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. Coleen Murtagh Paratore (Mack McGinn’s Big Win & the Wedding Planner’s Daughter series) and Mary Amato (The Naked Mole-Rat Letters) both write great character-centered humor.

    My current favorite funny book is COSMIC by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The humor is so sly it should appeal to just about any reader, from kids to adults.

  2. Great post and it is so true that middle graders get a big kick out of silly things that we as adults have grown beyond. I ordered the five favorite books of Australian kids once and they were all silly humorous books. I think one of the things that is lost in the Harry Potter books upon being translated into film, is the vast amount of humor that spans the pages.

  3. My boys (okay, me too) love love love The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch. The titles alone are great: The Name of This Book is Secret, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and This Book Is Not Good For You. (BTW, in September the 4th book arrives, titled This Isn’t What It Looks Like.)

    Our other absolute favorite is the Alcatraz series by Brandon Sanderson (Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Vs. the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz Vs. The Knights of Crystallia).

    And I do think there is a lot of humor in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, as well as Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series. It might not be doubled-over-falling-on-the-floor-in-laughter humor, but they still have fun (and clever) parts that are highly entertaining.

  4. This is so timely! Just this weekend, I was thinking of a venturing into humorous MG territory with a new book idea. I clearly need to get reading as well!

    Also: For all the MG authors that haunt the Mixed Up Files, there’s a Meet the Author Blog Hop going on today! It’s for all genres (not just MG), but I would love to see some MG authors represented on there. So if you have a book for sale, or are looking for new summer read, hop on over and join!

  5. Some recent funny favorites: The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick and Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low–both hilarious historicals. And Shani Petroff’s Bedeviled books make me laugh out loud too.

  6. ok i’m going to be biased here and say that Rose Cooper’s forthcoming book, Rumors from the Girls Room is funny as….heck!

    really enjoyed this post brian! thanks for sharing these great titles.

  7. (Yes, I am stalking you. I mean, I took your advice on your LJ page and followed you over here. ;))

    Great Post! When I was growing up I loved books Like Amelia Madila and How to Eat Fried Worms. I know I come across as a stick in the mud. And I think you nailed all the ways that humor can be infused in a story from beginning to end.

    (Do you plan to write MG? I think you would be good at it?)

  8. I think the most popular humourous books in my classroom are the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I have multiple copies of each, and they’re passed around constatntly. Martyn Godfrey, Gordon Korman & Roald Dahl are also popular & fun 🙂

  9. I never read much humorous stuff as a kid, but I can tell you I’m running to the bookstore with this post later today.

  10. GREAT post, Brian. And thanks for the new book suggestions, too. I hadn’t heard of some of these. Gonna go out and get them! Just The title of “HECK: Where the Bad Kids Go” made me laugh this morning.

  11. A series that STILL makes me laugh would have to be Junie B. Jones. Yes, they’re meant for kindergarteners. But they’re hilarious.

  12. I suspect you write humorous MG, Brian. You are seriously funny. I love humorous MG. So, so many. All the Fudge books, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis. I love the character who is off-kilter, but doesn’t realize that they are doing anything out of the ordinary.

    p.s. It is so true that characters are present in humorous MG, just like adult books. :p

  13. A book that I discovered as a mid-grader and still can’t read in public for fear of snorting out loud (causes concern to my neighbours on public transport in this time of swine flu and whatnot) is I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman. Just started thinking about it and woke my husband up giggling. The dedication reads: “There’s fun, and then there’s fun. This is dedicated to those who know the difference.” I Want To Go Home is fantastic stuff, and full of the sort of capital-F fun that’s totally worth the trouble that comes afterwards.

  14. What a great post and thanks for all the humorous middle grade suggestions! I’m trying to think of a book that just makes me crack up, and I think there are parts in these 3 that make me laugh (my memory just isn’t what it used to be): Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone–the Dursleys and Hagrid–classic comedy; The Series of Unfortunate Events–it’s that narrator; and Matilda–those characters have to be funny or we’d all be crying.

  15. I love humorous mg. Though, it’s hard to find. I like the Chet Gecko series. Even though I didn’t laugh out loud, I thought Chet was funny. And it was due to the word choice. I’m looking forward to other suggestions. Of course, there is Whales on Stilts, which whil I didn’t crack up, the exaggerated premise makes it funny.