Category Archives: Humor

Three in One: Battle Bunny

Wait … is this a LIBRARY BOOK … that some mischievous kid has defaced with a pencil?  Or is it a unique new picture book that is really three stories in one?

battle-bunnyBattle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka (lexile: NA; AR book level: NA; 32 pp)

“Happy birthday, Alexander!  To my little birthday bunny on his special day.  Love, Gran Gran.”

The words penned inside the front cover suggest the supposed original book, Birthday Bunny, was a present from grandma, well-meaning but clueless.  Alex, the birthday boy, must have decided the story of a sad bunny who thinks everyone has forgotten his birthday was a bit too sappy, so he takes pencil in hand to improve it.  So Birthday Bunny becomes Battle Bunny, complete with rockets, planes, bombs, and an evil plan to take over the world.  Who can stop the wicked Battle Bunny?  Crow, Badger, and Squirrel cannot, and even the Kenji Fighting Force (with their 1,103 fighting styles) are defeated.  Finally the president must call in none other than Alex, whose special birthday powers enable him to save the day.

Scieszka is a man-on-a-mission to write stuff that boys will love to read, and he’s certainly hit another home run with Battle Bunny.  Boys who think they’re too old for picture books, or that picture books are dumb, are sure to love the premise of taking a boring story and transforming it into an outrageous battle with ninjas, robot killer bees, and mind-control helmets.  They’ll want to read both stories — the original one, still visible under the scratched out words, and all of Alex’s clever changes and additions.

Scieszka’s technique could also serve as a springboard for helping kids with creative writing.  Starting with Battle Bunny as an example, take a worn-out, dull picture book (perhaps weeded from a library, or cheaply obtained at a garage sale), and give a kid PERMISSION to mark it up (!), turning it into his own story.

Wimpy Kid for Dogs: Stick Dog

stick_dogStick Dog, by Tom Watson (lexile: NA; AR book level: 4.5; 189 pp)

Subtitle: “…a really GOOD story with kind of BAD drawings”

The hero of the tale, Stick Dog, is not called that because he likes sticks.  (Though, as the author observes, all dogs like sticks.)  He is called that because the author is, by his own admission, not very good at drawing.  As long as you agree not to hassle him about his drawings, he will get on with telling you the story of Stick Dog.

Stick Dog lives in a nice dry empty pipe under Highway 16, complete with an old couch cushion to sleep on and lots of cast-off tennis balls to chew.  He has four good friends who often come to visit: Poo-Poo, Stripes, Karen, and Mutt.  (Poo-Poo is NOT named after you-know-what — he’s called that because he’s a poodle.)  It’s a good life.  But Stick Dog is always on the look-out for something even more important than a home and friends:  FOOD!

So when summer comes, it means one thing to Stick Dog and his friends: humans grilling hamburgers.  When one afternoon that meaty scent comes wafting over from a nearby park, the dogs decide they MUST have hamburgers.  But of course humans are not just going to GIVE them hamburgers, are they?  The dogs will need a PLAN.

And so begins the Quest for Hamburgers.  There are distractions along the way (including an evil squirrel), and outrageous schemes suggested by the dogs (driving a car?  jumping off a cliff?)  In the end, nothing happens quite as planned, but everyone is happy (including the picnicking humans).

The story is cute and funny, and the dog’s dialogue and thinking seem perfectly, well, doggy.  Some adult reviewers bemoan the simplicity of the plot, but kids love it.  And Stick Dog is an admirable character.  He’s loyal and patient with his friends, a good leader and team-builder.

The text resembles a kid’s school notebook with lined paper, amply illustrated with lots of the author’s kind-of-bad drawings (jumping on the ever-popular Wimpy-Kid-format bandwagon).  It may just inspire would-be young authors into thinking,  “Hey, I can draw better than that!  Maybe I’ll write a story ….”  And don’t let the page count scare away readers wanting something shorter; the large font and pictures make this more the equivalent of a 90-page chapter book.

stick dog hot dogThe sequel, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog, came out October 8 — I loved it, too!

My Life as a Stuntboy

stuntboyMy Life as a Stuntboy, by Janet Tashjian (lexile: 810; AR book level: 5.0; 256 pp)

One afternoon, twelve-year-old Derek Fallon and his best friend Matt head off to their favorite new playground — the nearby UCLA campus, where they like to skateboard and climb around walls and stair rails.  This particular day, however, Derek is noticed by a Hollywood stuntman, who offers him a job doing stunts for an upcoming movie!

This sounds like a dream come true, but there are complications.  First Derek has to get permission from his parents, and they require some things in return — like reading (which he hates, unless it’s Calvin & Hobbes) and taking better care of his pet monkey, Frank.  And his sudden fame creates friction in his friendship with Matt.  Plus doing stunts for fun is one thing, but doing them them with the camera rolling and a famous teen actress watching is quite another.

Derek’s narration is light and funny, from a perspective that will resonate with many 6th grade boys:

My parents have obviously forgotten what it’s like to be a kid with no money, no car, and no power.  Of course we say anything to get what we want — what else are we supposed to do?

This is actually the second in a series, but can be read on its own.  Based on reviews I’ve seen from kids and parents, the books have hooked a lot of reluctant readers who are attracted to a character a lot like themselves.  The look and tone are a bit Wimpy Kid, but with more plot and substance.  The wide margins are filled with Derek’s stick figure drawings, his trick for illustrating vocabulary words (actually drawn by the author’s son).  And parents will appreciate that Derek’s folks are savvy and supportive, and help him learn from his experiences.

The other books in the series so far:

Swindle

Last night I heard author Gordon Korman speak at the Chatham Area Public Library, and he was great.  (Based on all the raised hands and eager questions, I’d say the 100+ kids there thought so, too.)  His books are hugely popular with a lot of guys (and girls), but I realized I’d never featured one in the blog.  So here’s one of my favorites, and, according to Gordon, his #1 selling title:

swindleSwindle, by Gordon Korman (lexile: 710; AR book level: 4.9; 252 pp)

Sixth-grader Griffin Bing (“The Man With The Plan”) and his best friend Ben Slovak are spending the night in an abandoned (maybe haunted?) house that’s due to be demolished the next day.  While exploring the house, Griffin discovers an old Babe Ruth baseball card.  Could it be genuine?  Could it be VALUABLE?

To find out, they take it the next day to S. Wendell Palomino’s “Emporium of Collectibles and Memorabilia.”  Palomino tells them it’s just a copy, not worth much, and gives them $120.

Imagine their surprise to see S. Wendell (“Swindle”) interviewed later on TV about HIS prize Babe Ruth card that he expects to auction for ONE MILLION DOLLARS!  Griffin’s been SWINDLED — and he intends to get that card back!

So Griffin puts together an intricate plan worthy of a Mission Impossible movie.  Swindle’s store is a fortress, guarded by fence, fierce dog, and high-tech security, not to mention a nosy neighbor who’s always around.  Griffin will need the diverse skills of a team of friends to pull it off, and you can bet not everything will go as planned.

Swindle is fast-paced, and funny, and appeals to every kid’s sense of justice.  You want Griffin and his pals to succeed, and show Swindle he can’t get away with taking advantage of a kid.  And for parents who might worry that the story sets a bad example — stealing the card back wasn’t perhaps the best way to right the wrong — those lessons emerge eventually.  But the ride there is quite a roller coaster.  As one reviewer has said, this is Oceans Eleven with 11-year-olds.

Griffin and his team return in four equally fun books:

  • Zoobreak (lexile: 700; AR book level: 4.9; 230 pp)
  • Framed (lexile: 730; AR book level: 5.2; 234 pp)
  • Showoff (lexile: 740; AR book level: 5.1; 248 pp)
  • Hideout (lexile: 750; AR book level: 5.2; 275 pp)

More Christmas Stories

In a recent post, I featured some of the many Christmas-themed books that I especially like.  Here are a few more, some just fun, and others more profound.

christmas_paradeChristmas Parade, by Sandra Boynton

For the littlest ones, fans of Sandra Boynton’s loveable hippos, cows, ducks, and other creatures, here is a simple, noisy, exuberant Christmas parade.  As you “BOOM biddy BOOM biddy BOOM BOOM BOOM!” with the 15 hippos drumming, count the chickens with bassoons, ducks with trombones, one trumpet-playing Santa rhino, and all the others as they march along to the little pig’s house.

santa_stuckSanta’s Stuck, by Rhonda Gowler Greene (lexile: NA; AR book level: 2.0; 32 pp)

An age-old question: how DOES Santa get up and down those chimneys?  Not always easily, it turns out, if he’s had too many sweets!  In this fun cumulative tale, Santa gets stuck going back up.  First the reindeer from the roof try pulling, then the family dog, cat, and kittens try to push from below.  Finally it’s the little mouse who comes up with an ingenious solution for getting Santa out.  The pictures are bright and fun, and the rhyming text fun to read aloud.

where_hide_presentsWhere Did They Hide My Presents? Silly Dilly Christmas Songs, by Alan Katz (lexile: NA; AR book level: 4.2; 32 pp)

Your family will laugh out loud singing these very silly Christmas songs, set to the tunes of familiar carols.  How about “At the Malls” (to the tune of “Deck the Halls”): “At the malls/ No parking spaces/ Ma ma ma ma ma/ Can’t we go home?”  Or perhaps “We’re Caroling” (to the tune of “O Christmas Tree”): “”We’re caroling, we’re caroling / What do we do this stunt for? … I do not mean to be a pain / but it’s so cold I’ll freeze my brain.”  The zany illustrations by David Catrow add to the fun.  (You can see more Silly Dilly Song books I’ve reviewed here.)

on_angel_wingsOn Angel Wings, by Michael Morpurgo (lexile: NA; AR book level: 4.4; 48 pp)

When the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the Savior, the Scriptures tell us they eagerly rushed to Bethlehem to see the baby.  But who stayed with the sheep?  Well, in this unique and warm complement to the Biblical story, it’s the youngest, of course, who is stuck with the job.  Now as a grandfather recounting the story to his grandchildren, he tells how he lamented the unfairness of being left behind.  But then the angel Gabriel returned, and secretly whisked him off to be the first to see and hold the baby Jesus.  He was back with the sheep before the others returned, with his own special memories of that miraculous night.  Simple, flowing pen and watercolor drawings by Quentin Blake (who illustrated many Roald Dahl works) fit the story.  Well worth reading with the family on Christmas Eve.

great_joyGreat Joy, by Kate DiCamillo (lexile:680; AR book level:  3.0; 32 pp)

From their apartment above the street, Frances can look down and see the organ grinder and his monkey on the corner, and sometimes, when it’s quiet, hear his music, sad and far away.  As her mother is getting her costume ready for the Christmas pageant, though, Frances wonders where the man and his monkey go at night in the cold.  So on the way to the church, Frances offers a simple, heartfelt invitation.

The final, wordless picture spread in the book captures something of what the angel meant when he announced so long ago that the tidings of great joy would be for “all people.”  A beautiful, simply-told story, with superb pictures and a wonderful message.

orange_for_frankieOn the funny side I can also recommend Dear Santa: The Letters of James B. Dobbins, by Bill Harley, and Three French Hens, by Margie Palatini.  And one more touching historical Christmas tale, based on a true story from the author’s own family:  An Orange for Frankie, by Patricia Polacco.

An out-of-this-world summer: Aliens on Vacation

If you’ve read much of my blog, you know I love science fiction.  Even better is good sci-fi that is also funny, like this terrific new series by a first-time author.

Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith (lexile: 770; AR book level: 5.1; 251 pp)

“When the taxi pulled up to Grandma’s place, I wanted to burrow under the seat and cower in shame.  I blinked a few times, but the view didn’t get any better.  Of all the places my parents had dumped me for the summer, this was the dumpiest.”

David “Scrub” Elliott would rather be back home in Florida, at basketball camp with his best friend, but his too-busy parents have sent him all the way to the wilds of Washington state.  He’s spending the summer with a hippy grandmother he’s never met, who runs a crazy outer-space themed place called the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast.  No internet, no cell phone reception, no friends  — it was going to be a weird summer.

“Weird” doesn’t begin to describe it when David starts to meet the inn’s guests.  None arrive by car or bus or even the front door.  Each room is equipped with a transporter, and the guests — with their extra arms, 100 eyes, or glow-in-the-dark skin — come from other planets.  Grandma disguises them to look (roughly) human, and they go out to enjoy a quiet vacation in a remote corner of this primitive planet, Earth.

David becomes his grandma’s right hand man in helping to care for the guests,  and keep them out of trouble with the suspicious local sheriff.  But then he meets this really nice local girl.  How can he get to know her and still keep Grandma’s secret safe?  And then there’s the camping trip with some ADHD alien kids with disastrous consequences.  Will David’s fast thinking save his Grandma’s inn?

The story is fun, creative, fast-paced, and perfectly told in David’s own middle-school voice.  [And a Romance Alert, for those wary of such things: There is a KISS — you can close your eyes at that point if you want.]

There’s already a sequel:  Alien on a Rampage.  I can’t wait to read it!

Simple is Fun: Elephant & Piggie

Gerald (the elephant) and Piggie (the pig) are best friends.  The two could not be more different.  Gerald is the cautious worrier, Piggie the exuberant dreamer.  Together they are the stars of the most delightful and popular series of beginning readers to hit kid lit since The Cat in the Hat.  Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books manage to be simple AND fun at the same time,  brimming with enthusiasm and finishing with a twist that’s sure to produce smiles from both kids and adults.

In There is a Bird on Your Head, Gerald is frantic when he discovers there is a bird on his head!  He does not WANT a bird on his head.  What could be worse?  Well, how about two?  How about a family of birds building a nest?  Is there anything his friend Piggie can do to help?

Willems is both author and illustrator, and his pictures are simple, uncluttered, even sparse, while still managing to perfectly convey action and emotion.  All the text is dialogue, contained in color-coded speech bubbles, so no need for “he said” or “she said.”  Nor are there any complicated adverbs like “timidly” or “enthusiastically” — all that information is communicated by the size of the font and the posture of the speaker.  Even a reluctant, struggling early reader can usually read these independently after a couple times with an adult — and, more importantly, will WANT to re-read them.

The Theodore Seuss Geisel Award for the best American beginning reader book has only been in existence for seven years — and four of those seven years, the list has included an Elephant & Piggie book.  We have over 90 copies in our medium-sized library, and most are checked out on any given day.  The series so far: