J Humor

ALVIN HO: ALLERGIC TO GIRLS, SCHOOL, AND OTHER SCARY THINGS by Lenore Look

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Alvin Ho’s first day of second grade confirms his fears:  he is still allergic to school.  Since the first day of kindergarten, he hasn’t been able to speak a word at school, and second grade will be no different.  Even worse, his desk buddy is once again Flea, who—despite having an eye patch and stiff leg that makes her look like a pirate—is a girl and therefore an undesirable desk buddy.  But through many misadventures involving chicken pox, Shakespearean curse words, and Johnny Astro, Alvin struggles to make friends and avoid scary situations—which for Alvin, means practically everything.

The Alvin Ho series is funny, realistic fiction for readers who have transitioned from Easy Reader books to chapter books.  The sense of humor and cartoon drawings may appeal to kids who enjoy the Junie B. Jones books and the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books—particularly readers who are not experienced enough readers to tackle DWK on their own.  I would recommend Alvin Ho to first through third grade readers who enjoy humor and/or realistic fiction.

“WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR?” by Lemony Snicket

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Thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket had an unusual education that prepared him for anything—from solving dangerous and convoluted crimes to gracefully escaping from one’s parents through a bathroom window.  But unfortunately, Snicket’s preparations are thwarted when the chaperone to whom he is apprenticed changes her plans and takes him to an obscure seaside village–away from the city where the rest of his colleagues were counting on his help with something big, important, and (as most things in Lemony Snicket’s life are) mysterious.  In the small village of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, however, Snicket seems to have stumbled into another mystery, far too complex for his bumbling chaperone to solve.  It will be up to him to figure out who stole an ancient, worthless statue and why someone would say something was stolen when it was never theirs to begin with.  Unfortunately, he keeps asking all the wrong questions. . . .

Although the Series of Unfortunate Events was not my favorite series, Daniel Handler (the author behind the “Lemony Snicket” pen name) also wrote the YA novel Why We Broke Up, which became one of my favorite books the moment I read it.  So I was excited to give his newest Lemony Snicket series a try.  The writing style of this new series is contrived and difficult to follow, but this is clearly intentional on Handler’s part to help create an over-the-top noir mystery atmosphere.  Though it was not an instant favorite, the plot is intriguing, and I am excited for the release of book two of the All the Wrong Questions series in October 2013 to find out what happens next!  I highly recommend this book to fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events and of M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts and to readers who like noir mysteries, such as the Chet Gecko books.

EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT by Lynne Jonell

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Emmy used to be happy, back when people noticed her, before her parents got rich and forgot she existed, traveling sometimes for months at a time and leaving Emmy with her terrible new nanny, Miss Barmy.  Now the students in her class seem to look right through her; her teacher can’t even remember her name.  In fact, the only creature who notices Emmy is her class pet rat–and for some reason, Emmy can hear him speak.  One day, in a fit of rebelliousness, Emmy sets her rat free and decides to skip her gymnastics class and explore her town instead.  That is how she happens upon Professor Vole’s rodent shop and sees Miss Barmy place a mysterious, secret order for rodents.  What’s more, she finds a caged rat in the shop that is identical to the rat she set free.  And the twin rat, along with all of the other rodents, are labeled with strange special powers.  Sure that something sinister is happening, Emmy is determined to find out the secret of the rats and to stop Miss Barmy and Professor Vole from whatever evil they might be plotting.  Unfortunately, Miss Barmy is on to her and it will take all of Emmy’s cleverness–and a lot of help from her friends Joe and the Rat–to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

This book is a fun, silly, and suspenseful story.  It has plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep you turning pages, as long as you have a taste for the absurd and unbelievable.  Personally, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to middle grade readers who like fantasy set in the real world.

If you liked Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat ,you might also like Mousenet and Whales on Stilts

NIAGARA FALLS, OR DOES IT? by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

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Hank Zipzer has never been especially good at school.  And when he gets stuck with mean Ms. Adolf as his teacher, he realizes that fourth grade will be no exception.   She assigns a huge five paragraph essay as homework on the first day of school!  Hank is terrible at writing essays, even about a topic as interesting as his summer vacation to Niagara Falls.  It’s not that he doesn’t try; it’s just that he is really bad at writing.  So when he has the brilliant idea to build a living essay—a working model of Niagara Falls—his friends Ashley and Frankie are eager to help, even if it takes time away from their current business venture, a magic act called the Magic Three.  All they have to do is finish Hank’s project with enough time left over to perfect their act before their performance at Hank’s grandfather’s bowling league.  But when Hank Zipzer is involved, nothing ever goes quite according to plan . . .

First and foremost, yes, this book series was written by the Fonz.  It’s actually pretty good!  Hank is a very well-intentioned character who despite his best efforts gets cast as the delinquent class clown.  Part way through, it is revealed that Hank may have some learning difficulties and a compassionate teacher appears to help him learn how to express his ideas and complete his projects more effectively.   The Hank Zipzer series may appeal to readers who enjoy the Time Warp Trio books by Jon Sciezka, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Big NateIt is also a good series for struggling or reluctant readers in grades 3-5 who may enjoy reading about Hank’s humorous escapades and relate to his frustration with school work. 

There is a great audio book version of the series, as well, read by Henry Winkler himself.

YOU MUST BE JOKING by Paul Brewer

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If you are looking for a great joke book for upper-elementary age readers, You Must Be Joking is the book for you!  Brewer includes a broad selection of jokes, for the corny classics to clever new jokes.  The book is broken into chapters by subject matter with a separate chapter for Knock-Knock jokes.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for jokes more interesting and inventive than the stupid, corny jokes found in most children’s joke books.

WHALES ON STILTS by M.T. Anderson

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Lily has always considered herself to be boring.  Compared to her friends Katie (the star of the Horror Hollow adventure book series) and Jasper (the famous boy inventor), Lily is boring.  She never has any adventures of her own.  But when she stumbles upon the plot of an evil half-human half-whale criminal mastermind who is determined to conquer the world with an army of whales on stilts . . . well, her life is about to get a whole lot more interesting. 

This silly sci-fi novel reads like a superhero cartoon, complete with a snarky omniscient narrator, larger-than-life characters, and absurd action sequences.  It is very, very silly, so don’t expect much substance.  But it is a fun read for elementary age kids (grades 3-4) who like books like Captain Underpants, Magic Pickle, or the Lunch Lady series.

If you liked Whales on Stilts, you may also like Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell or Who Could That Be At This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket.

LUNCH LADY AND THE CYBORG SUBSTITUTE by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

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The Breakfast Bunch have always wondered what their Lunch Lady’s life was like outside of school.  But they never suspected that she was secretly a crime-fighting vigilante who uses her incredible strength and a slew of interesting gadgets to keep the school safe from all evil.  So when a suspicious substitute teacher shows up, the Lunch Lady is immediately on his tail, with the unsuspecting Breakfast Bunch trailing along behind them.

This popular graphic novel series is both action-packed and hilariously funny.  Captain Underpants lovers will be delighted to discover this new comical school-themed superhero series.  It will appeal most to upper-elementary age readers.

If you like the Lunch Lady series, you might like N.E.R.D.S. by Michael Buckley.

BAD KITTY FOR PRESIDENT by Nick Bruel

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When Old Kitty retires as president of the Neighborhood Cat Club, all of the kitties, from both the Left and the Right sides of the street are vying for his position.  After the primaries (a rigorous round of baby-kissing), Kitty is nominated to represent the Right in a fierce contest with the Left’s candidate, Big Kitty.  After both Kitty and Big Kitty fail to get an endorsement from Old Kitty, they begin their campaigns in earnest.  But will a snazzy website and mudslinging TV ads be enough to win Kitty the election?

Bad Kitty for President is a great read for election year.  One of the more educational of the Bad Kitty books, the story includes a fairly detailed description of the election process, including definitions of key election-related terms.  And of course, the story is hilarious, narrated as though the author is speaking to the cat, advising and admonishing her as her devious mind comes up with new schemes.  I am convinced that all cats are as devious as Bad Kitty.  I highly recommend the Bad Kitty series to 3rd-4th grade readers who enjoy humor and/or animal stories.

FRANKIE PICKLE AND THE CLOSET OF DOOM by Eric Wight

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Frankie Piccolini and his trusty dog Argile go on many adventures.  They hunt for treasure in the Amazon, fight vicious lava monsters in subterranean caves, and save the world from the onslaught of giant mechanical robots–and they do it all without ever leaving Frankie’s bedroom.  But when Mayor Mom gives Frankie a choice–clean your room or deal with The Consequences–Frankie chooses The Consequences and the Pickle Cave quickly turns into a giant bottomless pit of dirty clothes, broken toys, and half-eaten, rotting sandwiches.  Although it was glorious at first, Frankie’s mess starts to get in the way of his superhero adventures.  Even Argile will no longer enter the Pickle Cave.  Will Frankie Pickle have to relent and take care of The Consequences once and for all?

One of 2012-2013’s VSRA Virginia Reader’s Choice Award nominees, Frankie Pickle is a prose/graphic novel hybrid about a boy’s incredible imagination and the adventures of real life.  This short and humorous book may appeal to reluctant readers, particularly in grades 3-5.  It is the first in a series, followed by Frankie Pickle and the Mathematical Menace and Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000. 

If you liked Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, you might like Captain Awesome to the Rescue.

CAPTAIN AWESOME TO THE RESCUE by Stan Kirby

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Starting a new school at age eight can be a terrifying experience.  Luckily for Eugene McGillicudy, he has an alter-ego as a superhero: Captain Awesome, the MI-TEE-est superhero ever (except of course for Super Dude, the hero in the comic books Eugene likes to read).  Dressed in his Captain Awesome outfit, Eugene is prepared to defend his toys from the drool of Queen Stinkypants from Planet Baby (aka, his little sister); he is prepared to face the horrible mind-reading powers of his new teacher Ms. Beastly—err, Beasley; he may even be prepared to face the torments of the pink-ribbon wearing nightmare Meredith Mooney who sits near him in class.  But will he be able to figure out who stole Turbo the hamster before he gets accused of losing the precious class pet?  And will Charlie Thomas Jones turn out to be the superhero-loving potential best friend he claims to be or just another super villain in disguise?  Find out in Captain Awesome to the Rescue! by Stan Kirby.

Different from the typical humerous superhero book for the 2nd-4th grade reader, Captain Awesome himself posesses no superhero powers and fights no real supervillians.  The books are about a boy using his huge imagination to survive in the average everyday world with which readers will be familiar.  His adventures continue in Captain Awesome vs. Nacho Cheese Man.