There are some writers who make us reflect with silent amusement the absurdity of some aspects of life. There are others who produce a few inner chuckles at their quick and thoughtful wit.
Then, there are those who makes us afraid to read them in public, because we know at some point we are going to embarrass ourselves trying to stifle an outburst.
These are the ones who make readers erupt into a silent giggling fit in a crowded room when something reminds them of that particular chapter, quote, or line.
Since April is National Humor Month, here is a teensy sampling of some of the authors who make me laugh, whether I’m reading a bedtime story to my daughter, or talking about the book to others who “share the joke.”
Children’s Picture Books
Mo Willems. Willems is one I always pick when it’s my turn to choose what to read at story time. He knows what it’s like to be both a kid and parent, and captures this in bringing out the hilarity of everyday family issue through Knuffle Bunny, by celebrating that over-the-top stubborn nature of kids in his Pigeon series, and giving kids a fun way to learn to read with the snappy dialogue in his Elephant and Piggie series. Most of all, through his books like Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, he just wants us to laugh. Don’t worry Mr. Willems, we do.
Sandra Boynton. Boynton’s books are so simple, yet so fun to read. Her art is charming, and her words just flow easily. She also manages to put in little nifty “plot twists,” in much of her work; something you wouldn’t normally expect in a 12-page counting book consisting of mostly dogs barking. It’s usually at that finishing point that the laughs really come, like her books Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Fifteen Animals. She’s built up a pretty great following, too, as her song books with accompanying CDs like Dog Train show. Only Boynton could write a series of sing-a-longs that could gather Blues Traveler and Steve Lawrence on the same disc, and pair up Weird Al Yankovic with Kate Winslet in a “naptime” duet. Our family has read her stories and listened to her songs so much we have inside jokes…“Blender solo!!!”
Nick Bruel. Bruel and his Bad Kitty series are goofy fun from start to finish. His artwork drips with cat-like sarcasm, and the look on Kitty’s face alone will cause a chuckle. He has successfully expanded his series into early chapter and picture books like Bad Kitty Gets a Bath (an absolute riot, by the way), that parents will steal and read themselves. His original Bad Kitty is still my favorite, especially some of Kitty’s ways of showing her displeasure with her situation. The pictures accompanying her “plotting against us” are worth the read. Give me this crass Kitty over Grumpy Cat any day for sheer comic pleasure, as this very very bad bad bad kitty is very very very funny.
Karen Kaufman Orloff. Orloff makes this list for her “I Wanna” series, including I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room. Written as a series of correspondence between a young boy Alex and one or both parents, Alex is usually pleading his case for or against a very important issue. The exchange is straight up funny, with the parents getting in some of the best, straight forward zingers:
“Dear Mom…I need a new friend now! This iguana can be the brother I’ve always wanted…Love, Alex.”
“Dear Alex, You have a brother. Love, Mom.”
The extreme artwork in these books by veteran illustrator David Catrow are a perfect fit.
Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Scieszka and Smith have taken the world of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and fables and turned them on their pointy ears. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs is a genuine classic, but the fable compilation of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales packs some of the best punch in the humor department. There is the side-effect of learning something, however, as Scieszka and Smith have produced pictures books that tackle subjects like math, science, visual art, reading, foreign languages, and history in completely original ways. When my daughter chooses to take a book about the United States’ founding fathers to school because, “it is soooo funny,” that’s quite an accomplishment.
Young and Teen Readers Chapter Books
Lemony Snicket. I am almost always frustrated when I read a book by the devious and covert alter ego of Daniel Handler (a funny man in his own right), but I just can’t help but read them. I know, no matter what fresh hell he puts his characters through, it will be done with some of the funniest and most clever ways. Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and All The Wrong Questions are the ultimate in kids-empowerment, as it seems every grown up is a bumbling idiot, placed on this earth to make things worse for some very resourceful and savvy kids. He uses his talent for wordplay to his advantage in teaching young readers vocabulary skills.
Case in point from, All The Wrong Questions Book 3:
“(Sabotage) refers to a person damaging or destroying something on purpose,” Moxie said.
“I know what it means,” I said. “For complicated reasons, I had to learn that word in kindergarten.”
His picture books, including The Composer is Dead and 13 Words are also worth a read, even if you don’t have kids. He may repeatedly warn you to not read his work, but ignore these heeds.
Cressida Cowell. The animated How To Train Your Dragon films are adorable, but those who haven’t read the original series are really missing out. These are nothing like the film, so those unfamiliar with Cowell’s Monty Pythonesque style of writing will join an all-new adventure. Toothless especially steals the show, as unlike the large dog-like quality of the movie dragon, this miniature little monster is boisterous, stubborn, and actually “toothless.” I actually had a hard time accepting the large-scale and cuddly Toothless in the movie, because I had actually grown attached to that little snarky poop-head in Cowell’s books. I bet if you read her books, you will too.
J.K. Rowling. Let’s be honest. The world of Harry Potter is magical and moving, but part of the massive appeal is that these books is they are also really funny. Rowling kept her sense of humor very much intact, even when the wizarding world faced some of its darkest times. Whether the jokes were subtle or slapstick, Rowling mastered them. I could just imagine myself sitting around the table with The Weasleys laughing at Fred and George’s commentary of using their street magic prowess to pick up Muggle girls. She was able to make us truly believe in magic, move us to tears, and give us an entire world of characters, places, and creatures to love, but that doesn’t also mean Rowling couldn’t make us laugh.
Tommy Angleberger. Star Wars fans love the Origami Yoda series for its many inside references (McQuarrie Middle School, Bus #3263827), but the middle school playground politics and challenges faced by the tween set are so funny because they are so real. These students are not only subjected to problems between each other, they have to endure curriculum and lunch menu changes, school “fun nights,” and assemblies with Mister Good Clean Fun. The fact it is written from the point of view of the students themselves keeps the story both fresh and fun. Plus, he included origami patterns, so you can play along at home.
John Green. My first experience with Green was through his absolutely fabulous fast-paced Crash Course education video series he created with his just-as-witty brother, Hank Green. It was hard for me to believe he was the same guy who wrote a series of wildly successful young adult novels. On the surface, his work can seem introspective and deeply melancholy, but there is some wickedly great humor throughout. I recommend An Abundance of Katherines for lines like “they like their coffee like they like their ex-boyfriends: bitter.” I confess I did not and will not read The Fault in Our Stars. As good a writer as Green is, I know I will be in for a really, really good cry at the end of this one, and I’m just not up to that task at the moment. I guess I need to remember even this moving book is by the same guy who said “Whenever you’re furious with your parents, just remember that you vomited on them, and they kept you.”
Books for Adult (But Not Necessarily Grown Ups)
Jasper Fforde. Fforde is one of those authors who has done a splendid job of making both adults and young readers laugh. The obvious place to start for adults is the first in his Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair, or one of his Nursery Crime. Make sure to pick up The Last Dragonslayer for young readers…and yourself. I haven’t gotten around to reading his latest novel, Shades of Grey, but I can say it is the only novel with the words “shades of grey” in the title I have any interest in reading. The best thing about Fford is that he caters to book lovers. His works are primarily seeped in the worlds of literature, and filled with all sorts of references from classic literature to nursery rhymes. I also appreciate the fact his lead characters are women, and I’m still waiting to audition for the lead should they ever see fit to adapt the Thursday Next series for movies or television. In the very least, I’d like a dodo for a pet.
Mary Roach. Roach has my sense of humor, but she’s putting it to much better use than I ever could. She can be dark, matter-of-fact, sarcastic, and intelligent. I used to borrow my dad’s Reader’s Digest just for her column, but thankfully her books are now abundant. She has fully admitted to not having a science degree and “must fake my way through interviews with experts I can’t understand,” yet she has produced some of the funniest and most eye-opening looks at popular science-based subjects no one else could make as funny, for example, oh, postmortem bodies. A typical quip from a line from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, is “I like the term ‘decedent.’ It’s as though the man weren’t dead, but merely involved in some sort of protracted legal dispute.” Every one of her books if filled with bits like this from start to finish, and are so much fun you won’t even realize you’re learning something new, and often unpleasant.
Christopher Moore. Ikea-loving zombies. Man-made whales. A reluctant angel of death. A vampire love story actually worth reading. Moore’s stuff is just all over the place. His leads are usually a little geeky, sometimes outcasts, and weirdly relatable, but the supporting characters are never dull. His works are also over-the-top edgy, and there have been more than one occasion I’ll admit I was a little disturbed. Still, it is hard not to laugh at them. All of Moore’s books have some kind of connection to each other, and characters from other series often make cameo appearances. Even his Biblical-times book Lamb gets an appearance by the demon Catch, of Practical Demonkeeping fame. As a nice contrast to the sparkly or sexy vampires of today’s fiction, his Vampire Trilogy characters could be any of us, and utter phrases like “not unlike the toaster, I control darkness.” Fluke and Coyote Blue were not as funny as the others, but in all fairness they’re up against some pretty steep competition.
Douglas Adams. The fact that there are five books in the late author’s Hitchhiker’s Trilogy should be enough to tell you there isn’t much to be taken too seriously in these books. Adams is often the first one on many people’s minds when they people think of “funny” authors. His humor was both silly and sophisticated, strange and familiar. His characters, like Arthur Dent and Zaphod Bebblebrox, are iconic, and Adams has influenced a gaggle of copycat writers. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. I speculate at least one of them is on my list. The original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was always…and I mean always checked out at my high school library, forcing me to purchase this paperback on my own from the Waldenbooks in my local strip mall. This book was my first real foray into his world, and I couldn’t get enough. I’ve read everything by Adams, and even purchased his Starship Titanic computer game—which we won’t talk about, okay? Adams has influenced me in so may ways. Not just as someone who wants to write, but as someone who wants to see the humor on this planet….and others.
Sir Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s bestselling Discworld fantasy parody series has sold more than 80 millions books worldwide, but he has dabbled in everything from children’s fiction to the paranormal. One thing all his books have in common, however, is they are consistently and continuously laugh-inducing. I wouldn’t even know where to start in saying which is funniest. Just start at the beginning, with is debut novel The Carpet People and plow through them all. Good Omens, which he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, remains one of my favorite reads of all time. Pratchett recently passed away at age 66, but if he lived to be 150, it is likely wouldn’t have been long enough for him to put all his ideas down on paper. He even showed his weird, and unique perspective in life. After he was knighted in 2010, he felt he needed his own sword and forged one himself from iron deposits he found near his home. That’s just cool.
Comic Books (or Should I say Funny Books)
Brian Michael Bendis. Hands down, there is simply no other comic book scribe who makes me laugh like Bendis. He is one of the few writers who just consistently cracks me up, sometimes to the point of having to put the comic down and “wait it out.” I don’t know what I love best by this guy. Powers is disturbingly funny in places. Alias had some fantastic moments, and one of the funniest uses of profanity I’ve read involved Jessica Jones flying head first into a lake. Both of these have been made into series…Finally! He’s even given us a great all-ages read in Takio, about sisters, no less. For wall-to-wall funny, though, are his partly autobiographical compilations Total Sell Out and Fortune and Glory, in which readers can see how he honed his precision skill for mastering conversational dialogue in comics by just listening to his friends share some pretty funny anecdotes. There’s also a one-pager of Bendis’s first meeting with the great Stan Lee, and the most hysterical interchange between Bendis trying to pitch his graphic novel to a pseudo-intellectual Hollywood producer who is convinced Eliot Ness was a fictional character. His work strikes me in such a way, I had to stop writing this post for a second to stop laughing at a random quote of his that just popped in my head.
Joe Kelly. They don’t call the mercenary Deadpool the “Merc with The Mouth” for nothing, and no one produced so much edgy and hilarious quotes and situations as Kelly did in his underrated 1990s Marvel series with artist Ed McGuinness. Deadpool can be a pretty unloveable anti-hero, but Kelly had so much fun with him it was a little too easy to overlook his dark side. Kelly said in a 2009 Newsrama interview they got away with a lot because “everybody just expected the book to be cancelled every five seconds, so nobody was paying attention.” Kelly has worked on a ton of comic-related projects, including DC’s Super Girl, but nothing has been as consistently funny as his Deadpool series. Deadpool even made an appearance in the Kelly-produced Disney XD series Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Deadpool is about to get very mainstream soon, thanks to the upcoming motion picture, and it would be a shame for the movie version of him to be people’s first real experience. If you don’t know or like Deadpool, don’t talk to me about it until you’ve read Kelly’s series. Fortunately, these are available in omnibus form.
Carl Barks. Yes, the late father of Uncle Scrooge is old-fashioned and old-school, but his Uncle Scrooge Adventures and Donald Duck Adventures are still worthy reads. The best way to read these is with kids, and you’ll find yourself laughing along with them, as well as learning a little more about folk tales and mythology. They are also a bit prophetic, when you think about it. Commercial space travel? Using ping-pong balls to raise a shipwreck? My favorite, however, will always be Phantom of Notre Duck and its running “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” bit. His artwork is also detailed and filled with little sight-gags that many all-ages comics neglect to do. That must be why we all called him the “Good Artist.” Reading Bark’s stories is like watching a Golden Age movie classic. They might not have the sharp-edge humor of today’s comedies, but they stand the test of time the way Some Like It Hot or Arsenic and Old Lace do. They might seem a little dated at times, but they never grow old.
Mike Mignola. Bear with me on this one. I know Mignola’s Hellboy stories are not always funny. As a matter of fact, his books are downright dark horror and adventure tales. But there is always, without fail, at least one instance in everything I’ve read by Mignola, be it Hellboy or The Amazing Screw-On Head, that has caused me to laugh soundly: “As I always say, all really intelligent people should be cremated for reasons of public safety.” Much of the Hellboy humor comes from the title character. He’s just a down-to-earth, easy going good guy, despite his being a demon baby raised in secret non-governmental agency lab. There could be an evil soul-sucking demon on the loose, and his way of approaching the monster is by yelling. “Hey, jerk!” You can’t help but like the guy, even if you don’t want to get on his bad side. As Hellboy casually admitted in one of his stories, his biggest fault is that “I sometimes get angry.” Ya think?
Ben Edlund. Who would have thought the creator of The Tick is the same guy who is now a driving force behind the hit series Gotham? This mental-patient turned superhero is the epitome of everything that makes superheroes not just entertaining, but ridiculous. What really makes him is that he completely, and in all seriousness, believes his own hype, leaving the reader to just shake their heads, facepalm, and laugh at comments like “destiny’s powerful hand has made the bed of my future…and it’s up to me to lie in it.” The animated series also had some of the funniest lines in television I’ve ever heard, like the frank observance of Arthur’s sister, Dot: “Dad really messed you up.” I’ve never really cared for straight-up comic parodies like Mad Magazine, but The Tick is just so absurd and nuts, he draws you into his delusional world…and you are more than willing to share in his battle cry, “Spooon!”
I know there are still several funny-bone ticklers who are conspicuously absent from this list, and encourage people to let me know who I erroneously neglected to mention.
In a world where everything has become so serious, there is always room for more reason to laugh.
Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 5, 2015.