How many times have you, as a parent, read Goodnight Moon before bedtime? Can you recite it in your sleep (including the high-pitched voice when talking to the mouse)? How about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Pat the Bunny and Go, Dog. Go!? They are surely classics that every parent should read a million times. I, obviously, love children's books and love reading them to my own children, but especially appreciate those books with humor bringing the parents back for more. The humor that makes me pick a certain book off a crowded bookshelf takes the form of witty writing, clever and unexpected twists, some over-the-heads-of-children puns, anecdotal comments, and pop culture references.
I am not the only one to seek this humor, and books are not the only medium to reflect the trend directing content toward children, yet containing current-culture jokes and references for parents. In fact, blockbuster movies adding adult laughs helped launch the literary movement. Disney picked up on parents' appreciation of humor-for-all-ages in the late 80's and early 90's when they heralded in a new age for modern animated movies. My favorite, Aladdin, was introduced in 1992 and showcased the genius, Robin Williams, as the hilarious voice of the genie. There were other funny supporting characters, including the round sultan, bitter parrot, and chatty monkey, but the genie took center stage and kept children of all ages laughing. "It's the genie who stops the show," described Roger Ebert, "improvising from one character to another: from Ed Sullivan to Elvis to Arsenio Hall to a tailor to a Scottish Terrier." Whether improvised or not, parents were as entertained as children.
hilarious "children's" books for all ages
What does this humor look like in book form? (This is a blog about books after all). Arriving very late to the game, I just discovered The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka. It received a Caldecott Honor and is the second funniest children's book I've ever read. Other than the fact that I was in high school when it was released in 1992 (long, long time ago), how did this book escape me as a parent? It needs to be on every child's bookshelf.
I have to believe Mother Goose is somewhere rolling over in her grave. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales introduces children to rhyming, alliteration and the beauty of imagination. Jack the Narrator retells stories we all think we know and love with unexpected, ironic, hilarious endings. "With its unconventional page arrangement and eclectic, frenetic mix of text and pictures," The Horn Book describes it as "a spoof on the art of book design and the art of the fairy tale." For instance, in the story of the Really Ugly Duckling, "well, as it turned out, he was just a really ugly duckling. And he grew up to just be a really ugly duck. The End." In another tale, Chicken Licken, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, Cocky Locky and Jack the Narrator are all squashed by, not the sky falling, but the table of contents. Then, there's the Little Red Hen who constantly interrupts the narrator to complain about the lazy author and illustrator -- until she is eaten by the Big Hungry Giant. I won't spoil the ending of "Cinderumpelstiltskin or The Girl Who Really Blew It" for you.
If The Stinky Cheese Man is the second funniest children's book I've ever read, what is the first, you might wonder. It's Eloise. Surely you've met her, but if not: She is Eloise. She is six. She is a city child. And she lives at the Plaza. She has a dog, Weenie, who looks like a cat and a turtle who eats raisins, wears sneakers and requires his ears braided or else "he gets cross and develops a rash." Eloise does nothing but terrorize the poor employees and guests of the Plaza Hotel in NYC until she pauses "to think of a way to get a present." Remind me never to come back as her "rawther" British nanny, "for Lord's sake." I have heard Eloise criticized for it's length. Blasphemy. I wish it went on forever. While we do not wish to create little Eloises living in our houses, parents have loved this book since it was first released in 1955. In fact, it rose to No. 5 on the Adult Fiction Bestseller list the same year. Long live Eloise.
While your family's giggle-box is turned upside-down, I have one other favorite on my list your whole family will enjoy:
Guess Again! by Mac Barnett is described by Publishers Weekly as "a funny, absurdist take on guessing game books." In this short and silly picture book, children are invited to guess the answer of an object described in a four-line stanza and revealed on the following page. However, the obvious, sensical, rhyming answer is never the answer! For example,
Who's got white teeth and fiery breath
And scares Sir Frank the Brave to death?
This frightened knight must stop his braggin'
Who's spooked our knight? That's right! A [turn page]
dentist, Dr. Larry Roberts.
Children turn the page to find a scary-looking dentist in a white coat casting a giant dragon-mouthed shadow from his toothbrush. The colorful, engaging illustrations, as shown below and often hidden behind flaps and fold-out pages, add to the fun. You think you know the answer? Guess Again!
one hilariously honest "children's" book
Is there an appropriate limit to inappropriate "children's" books with subtle, or not so subtle, adult humor? Turns out there is. While admittedly really funny, Go The F**k to Sleep, is probably not the first book you'll choose to enjoy with your children. Besides being laced with profanity, the same humor that will entertain tired, end-of-the-day parents will be lost on children. What parent hasn't been here?
The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the f**k to sleep.
Surviving parenthood requires some humor, right? Surviving childhood requires humor too. Life, for me, requires a little bit of sarcasm. Chances are, your children share your sense of humor. Treat your whole family to the addition of the books in this blog post. It makes bedtime SO much more fun!
P.S. Go the F**k to Sleep can be for your eyes only. When the kids finally do go to sleep and you're too tired to read, you can laugh watching Samuel L. Jackson narrate the "children's book for adults" that reached No. 1 on Amazon.com's bestseller list months before it's release. I was going to post the book trailer here, but my husband asked, "Is that really the image you want for your children's book blog?" He has a point. We provide wholesome blogging about children's literature here. So, google it yourself.
P.P.S. River Royals will never publish a book laced with profanity. Promise.
P.P.P.S. I can't wait to read School! Adventures at the Harvey N. Trouble Elementary School (described by Publishers Weekly as "30Rock set in elementary school.") Next on my list is Nicholas by Goscinny & Sempe. Originally published in France in 1959, it's the story of an energetic school boy who "will make children laugh out loud." The Wall Street Journal.