LaRochelle, D. (2012). It's a tiger! Illustrated by Tankard, J. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Lehrhaupt, A. (2013). Warning, do not open this book! Illustrated by Forsythe, M. New York: Simon & Schuster Children's Pub.
Novak, B. J. (2014). The book with no pictures. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.
Offill, J. (2014). Sparky! Illustrated by Appelhans, C. New York: Schwartz & Wade Books.
Phillipps, J. C. (2009). Wink: The ninja who wanted to be noticed. New York: Viking.
Robinson, F. (2011). What animals really like: A new song composed & conducted by Mr. Herbert Timberteeth. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Rosenthal, A. K. (2005). Little Pea. Illustrated by Corace, J. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Walliams, D. (2013). The slightly annoying elephant. Illustrated by Ross, T. London: HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Willems, M. (2005). Your pal Mo Willems presents Leonardo the terrible monster. New York: Hyperion Books for Children.
AustinPLChildrensSvcs (2016, January 22). You crack me up silly stories summer reading 2016. BiblioCommons. https://vpl.bibliocommons.com/list/share/134783181_austinplchildrenssvcs/578049027_you_crack_me_up_silly_stories_summer_reading_2016?from_login=true
Bird, E. (2014, April 9). Make 'em laugh: Gut-busting picture books that'll have 'em rolling in the aisles. New York Public Library.
Gelson, C. (2016). There’s a book for that. https://thereisabookforthat.com/