Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘humor

cover image for Zora and MeZora and Me by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon

Everyone in Eatonville, Florida knows there’s something special about Zora. But no one else in town knows her quite like her two best friends, Carrie and Teddy, do.  Together, the three spend all the spare time they have exploring, getting into one mischief or another, and – of course – listening to Zora’s stories.  When a man turns up dead on railroad tracks not long after Zora talks of seeing an alligator man in the swamp, no one believes her.  Except Carrie and Teddy, of course.  So it’s up to the young trio to get the bottom of the mystery before more people get hurt.

I was skeptical at first of the premise of the story: focusing on the childhood of a famous person; books like that can often be rather generic and present a very standardized and inaccurate view of history.  Instead this lovely, slim novel is full of detail and nuance, of complications and implications.  The language is just absolutely beautiful, a fitting tribute to Hurston’s work, and yet it’s still readable by the middle graders it’s marketed to.  Highly recommended.  This should be in every public library’s collection.

cover image for Pusheen the CatI Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton

Inside this book you will find Pusheen the Cat’s guide to petting, acquiring treats, sleeping, and much more. Round, silly, and adorable, Pusheen is a delightful teacher with personality and opinions to spare.

This is a bit of an odd book in that it doesn’t quite fit into normal categories – it’s the kind of book that would simply be labeled as a “gift” book in most bookstores.  Children may enjoy it, but much of the humor references adult experiences. Many adults may enjoy it too, but the format and illustration style makes it look more like a  children’s book.  Still, it’s entertaining and I’m glad I read – and it would, indeed, make a fun gift a great many cat lovers.

cover image for Cold FireCold Fire by Tamora Pierce

Daja, and her mentor Frostpine, have come to the northern city of Kugisko so that the latter may visit with old friends.  Their restful trip is soon interrupted, of course. In turns out that their hosts’ twin daughters are natural mages, and since it was Daja who discovered their gifts, it’s up to her to make sure that they are trained properly.  Frostpine has troubles of his own to take care of, as he’s asked by the governor to look into counterfeit coins – preferable before the public finds out and panic ensues.  And both mages are worried about the mysterious fires that appear to be accidents, but seem to keep happening more frequently than is normal.

This wasn’t a bad book, in fact I think I liked it best of this second quartet so far.  Daja’s characterization is a good mixture of older-than-before yet-still-very-young and this story has a nice mix of cultures and customs.  Unfortunately, it’s far from Pierce’s best.  Also, I was tired of the plot idea of our four friends discovering natural mages – and being required to become teachers themselves – before I was finished with the first book.


cover image for The Weight of WaterThe Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

Back in Poland, Kasienka had friends, a home, good grades, and both parents.  Now in England, she is an outsider, assumed behind in her studies because she doesn’t speak the language well, and lives in a barren, ramshackle apartment with a mother who refuses to believe that her husband has left her.

Told in verse, Kasienka’s story is honest and poignant.  A quick and easy read, it nevertheless covers a wide variety of topics, from friendship and bullying to keeping secrets from one’s parents.  Unlike some novels told in verse, the poems themselves feel both natural and like something a twelve year old might write.

cover image for Girl at SeaGirl at Sea by Maureen Johnson

For a brief few years of her childhood, Clio’s family was rich.  Her dad designed a board game (with Clio’s help) that became an instant hit, and before she knew it she and her father were off traveling the world.  But sound decisions had never been her father’s strength, a flaw that Clio learned the hard way when the money quickly ran out.  Now seventeen, Clio prefers her quiet life at home with her mother (divorced) and looks forward to spending as much of her summer break with her crush as possible.  But Clio’s mother has other plans – ones that involve Clio traveling once again with her father.  Clio’s father has plans as well – and that’s never a good sign.

Although Girl at Sea is a bit uneven and unpolished, it’s much better than it sounds like it ought to be.  Mainly because the conflict is not really at all about the money that was lost, but about the fact that it was lost because Clio’s father lacks basic adulting skills, and the more immediate consequences that had for Clio, as a minor in his care.

cover image for Star Wars: Jedi AcademyStar Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

His whole life, Roan has looked forward to becoming a starfighter pilot, just like his father and older brother.  That means attending Pilot Academy Middle School.  So when Roan receives his rejection letter (recommended alternative school: Tatooine Agriculture Academy) he’s sure that he’s DOOMED to be nothing but a failure.  Until he receives a letter from the Jedi Academy in Coruscant as well, this one inviting him to enroll.  Is it possible that Roan has what it takes to be a Jedi?  And can learning to use the force replace his old dreams of being a pilot?

As ridiculous and hilarious as it sounds, this twist on the classic school story is sure to delight a great many pre-teen Star Wars fans.  It’s not nearly as clever or funny as Brown’s other Star Wars books, mostly because it repeats tropes and cliches rather than presenting them with twists, but it should keep it’s target audience entertained.

cover image for A Big Guy Took My BallA Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems

Piggie lucks out when he finds a ball to play with, until a big guy comes along and takes it from her!  It’s not fair – and Gerald isn’t going to stand for it.

Twists aren’t exactly expected in easy readers, seeing as they’re both rather short and meant for five to seven year olds.  But Willems manages to keep coming up with them anyway.  The jokes too, of course, Piggie and Elephant are as hilarious here as they always are. Best of all, though, neither the jokes nor the twists are the kind that rely on making other people the punchline – nor are the “lessons” imparted the kind that are full of saccharine and false promises.  Willems’ Piggie and Elephant books are simply funny and brilliant, and this one is no exception.

cover image for I'm A FrogI’m a Frog by Mo Willems

Ribbit! Piggie has turned into a frog! Gerald is shocked and amazed…and more than a little worried – will he turn into one too?

It’s the expressions on Piggie and Gerald’s faces, their movement and body language, that really make these books – this one in particular.  This is definitely one of the better Elephant and Piggie books, which is saying a lot, considering there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.

cover image for Click, Clack, Boo!Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin, illustrations by Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown does not like Halloween.  Instead of passing out candy himself, he turns out the lights and leaves the candy at the door.  But Farmer Brown can’t ignore the crunch crunch crunching or the creak creak creaking or the tap tap tapping.  What surprises lurk inside Farmer Brown’s barn?

This companion book to Cronin and Lewis’ award winning Click, Clack, Moo doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original book, but it’s clever and entertaining.  The repetition and onomatopoeia will appeal to it’s intended audience.  It should make a nice addition to families’ and libraries’ Halloween collections.

cover image for Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea AdventureShark and Lobster’s Amazing Undersea Adventure by Viviane Schwarz, colored by Joel Stewart

Shark and Lobster may seem tough and scary to you, but they have plenty to be scared about themselves.  Like tigers!  Did you know that they walk on their teeth and glow in the dark and will EAT YOU UP? But Shark and Lobster have some ideas about how to keep themselves safe from the scary, striped tigers.

Ridiculous in all the best ways, this is the kind of book that’s really meant more for the younger elementary school crowd than pre-readers. There’s a lot going on each page, plenty to keep new and almost readers busy and thinking and laughing.

cover image for All in a DayAll in a Day by Cynthia Rylant, Illustrated by Nikki McClure

“A day is a perfect piece of time,” just right for trying all kinds of new things.  How much can you fit in a day’s worth of activities and daydreams?

Rylant’s poetic musings and McClure’s bold and elegant illustrations are a perfect pair for this book about the pleasures of the outdoors.  The only misstep is the alternating use of blue and gold in McClure’s illustrations; the limited use of colors throughout the book doesn’t seem to match the themes, and the alternating pattern doesn’t appear to have any relation to to the text.

cover image for How to Be a CatHow to Be a Cat by Nikki McClure

Stretch. Pounce. Clean. Scratch.  Page by page, Big Cat shows Kitten all the most important things one needs to know about being a cat.

McClure’s bold and graphic style is put to perfect use in this picture book.  Each page features a single word and an illustrated definition featuring the two cats. The use of black and white, with small punches of baby blue for letters and scattered butterflies, gives it a calm but memorable style.  While the mixture of quiet (listen, wait) and loud (explore, chase) actions create a rhythm that soothes and entertains.

cover image for Meerkat MailMeerkat Mail by Emily Gravett

Sunny has decided that his home in the Kalahari Desert, with all his meerkat family, is just a little too hot and too crowded. So he packs his bags and sets off to visit relatives.

Page by page, Gravett and Sunny cleverly show readers how and where various species of mongoose live around the world.  A great and entertaining book for inquisitive elementary age children.

cover image for There are No Cats in This BookThere Are NO Cats in This Book by Viviane Schwartz

A warning to cat lovers: there are absolutely NO cats in this picture book.

At least, there wasn’t supposed to be.  But we seem to have stumbled across a trio of felines before they had a chance to head out and see the world.  Their suitcase is packed and they’re all ready to go – just as soon as they can figure out how to get out of the book.  Will they ever make it? With a little help from readers like us, they just might.  Be careful though, you never know what they may bring back from their travels.

The tale Schwartz tells is simple but clever, and the various folds and pop-outs help give this book a little something extra without overwhelming the story itself.  The illustrations are bright, bold, and minimalist, yet sketch-like rather than precise, matching both the story’s playfulness and the characters’ personalities.

cover image for Little Mouse's Big Book of Fearsinside pages for Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears

Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

Creepy crawlers, sharp knives, and LOUD NOISES! – these are all things that Little Mouse is afraid of.  What are you afraid of?

Although the regular text is sparse, there is so much going on in this book.  Flaps, textures, cut outs, newspaper clippings, and much more.  But don’t mistake it for a book for very young children, the jokes are layered and involve really big words like “aichmophobia” and “rupophobia.”  Older children (and a few fearless younger ones) will love exploring each page and testing out the long and official sounding words that grace the illustrations.

Continuing from the previous installment, here are literary gifts for preschoolers, kids just starting school, and other children not quite reading yet.  All of the books on this list should be in stock in most bookstores, so they should work for last minutes gifts.

Books That Should Be In Stock

cover image for Not A Boxinside page for Not a Box

inside page for Not a Boxcover image for Not A Stick

Not a Box, Not a Stick by Antionette Portis

In this pair of awesomely entertaining books, a bunny pretends that a box is not a box but a race car! a volcano! a robot! and that a stick is not a stick but a spear! a fishing rod! a sword!  The covers help make the books extra special; Not a Box has the look and texture of cardboard, Not a Stick the feel of wood.

cover image for Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Buscover image for DOn't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

The Pigeon Finds A Hot Dog!cover image for The Duckling Gets A Cookie!?image for Don't Let the Pigeon Run This App!

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late, The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog, The Duckling Wants a Cookie?!, Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App! by Mo Willems

When the bus driver steps out for a while, he asks readers (and listeners) to watch the bus for him – and to not let the Pigeon drive the bus! Giving little ones a chance to tell someone else “NO!” for a change, as the Pigeon tries all the typical arguments (“I’ll bet your mom would let me”) to try to convince them otherwise.  Willems illustrations are full of energy and personality, but remain still simple enough for children to imitate.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay up Late follows the same formula, while The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog and The Duckling Wants a Cookie?! do not but remain quite charming.

The spin-off app is brilliant as well.  More than just an electronic version of the story, the app also allows children to fill in the blanks (Mad Libs style) and record their own version of the story, and gives them a chance to learn how to draw the pigeon, step by step, right on their tablet.

cover image for Press Hereinside page for Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet

This interactive story asks children to press, shake, and turn pages to make the dots multiple, move, and transform.

cover image for Blackoutinside page for Blackout

Blackout by John Rocco

When a blackout means that no one in the city can watch tv, play video games, or use the internet, a family rediscover the joys of spending time outside with each other and friends.  Told in a comic book-like format, the beautiful and very readable sequential art helps prepare children for the process of reading – much like Snowy Day does, only in a more sophisticated way.

cover image for Planting a Rainbowcover image for Eating The Alphabet

Planting a Rainbow, Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert

This pair of brilliant concept books uses bright colors, rhyming text, and shaped pages to capture and keep little ones’ attention.

cover image for The Snowy DayThe Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

A young child explores all the wonders of freshly fallen snow.  A lovely book with engaging pictures that are clear and sequential enough that children can use them to “read” the story on their own when adults and older siblings are busy.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seegercover image for Green

Lime green, forest green, faded green, sea green…all kinds of greens!  A bit more sophisticated than most color books meant for very young children, Vaccaro Seeger rich illustrations and clever cut-outs will delight older preschoolers and younger elementary age children.

cover image for Frieght TrainFreight Train by Donald Crews

Bold black and white backgrounds are joined by brightly colored train cars in a simple and classic story.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendakcover image for Where the Wild Things Are

Do I really need to explain this choice? I didn’t think so.

Giftmas is creeping ever closer!

Which means it’s time for another “literary gifts” booklist.  Today’s booklist is for pre-readers.  As in: kids that are no longer toddlers, but are not yet reading aloud themselves.

As before, I’ve divided the main list into books that you have to order and books that you can probably walk into a bookstore and buy off the shelf.  If you choose from the first group of books, you are less likely to duplicate someone else gift, or give a child a book they already have.  But the books in the second group can be bought at the last minute.  Probably.

However, partway through typing all this up I realized that this list was getting way too long for one post, so this time I’ve broken the list up into several parts.

Today, you get:

Books You Will Probably Need to Order:

cover image for The World Is Waiting For YouThe World is Waiting for You by Barbara Kerley

National Geographic has some amazing picture books for children, and this is my absolute favorite.  Lyrical in a way that non-fiction picture books rarely are, filled with breathtaking photographs, and expertly designed, The World is Waiting for You encourages to children to explore and treasure the world around them.

It’s also not the kind of book most kids would pick up for themselves, yet it is the kind of book that becomes a cherished favorite over time, making it a perfect gift book.

cover image for Kitten's First Full Mooncover image for Old Bearcover image for A Good Daycover image for Little White Rabbitcover image for My Garden

Kitten’s First Full Moon, Old Bear, A Good Day, Little White Rabbit, My Garden by Kevin Henkes

Henkes initially made his name with some great picture books meant for elementary age children, but I absolutely adore these newer, more preschool friendly books.  In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a sucker for illustrations with high contrast, gorgeous colors, and thick lines.  All four of these books also have great stories for younger children – ones that engage their imagination and encourage them to predict what will happen next.

cover image for Wavecover image for The Zoocover image for Shadow

Wave, The Zoo, Shadow by Suzy Lee

Suzy Lee’s wordless picture books are incredibly beautiful and clever. Her wonderful use of color and contrast keeps the illustrations readable while allowing her to include the kinds of details that reward repeated viewings.

cover image for Hondo and Fabiancover image for Bark, George!cover image for Dinosaur Vs. Bedtime

Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty

While not a wordless picture book, the illustrations are readable, informative, and expressive enough to work as one.  McCarty also has a very gentle and distinctive style as an illustrator, making his books both intriguing and memorable.

Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer

This story never fails to make any crowd I read it to giggle and laugh hysterically.

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime! by Bob Shea

Particularly good for younger preschoolers, children will love roaring along with Dinosaur, and parents will love the fact that Dinosaur “wins” by getting everyone to roar with him.  I mostly love how silly and cute the books are.

cover image for Dogscover image for Orange Pear Apple Bearcover image for Blue Chameleon

cover image for The Odd Egg

Dogs, Orange Pear Apple Bear, Blue Chameleon, The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett

Gravett’s books are clever (Orange Pear Apple Bear works as an “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” for kinders) and the illustrations are elegant, even when the subject matter is comedic.

cover image for Thank You Bearcover image for Don't Worry Bearcover image for I Miss You Mouse

Thank You Bear, Don’t Worry Bear, I Miss You Mouse by Greg E. Foley

These are probably the most “typical” books for preschoolers on this list, but they are so very well done.

cover image for Little Peacover image for Little Hootcover image for Little Oink

Little Pea, Little Hoot, Little Oink by Amy Krause Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace

For some strange reason, you can get this series more easily as board books than as picture books, but I think they are better for preschoolers than toddlers. They also work really well for younger elementary school students, so the picture book format is a more useful investment, in my opinion.

cover image for The Handiest Things in the WorldThe Handiest Things in the World by Andrew Clements, photographs by Raquel Jaramillo

A lovely, lovely book about what it means to be human – and all the new things little hands are learning to do.

(aka, the week I read only books by Bujold)

cover image for MemoryMemory by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles is used to proving people wrong, especially when it comes to what they think about him and what he can do. Since before he was born he’s been escaping death and ignoring all “rational” assumptions about what a body like his is capable of.  But when Miles disregards – and hides from others – the physical effects of his latest brush with mortality, he ends up almost costing his team their mission and another officer his life.  For once, Miles has gotten himself into a mess he won’t be able to talk his way out of.  As if that wasn’t enough, now Miles’ mentor, security chief Simon Illyan, has fallen ill and doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Even worse, Illyan is being kept under guard at Imperial Security, and Miles no longer has the security clearance to make sure Illyan is being cared for as he ought to be – and that his demise isn’t being sped along by someone inside ImpSec.

Memory is just absolutely superb.  Quite different in tone from the Miles books before it, Memory nevertheless works precisely because of the way it builds off of Miles’ earlier adventures. That Miles completely deserves the consequences he’s given doesn’t change the fact that they feel like punch to the gut – if anything, that makes it hurt all the more.  Bujold could have gone for the easy way out here, but instead she holds Miles feet to the fire and forces him to realize that some mistakes can’t be forgotten, even if one must eventually move on.  And it’s this that makes Memory such a wonderful and heartbreaking book, worthy of all the praise it’s been given.

cover image for KomarrKomarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

When a freak crash leaves Komarr’s orbiting solar mirror damaged, and the planet’s decades long terraforming project in jeopardy, Lord Miles Vorkosigan (along with fellow Imperial Auditor Professor Georg Vorthys) is sent to determine if the tragedy was an accident or sabotage.  Miles being Miles, chaos ensues – including murder, kidnapping, the kind of secret weapons that are best left to mad scientists, and falling in love.

More serious than most of the previous Miles books, Komarr is similar in tone to Memory.  But where Memory had Miles flailing for much of the book, Komarr shows Miles settling in (yes! settling! in!) to his new role of Imperial Auditor, and the mature responsibilities that job entails.  It also has one of my favorite love stories ever, a romance made awesome not only by Ekaterin being shown as having intelligence, determination, and personality to spare, but also because of the respect that Miles shows her and her son (and the fact that she dares to call him on it when he slips).

cover image for Winterfair GiftsWinterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorsoisson are finally getting married.  Naturally, between the preparations for the ceremony, reception, and all the guests, the house in chaos.  Among those coming to wedding are Elena Bothari-Jesek, Baz Bothari-Jesek, and Sergeant Taura. Miles’ old partner Quinn declined her invitation but sends her love, along with a string of pearls that causes Eketerin to fall mysteriously and dangerously ill.  Is it revenge, or is Quinn being framed?  Sergeant Taura and Armsman Roic, eager to redeem himself after the butter bug incident, are on the case.

Roic and Taura are both absolutely excellent in this short story.  Which is good, since the plot – and the chemistry between Miles and Ekaterin – often leaves much to be desired.  Fortunately, watching Roic deal with his prejudices, and seeing Taura learn to be confident even in social situations, makes up for any other shortcomings this story may have.

cover image for A Civil CampaignA Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Love is in the air.  Miles is in love, again.  This time around, the object of his affection has recently made it out of a disastrous marriage and isn’t eager to be courted again.  Mark is also in love, but now that they’re back on still-recovering-from-the-Time-of-Isolation Barrayar, he and his sweetheart can no longer be lovers in truth – unless they marry. Assuming her father would give permission. Gregor is in love as well, but at least he’s already engaged and soon to be married – which has the entire capitol in a frenzy over the preparations.

I may have possibly enjoyed this book slightly more than it deserved, as I loved watching Bujold play with Romance tropes.  It was rather entertaining to see the many ways in which couples got together, not all of them traditional.  There were plenty of funny and clever bits as well, and all of the characters felt very much themselves.

Captain Vorpatril's AllianceCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

If Captain Ivan Vorpatril had his way, his life would be free of both drama and politics.  Unfortunately for Ivan, he’s related to the Vorkosigans, none of whom – his cousin Miles in particular – could be considered restful or a-political.  On top of that, his mother is putting even more pressure on him than normal to settle down and give her a grandchild or two.  So Ivan is less than pleased when Byerly Vorrutyer shows up on his doorstep with a special project for him: befriending a young woman who may be in danger.  He really doesn’t need to get involved in anything that might result in being shot at. Again. But Ivan has never been one to turn down a damsel in distress.

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is occasionally ridiculous, but generally entertaining.  It’s also rather nice seeing things from Ivan’s point of view for a change.  That said, I have no idea why this novel was nominated for a Hugo.  (Other than fan affection for the author and series.)