J Humor


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When Lenny’s friend Casper took him along on a birthday shopping spree, Lenny didn’t think much of it.  Casper really wanted an expensive “man-about-town” suit and the world’s most realistic looking fake mustache.  Lenny didn’t see the point of these purchases, but it was Casper’s birthday money, so he could buy whatever useless things he wanted.  But when a slightly short man-about-town with a realistic looking mustache begins committing a series of high profile robberies, Lenny is unable to convince anyone that Casper is the guilty one.  Instead, Casper (now using the pseudonym Fako Mustacho) convinces everyone that Lenny is the culprit!  With everyone–even his parents–convinced of his guilt, Lenny is forced to adopt a disguise as he plots to separate Casper from his mesmerizing mustache.  Fortunately, Lenny is about to get some help from an unlikely source when his paths cross with child TV star and cowgirl Jodie O’Rodeo.

This book was pure, delightful silliness.  It really doesn’t try for a moral or any sort of character depth.  It’s just a fun, completely absurd, light-hearted “thriller”–but one that will keep you turning pages.  This book may appeal to readers who like Lemony Snicket’s All the Wrong Questions series, M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stiltsor Lissa Evans’ Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms.


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Revolutionary Captain Nathan Hale is about to be executed for spying on the British.  While the British officer is fetching the hanging orders, the jovial hangman helps Nathan brainstorm some awesome Last Words.  But when Nathan says “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” he is immediately swallowed by a giant book.  It turns out those Last Words were so awesome that Nathan Hale made history!  And his brief visit to the history book gives him a glimpse of some fascinating events that happen in the future.  When the British officer returns, Nathan Hale delays his hanging by telling the story of the Revolutionary War and its outcome.  And he promises to delay his hanging even further by telling about other dramatic historical events as the series of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales continues.

This graphic novel series is great!  Author/Artist Nathan Hale (illustrator of Rapunzel’s Revenge) brings American history to life with his artwork and infuses it with humor through the great framing story of the character Nathan Hale, the pompous British officer, and the comedic hangman.   One Dead Spy is currently on the NYT Bestselling Graphic Novels list.  Two sequels have been published so far (Big Bad Ironclad! and Donner Dinner Party).  A fourth (Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood) comes out next month.


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I don’t blog every new Bad Kitty book, but I think Nick Bruel’s latest deserves a special shout-out.  Bad Kitty: Drawn to Trouble follows in the metaliterary tradition of stories like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) where the author reaches into the story and messes with the actions of his self-aware characters. In this case, Bruel uses the humorous scenario to teach readers about literature and the art of writing–and to encourage them to become writers themselves. Elementary school teachers hoping to introduce their classes to concepts like “conflict,” “protagonist,” or “the difference between plot and theme” should definitely check this book out!


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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.


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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.


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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.