Humor ain’t just something you find in the bathroom

I have often been told, “Brian, you’re a numbskull.” Thankfully that has nothing to do with this post, I just wanted to put it out there for discussion. I’ve also been told that there are two types of people, those who laugh at ‘I Love Lucy’ and those who laugh at ‘The Three Stooges’.

I don’t think it’s quite that black and white and read all over, but it gives us a gauge.

What makes an 8-12 year old boy or girl laugh? In my experience… if it’s presented in the proper format, almost anything can make a middle grader crackup. Honestly. Especially when you’re with them in person. But what about in books? That’s where things get like my mom’s liver++… very, very tough.

++ Referring to the liver my mom COOKS, not her ACTUAL liver. Yet I’m craving fava beans and a nice chianti?

Cover and Title:

Probably the hardest part about humor in books is getting the middle grader to actually pick up the book. A good title or cover can make that happen. For example, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey, that’s a book I gotta… um, I mean a middle grader has got to have. Of course, it doesn’t have to be bathroom humor. It could be as simple as Hoot by Carl Hiaasan or as extreme as The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.


Once you have the book in the hands of the questionable reader in question, the author must come through with something funny to read about. The entire book doesn’t have to be humorous, mind you, but slanted in that direction. For example, how about having two kids sneak in and spend the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as in The Mixed-Up Files of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Or how about the Nightmare Academy: Books 1, 2 and the soon to be released Book 3: Monster Wars by  Dean Lorey . The premise: When Charlie Benjamin sleeps, monsters wake up. And sleepovers just aren’t as fun when these horrible creatures try to eat the other children. These books are hysterical. And just wait until you learn about the Trout of Truth.


Words, Puns and Analogies:

Certain words will always crack a smile on the face of a middle grader. (As mature adults, we certainly don’t find these funny anymore.) The obvious being ‘poop’ *snickering* and *still giggling* ‘fart’. *laughing* *coughing* Er… ahem. Sorry about that. But even words like ‘fanorkle’ and ‘gloop’ can be funny when used properly. Still better, twist words into puns or analogies and you have yourself a laugh riot that may need defused by teargas totting Tommies. Take the book HECK – Where the Bad Kids Go by  Dale Basye , these pages are just full of it+++.

+++ Referring to puns and analogies, not *snickering again* poop


Just like Adult and Young Adult books, humorous Middle Grade books use characters to tell the story.


The voice of the author can imbue (how about that for word usage) humor from the get go. The Fudge books written by Judy Blume are perfect examples. (Not to mention ‘fudge’ can be a funny word – see the movie ‘A Christmas Story’.) But voice can go beyond the pages. I read the book Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and was entertained by the tale. When I had the chance to LISTEN to Neil read from the book, it was hilarious. The crowd roared as he became the characters, mimicking their voices as he imagined them.


To help take humor to the next level, more and more books are including illustrations with the prose. And we’re not talking about picture books, people. We’re talking stick figures! Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney may one day be a bestseller. What? Oh… it is? Um, I meant to say IS a bestseller.

How about You?

I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite humorous MG books in this post, but what about you? What books, growing up or just recently, made you laugh? Or giggle? Or at the very least, give up a crooked smile?

To entice you to reply, I’m going to give away a SIGNED copy of Rapacia by Dale Basye (Book 2 of Where The Bad Kids Go) to a randomly drawn winner.

Brian Kell
  1. I love the BFG by Roald Dahl. My 4th graders laughed until they cried every year when I read this one out loud. Lots of burping and farting in this one!!

  2. I love to laugh. Thanks for these great suggestions. I’m definitely purchasing a few for my eleven yr old (Oh! and I’ll get to read them, too. Bonus!)

  3. I met with the acquiring editor for HECK-Where the Bad Kids Go when I was at Rutgers, and got so excited about that book as she described it. I think my enthusiasm unnerved her a wee bit.

    Great post, Brian. I’ve recently loved TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, and always loved The Time Warp Trio books. I’m looking forward to reading your humorous MG someday soon.

  4. Brian, you crack me up. And you do some outrageous math (see next post).

    I don’t know if anyone has yet mentioned MATHILDA by Roald Dahl. This book made me laugh out loud and the illustrations are over-the-top hilarious. One of my faves.

    And I, too, keep hearing about Origami Yoda! I saw it finally in the store yesterday but resisted from buying b/c I have a huge stack at home to get through. I flipped through and it looks great!

  5. I keep hearing about Origami Yoda!

  6. To reiterate the above commenter’s point, the greatest value of funny MG books is they get kids reading who would never ever read otherwise. They’re a bit like candy-flavored medicine: easy to swallow and good for you, too.

  7. I think that nothing will get a reluctant kid reading faster than funny books!! I absolutely love the authors that can get me to laugh out loud. (The author of this post certainly happens to be one of that number!)

  8. I’ll second the recommendations for THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY and THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA. Also, MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS is a candidate for funniest book of all time, any age range, any genre. Another recent fave is EIGHTH GRADE SUPERZERO – very, very funny, not so much in a yuk-yuk-yuk broad humor way, and it’s funny while being heartfelt and thought-provoking at the same time. A WHOLE NOTHER STORY is also pretty amusing.

    The thing with “funny” books, though, is that most books have an element of humor to them. There are the obviously humor-based books like WIMPY KID and LUNCH LADY and so on, but as Elissa said, books that fall into other easy-to-identify niches can also be very funny. R.L. LaFevers’ THEODOSIA books, for example – they’re fantasy with a historical bent, but they’re also extremely sly and witty, which is easy to overlook when you talk about them.

  9. I just read the latest by Jon Sciecza – Spaceheadz and it totally cracked me up. Just the two aliens pretending to be kids – heheheheehe – oh man, they would talk in slogans instead of actual conversation – so funny.

  10. The Peter and the Starcatchers series while I would call them fantasy and there is some scary stuff, they are also quite hilarious. Of course, with Dave Barry as one of the authors what do you expect. My daughter just finished Rick Riordan’s new book, The Red Pyramid and was saying how funny it was.

  11. For those of you suggesting that Brian should write humorous MG novels, well, he does. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of his work and his stories are hilarious!

    I’m glad the Heck series was mentioned and is going to be a prize. I love how the books have some humor that many kids may not get yet but when they’re older and they learn about Nixon or Lizzie Bordon, they’ll be like, “Oh, I get it now!” and it will be funny all over again.

  12. Some favorites: The Moxy Maxwell series, the Millicent Min series, Debbie Garfinkle’s Supernatural Rubber Chicken series, As if Being 12 3/4s isn’t Bad Enough, My Mom’s Running for President.

  13. I love humorous books. One of my favorites is “The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School” by Candice Fleming. The chapter on the Dewey Decimal System is a fun way to teach the DDS to my library students.

  14. I totally loved this post. Thanks for the great pick me up in a slightly downer day!

    One of my favorite books as a 6th grader was: “The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek.” I actually purchased it at the book fair they had at the school. I just loved the excitement and hilarious situations a human got into in the dinosaur world.

    Hmm, maybe it’s time to visit the library and see if they have that book, time for a re-read!

  15. Thanks for the great post…what an uplifting break on a Monday afternoon!

    When I was growing up I read a lot of humorous books, but the ones that stand out are “Bunnicula” by James and Deborah Howe and “How to eat fried worms” by Thomas Rockwell. I think we listened to these books on tape every summer on vacation and it entertained all seven of us!

    More recently I have been amused by the book “Sealegs” by Alex Shearer. I read that book with my fourth graders and I think I may have enjoyed it more than they did! The voice in that book is wonderful and I found myself reading long into the night to finish it.

    Now I think I am going to head to the library web site and see about getting myself some more humor…