Posts Tagged humor

Reading to Lighten Up on Election Day

I take Election Day seriously. I study newspaper editorials, check the candidates’ flyers for endorsements, read the League of Women Voters’ guides, talk with friends about ballot initiatives. Even when there isn’t a presidency at stake.

I don’t know about you, but this election has me as nervous as a fourth grader giving an oral book report. I need to lighten up. But I’ve been doing some phone banking, and occasionally I reach an 18-year-old who isn’t planning to vote.

Not vote? Seriously?!

Young adults who have developed that too-cool attitude should be teleported back to middle school, before ennui and cynicism creep in. (Unfortunately, it’s not just young people—only about 61% of the population votes.) Then they can hear again why voting matters.

My instinct is to speak passionately about suffragettes and disenfranchisement. Fortunately, plenty of authors know that humor is a better way to teach children about voting rights.

My favorite is So You Want to be President? Yes, I know it’s a picture book, but long after my daughters had graduated to novels, they would re-read this classic. It’s just funny, with the inevitable Taft in the bathtub, the number of Jameses who have held office, and cool facts about who could dance and who went to college. You find out what’s good about the job (living in the White House) and bad (“the President has to be polite to everyone”).

For the slightly older reader, there’s the ever popular Babymouse, who runs for President in the 16th book in the series. She finds out about making campaign promises (“cupcakes in every locker!”), fighting the opposition’s meangirl coalition, and learning what it takes to win.

And winning the Sid Fleischman Humor award is Donna Gephart’s As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President! Vanessa has to cope with a high-profile mother, the Democratic National Convention, and the pitfalls of crushing on the cute guy. This is just right for the preteen who wants romance mixed in with her introduction to the political process.

I can’t resist suggesting a few nonfiction titles for those kids ready for a serious conversation. There’s a new book about the founding fathers, a biography of Elizabeth Stanton, and a collection by Ellen Levine of children’s voices during the civil rights movement. It includes memories of marching for the right to vote.

By the time you read this column, it could be all over for this election cycle. The outcome of 2012 will mean a big difference for the future of our country. Through story, let’s make sure children value democracy so when it’s their turn, they won’t ever miss the chance to vote.

On the lighter side

  • As If Being 12 3/4 Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother Is Running For President! by Donna Gephart (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2008)
  • Babymouse for President by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm (Random House, 2012)
  • The President’s Stuck in the Bathtub: Poems About the Presidents by Susan Katz (Clarion, 2012)
  • So You Want to be President? by Judith St. George and illustrated by David Small (Philomel, 2004)

More serious

  • Those Rebels, John and Tom by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2012)
  • You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton? by Jean Fritz (Putnam, 1995)
  • Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories  by Ellen S. Levine (Puffin, 2000)

Have your own favorite? Leave a comment!

Jennifer Gennari voted. She is the author of My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer (Houghton Mifflin 2012). Learn more at or follow her @JenGenn.

How to write (or be) funny

When I think funny, and in particular, funny middle grade novels, the first character I think of is

Charlie Joe Jackson.

Charlie Joe belongs to Tommy Greenwald, who is also pretty funny. When his first book, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading was released, I interviewed him HERE. (For a while, after I posted that interview, people thought I was funny, too!)

Well… Charlie Joe is BACK with Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. And I am still laughing. But now I want to know more.

Because, like a lot of writers, I would really like to know how to write funny, So, instead of an interview, I thought I would ask Tommy to share some of his secrets.

Because he is very funny.

And generous.

Or maybe he wants a favor from me.

Because he did it!

Are you ready to learn? Because here he is:


Write my blog post, Tommy!!!!!

(no problem, Sarah!)

People always ask me how am I able to write such funny books.


Then they realize I’m not who they thought I was, and they give me a slightly embarrassed look and walk away.


I think that may be what happened with Sarah, the nice woman who asked me to write this blog. (note from Sarah: flattery may not be funny, but it gets you everywhere!!) But the difference is, she asked me over email, so she can’t tell that I’m not the person she thought I was. And if she’s walking away embarrassed, I can’t see her.


So I’m writing the blog anyway. Just try to stop me.

How do you write funny? Wow, that’s a really good question. It’s kind of like asking, How do you BE funny? There’s no real answer. There are just a few tidbits, hints, suggestions, guidelines, bits of nonsense and wild guesses that I can share. It might help you. But it probably won’t.


  1. Don’t overdo it. I learned this the hard way, when I was starting out with my writing, and trying to make every situation hilarious and ridiculous and side-splitting. That just ended up making my writing completely overwrought. Keep the humor subtle, sly and surprising. Let it sneak up on you while you’re writing, and it will sneak up on the reader too. (In a good way, not in an “intruder in your house” kind of way.)
  2. Don’t underdo it. Don’t be so subtle, sly and surprising that no one gets what you’re trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with a good, solid gastro-intestinal joke every forty-seven pages.
  3. Let the characters be funny. I’m not sure this one makes sense, but I’ll say it anyway. Your job isn’t to be funny. It’s to make sure the characters are funny. The sense of humor has to be theirs, not yours. Don’t show the world how funny you can be. Show the world how funny your characters can be.
  4. Let the comedy breathe. Meaning, when something funny just happened in your writing, let the reader enjoy it for a little while. Don’t be in a rush to be funny again immediately. Take your time, get into a nice rhythm, relish in the chuckle you’re getting, then go in for the kill again a page or two later.
  5. POV. Make sure your characters have a distinct personality and point-of-view right away, complete with quirks. If the reader knows that the main character is a sarcastic, somewhat obnoxious book-hater right off the bat, then the reader knows some hopefully-entertaining commentary and situations will result.
  6. First Person rocks. I’m a huge fan of writing in a character’s voice. I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but I’ve found it’s a lot easier to make a character funny when he’s able to offer snarky asides and then get completely humiliated directly to, and in front of, the reader.
  7. Do what comes naturally. Every writer has their wheelhouse. For me, it’s writing humor. The idea that I could write a complicated dystopian romance is comical in its own right. Not a snowball’s chance in Phoenix. But I can write funny, so I go with it. Write to your strength. It’s impossible to force the funny.
  8. Eat a ton of chocolate and play with your dogs a lot. That’s what I do, anyway. (note from Sarah: FINALLY! something I can do!!!)


So, there you have it. My non-rules for writing humor. Follow them at your own risk. Except for the gastro-intestinal joke thing. That’s a must.


Thank you, Tommy!

You’re welcome, Sarah!

READERS: if you want a good laugh,

and we KNOW you do…..

check out Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. If you would like people to look at you funny, read Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit IN PUBLIC! It’s a fun book.

(Just don’t drink anything while you’re reading. If you know what I mean!)

And don’t forget….if you have a question for Tommy….or you want to try making him (or me) laugh, post a comment!!! 

Sarah Aronson is the author of books with mostly subtle humor. (Another way of saying: not really all that funny. But still good. Just not all that funny.)


August new releases

August = reading for pure pleasure, at least in a perfect world. And August 2012 is looking fairly perfect, with a wide selection of middle grade fiction and a couple of notable nonfiction titles. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, here are a few titles to add to your TBR (to be read) list.


Liar & Spy (Wendy Lamb Books) — Rebecca Stead
When seventh grader Georges (the S is silent) moves into a Brooklyn apartment building, he meets Safer, a twelve-year-old coffee-drinking loner and self-appointed spy. Georges becomes Safer’s first spy recruit. His assignment? Tracking the mysterious Mr. X, who lives in the apartment upstairs. But as Safer becomes more demanding, Georges starts to wonder: how far is too far to go for your only friend?

 Liar & Spy is an inspired, often-funny story about destiny, goofy brilliance, and courage. Like Stead’s Newbery Medal-winning When You Reach Me, it will keep readers guessing until the end.

Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick: Ginny Davis’s Year in Stuff (Random House) — Jennifer L. Holm (author); Elicia Castaldi (illustrator)
Ginny has big plans for eighth grade. She’s going to try out for cheerleading, join Virtual Vampire Vixens, and maybe even fall in love. But middle school is more of a roller-coaster ride than Ginny could have ever predicted. Her family has just moved into a fancy new house when Ginny’s stepdad loses his job. (Can worrying about money make you sick?). Ginny’s big brother keeps getting into trouble. And there’s a new baby on the way. (Living proof that Ginny’s mom and stepdad are having sex. Just what she needs.) Filled with Post-its, journal entries, grocery lists, hand-drawn comic strips, report cards, IMs, notes, and more, Eighth Grade Is Making Me Sick is the sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always relatable look at a year in the life of one girl, told entirely through her stuff.

A Star Is Born: Book 3 in The Cruisers series (Scholastic Press) — Walter Dean Myers
The Cruiser, an alternative newspaper published by Zander and his crew of middle school misfits, is alive and well. And now there’s plenty to report on when LaShonda, one of the Cruisers, steps into the spotlight with her costume designs for an upcoming play. LaShonda’s designs get rave reviews, but she soon learns that show business is filled with challenges and choices. LaShonda is forced to consider what’s more important–fame, or loyalty to her autistic brother. Whether she gets a standing ovation or the curtain pulled down on her is up to LaShonda. And she can’t help but wonder if the Cruisers have got her back and will be there for her whether she’s center stage or waiting in the wings.

Dear Blue Sky (Scholastic Press) —  Mary Sullivan
Ever since her brother Sef left for Iraq, Cassie has felt like her life is falling apart. Her parents are fighting over her brother having gone to war. Her smart, beautiful sister is messing up. Her little brother, who has Down syndrome, is pretending he’s a Marine. And her best friend no longer has time for her. In her loneliness Cassie turns to a surprising source of comfort: Blue Sky, an Iraqi girl she meets through her blog. The girls begin a correspondence and Cassie learns that when Blue Sky says “I want my life back,” she means something profound, as she can no longer venture out in her destroyed city. Cassie takes strength from Blue Sky’s courage and is inspired to stop running away from the pain, and to reclaim her life.

Hisss-s-s-s-s! (Holiday House) — Eric A. Kimmel
Omar wants a snake more than anything, but his mom is unenthusiastic to say the least. However, the family manages to strike a compromise: Omar can get a corn snake; but the pet, which he names Arrow, must stay inside Omar’s room, where his mom will not have to set eyes on it. So when Arrow escapes, Omar has got to keep his family from finding out. But with an inquisitive little sister, and parents mindful of odd behavior, Omar is having a time of it. When Arrow makes a surprise appearance, it couldn’t be at the worst moment–yet the incident becomes a catalyst for Omar to gain a new understanding of his mother and her childhood in war-torn Lebanon.

The Second Life of Abigail Walker (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) —  Frances O’Roark Dowell
Seventeen pounds. That’s the difference between Abigail Walker and Kristen Gorzca. Between chubby and slim, between teased and taunting. Abby is fine with her body and sick of seventeen pounds making her miserable, so she speaks out against Kristen and her groupies—and becomes officially unpopular. Embracing her new status, Abby heads to an abandoned lot across the street and crosses an unfamiliar stream that leads her to a boy who’s as different as they come. Anders is homeschooled, and while he’s worried that Abby’s former friends are out to get her, he’s even more worried about his dad, a war veteran home from Afghanistan who is dangerously disillusioned with life. But if his dad can finish his poem about the expedition of Lewis and Clark, if he can effectively imagine what it is to experience freshness and innocence, maybe he will be okay. As Abby dives into the unexpected role as research assistant, she just as unexpectedly discovers that by helping someone else find hope in the world, there is plenty there for herself, as well.

After Eli (Candlewick) — Rebecca Rupp
Some people die heroically, others accidentally. When Daniel Anderson’s older brother dies, he wonders which category Eli’s death falls into. In an attempt to understand, Danny creates a Book of the Dead — an old binder that he fills with details about dead people, how they died, and, most important, for what purpose. Time passes, and eventually Daniel is prompted to look up from his notebook of death and questions to make new friends and be swept into their imaginings.


Hunter Moran Saves the Universe (Holiday House) —  Patricia Reilly Giff
Twins Hunter and Zack have a small problem to solve: they must save their town from a diabolical dentist who is planning to blow it to smithereens. But first they have to hold a funeral for an incriminating report card before it breaks their mother’s heart, hide a cello that has been demolished, and keep their father from finding out what they did to his laptop. None of this is going to be easy with their busybody older sister, Linny, watching their every move; older brother, William, just waiting to get them in trouble; five-year-old brother, Steadman, tailing them; and baby Mary banging her spoon like a maniac so no one can think. Before the book is over, a vintage airplane, a hot air balloon, and a borrowed fire engine will all play parts in the unfolding mystery.


Always October (HarperCollins) – Bruce Coville
No doubt about it, little brothers can be monsters. When sixth grader Jake Doolittle finds a baby on the doorstep and his mother decides to keep it, those words are more than just an expression. Instead, they perfectly describe the way his new little brother, LD, sprouts pointy ears, thick fur, and fangs in moonlight. Not only is LD a monster. . . . other monsters have plans for him. But together with his friend “Weird Lily” Carker, Jake isn’t about to let anything happen to the baby. The little guy is still his brother, even if it turns out that LD may be the key to saving the world—or destroying it. Soon Jake and Lily are on a perilous quest through Always October, a world populated with monsters ranging from the venomous to the ridiculous.

Ungifted (Balzer + Bray) – Gordon Korman
The word “gifted” has never been applied to a kid like Donovan Curtis. It’s usually more like “Don’t try this at home.” So when the troublemaker pulls a major prank at his middle school, he thinks he’s finally gone too far. But thanks to a mix-up by one of the administrators, instead of getting in trouble, Donovan is sent to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction (ASD), a special program for gifted and talented students. It wasn’t exactly what Donovan had intended, but there couldn’t be a more perfect hideout for someone like him. That is, if he can manage to fool people whose IQs are above genius level. And that becomes harder and harder as the students and teachers of ASD grow to realize that Donovan may not be good at math or science (or just about anything). But after an ongoing experiment with a live human (sister), an unforgettably dramatic middle-school dance, and the most astonishing come-from-behind robot victory ever, Donovan shows that his gifts might be exactly what the ASD students never knew they needed.

The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee: An Origami Yoda Book (Amulet Books) —  Tom Angleberger
With Dwight attending Tippett Academy this semester, the kids of McQuarrie Middle School are on their own—no Origami Yoda to give advice and help them navigate the treacherous waters of middle school. Then Sara gets a gift she says is from Dwight—a paper fortune-teller in the form of Chewbacca. It’s a Fortune Wookiee, and it seems to give advice that’s just as good as Yoda’s—even if, in the hands of the girls, it seems too preoccupied with romance. In the meantime, Dwight is fitting in a little too well at Tippett. Has the unimaginable happened? Has Dwight become normal? It’s up to his old friends at McQuarrie to remind their kooky friend that it’s in his weirdness that his greatness lies


Emily and Jackson Hiding Out (Delacorte Books for Young Readers) —  Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Emily Wiggins is thrilled that she and her orphan friend Jackson have escaped the clutches of the Child-Catching Services and Emily’s villainous uncle Victor. Emily and Jackson are now living happily with her loving aunt Hilda. But just a mighty mouth minute! Someone’s snooping around for an orphan child on the run! He knows Jackson is hiding nearby and aims to get a reward for snatching him and sending him to work at a mill. What in leapin’ livers should Jackson do? And Emily can’t rest easy either, since some sort of creature is coming to their gate when Jackson and Emily are home alone. What in simmering succotash is that moving pile of dirt? Is it a heap of black rags, is it a dusty tumbleweed, no it’s . . .

Kizzy Ann Stamps (Candlewick Press) —  Jeri Hanel Watts
In 1963, as Kizzy Ann prepares for her first year at an integrated school, she worries about the color of her skin, the scar running from the corner of her right eye to the tip of her smile, and whether anyone at the white school will like her. She writes letters to her new teacher in a clear, insistent voice, stating her troubles and asking questions with startling honesty. The new teacher is supportive, but not everyone feels the same, so there is a lot to write about. Her brother, James, is having a far less positive school experience than she is, and the annoying white neighbor boy won’t leave her alone. But Shag, her border collie, is her refuge. Even so, opportunity clashes with obstacle. Kizzy Ann knows she and Shag could compete well in the dog trials, but will she be able to enter?

Jump into the Sky (Knopf Books for Young Readers) —  Shelley Pearsall
Levi Battle’s been left behind all his life. His mother could sing like a bird and she flew away like one, too. His father left him with his grandmother so he could work as a traveling salesman—until Levi’s grandmother left this world entirely. Now Levi’s staying with his Aunt Odella while his father is serving in the U.S. Army. But it’s 1945, and the war is nearly over, and Aunt Odella decides it’s time for Levi to do some leaving of his own. Before he can blink, Levi finds himself on a train from Chicago to Fayettville, North Carolina, where his father is currently stationed—last they knew.



Splendors and Glooms (Candlewick Press) — Laura Amy Schlitz
The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. 
Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. 
As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.

The Wondrous Journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins (Knopf Books for Young Readers) —  Lesley M.M. Blume
The journals of Dr. Wendell Wellington Wiggins might just be the most extraordinary contribution to the study of the earth’s past since the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. In the incredible pages of these thought-to-be-lost diaries, Dr. Wiggins—whom we now must consider the greatest paleozoologist of all time—has divulged the secrets of the truly ancient animal world: a world before human beings; a world before dinosaurs; a world that, until now, existed well beyond the outer reaches of human imagination.

The Prairie Thief (Simon & Schuster) — Melissa Wiley (author) and Erwin Madrid (illustrator)
Louisa Brody’s life on the Colorado prairie is not at all what she expected. Her dear Pa, accused of thievery, is locked thirty miles away in jail. She’s living with the awful Smirches, her closest neighbors and the very family that accused her Pa of the horrendous crime. And now she’s discovered one very cantankerous—and magical—secret beneath the hazel grove. With her life flipped upside-down, it’s up to Louisa, her sassy friend Jessamine, and that cranky secret to save Pa from a guilty verdict.


The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy (Razorbill) —  Nikki Loftin
Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy — Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?

It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones — and might even pick them clean!

Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) — Claire Legrand
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.) But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t’ come out at all.

Survivors: The Empty City (HarperCollins) —  Erin Hunter
First in a new series. Lucky is a golden-haired mutt with a nose for survival. He has always been a Lone Dog, relying on his instincts to get by. Other dogs have Packs, but Lucky stands alone. Then the Big Growl strikes. Suddenly, the ground is split wide open. The Trap House is destroyed. And all the longpaws have disappeared. Now Lucky is trapped in a strange and desolate new world with no food, foul water, and enemies at every turn. He falls in with others left behind, including his littermate Bella, a Leashed Dog. Relying on other dogs—and having them depend on him—brings new dangers that Lucky isn’t prepared for, but he may not be able to survive on his own. Can Lucky ever be a true Pack Dog?

The Spy Princess (Viking Children’s Books) — Sherwood Smith
When twelve-year-old Lady Lilah decides to disguise herself and sneak out of the palace one night, she has more of an adventure than she expected–for she learns very quickly that the country is on the edge of revolution. When she sneaks back in, she learns something even more surprising: her older brother Peitar is one of the forces behind it all. The revolution happens before all of his plans are in place, and brings unexpected chaos and violence. Lilah and her friends, leaving their old lives behind, are determined to help however they can. But what can four kids do? Become spies, of course!


Zora! The Life of Zora Neal Hurston (Clarion Books) —  Judith Bloom Fradin and Dennis Brindell Fradin
From beginning to end, author Zora Neale Hurston’s life was extraordinary. As a young and confident girl who grew up in an all-black community in Eatonville, Florida, she didnt experience the prejudice that many African Americans felt at the time. In fact, she was so confident as a child, that she thought the moon followed her wherever she went. Such confidence could only lead one down the path of becoming a writer, and so Zora Neale Hurston traveled to New York City where she met prominent African American writers such as Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, and many more figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Unfortunately, despite writing such luminary works as Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was always tight on money. Though she took odd jobs as a housemaid and as the personal assistant to an actress, Zora often found herself in abject poverty. Through it all, Zora kept writing. And though none of her books sold more than a thousand copies while she was alive, she was rediscovered a decade later by a new generation of readers, who knew they had found an important voice of American Literature.

Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing and Rescue (Dutton Children’s Books) —  Peg Kehret
A mother cat and her kittens, shot with a pellet gun. A poacher illegally stalking a bear. Peg Kehret tells these true stories and more as she invites readers into her life on a small wildlife sanctuary. Vividly showing the joys of animal rescue while providing facts about the animals and birds she encounters, Kehret also shares the tragedy of her husband’s sudden death, and the pain of losing Pete, the shelter cat who co-authored three of her books. Written with honesty, heart, and humor, Animals Welcome is a personal glimpse into the life of an author who loves animals, and the philosophy by which she lives.


Summaries and descriptions from IndieBound and publishers. And we’d like to thank them very much!