More books to tickle your funnybone

A couple of years ago I wrote about some of my favorite funny books for kids (see What Tickles Your Funnybone).

One of my favorites,  The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, has since been made into an animated "major motion picture" called "Home," starring the voices of Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez and Jim Parsons. So I was not the only one to think it was a great story! Though the powers-that-be in Hollywood changed the narrative so much that you should still read the book.

Now Adam Rex has penned a sequel, called Smek for President. What a joy it is to revisit the intergalactic friendship of Tip Tucci and her Boov sidekick J.Lo. This time the duo travel to the Boov colony on one of Saturn's moons to try to clear J.Lo's name. He is being blamed for the Boovs' exile from Earth, which as we know from the first book was not his fault. Things get really sticky when ambitious leader Smek, plotting to win the election by any means necessary, labels them as public enemies instead of giving them a hearing. Comic action and dialog ensue.

I started looking for other funny books for intermediate readers that came out recently. Here are a couple of contenders:

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker by Molly Burnham. As you might guess from the title, Teddy wants more than anything to get in the Guinness Book of World Records. A few obstacles stand in his way, such as his younger brother, aptly nicknamed The Destructor. Actually, his whole family is so zanily eccentric that Teddy ends up sleeping in a tent in the back yard to get some peace. It's not all bad. He ends up being friends with the Grumpy Pigeon Man next door and learning to truly appreciate the birds. Short, lively chapters broken up with well-labelled subheadings will appeal to readers who love Big Nate and Wimpy Kid.

Almost Super by Marion Jensen. Everyone in Rafter Bailey's family gets a superpower when they turn twelve. But something goes wrong for Rafter and his brother Benny. How are they supposed to battle their sworn enemies, the Johnsons, when all they can do, respectively, is light polyester on fire and turn bellybuttons from "innies" to "outies?" Yet they end up saving the day, when their plain old investigative skills lead them to the true arch-villains and persuade the grownups from both the Bailey and Johnson clans to call a truce. There is already a sequel, Searching for Super.

Have you read any funny kid's books lately? Add them to the comments below.


Family Vacation

“When people went on vacation, they shed their home skins, thought they could be a new person.”
                                        ― Aimee Friedman, Sea Change

What could be more blissfully relaxing than two weeks on the island of Mallorca? Unless you happen to be going with your family. And your husband is hiding a game-changing secret. And your son is a bit of a womanizer. And all the while you are just trying hold everything together and create the image of a “perfect” vacation. This is the set-up for Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. She takes an idyllic setting, throws in the Post family with all their troubles and idiosyncrasies and shakes them up.

Franny Post has a pretty good life in New York. She may have put on a couple of extra pounds over the years, but she’s a food writer and that’s to be expected. Her husband, Jim, was recently forced to resign from his position at Gallant magazine for reasons that throw a wrench into Franny’s world. Their daughter, Sylvia, is going away to college in the fall and her main goal for the summer is to lose her virginity and get it over with. Their son, Bobby, brings his girlfriend and it soon becomes clear that all’s not well between them. Franny’s best friend, Charles, has his work cut out keeping her sane, but in the process, neglects his husband, Lawrence, who is preoccupied with adopting a baby back home. Oh, and don’t forget to add a sexy Spanish teacher to the mix. The antics of the Post family will allow you to forget, for just a little while longer, that summer is almost over.


A Historical Fiction Novel Worth Talking About

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith

In 1929, the United States Congress passed legislation funding travel to Europe for mothers of fallen American soldiers. By 1933, 6,693 Gold Star Mothers had made the pilgrimage.

April Smith tells the fictional story of five Gold Star Mothers as they travel to the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Her story centers on Cora Blake, the librarian in a small town on an island off the coast of Maine. Cora’s only child, Sammy, was killed in the final days of the war, and she chose for the government to bury him in France, because she wanted him to be in the field of honor, surrounded by his brothers in arms. Her Gold Star group is made up of a granddaughter of a railroad tycoon, a Russian immigrant chicken farmer, a tennis star with unstable mental health, and an Irish housemaid. They come from many different backgrounds and live vastly different lives, but their shared journey and loss unite them. Along the way, they encounter a tin-nose expatriate journalist, two deaths, and a secret.
This is a segment of our history that I was not familiar with, and April Smith’s depiction of the times and the women’s travels is captivating. I grew to be fond of the Gold Star Mothers and I wanted to find out more about their lives, both past and future. This is a beautifully written historical fiction novel that will surprise you, entrance you and stick with you long after you finish reading it.


We'll Never Be Royals

“I'm going to marry Prince William! I'll get all Kate Middleton's cute coats!”
            ― Claudia Gray, A Thousand Pieces of You

If you want to read something completely fantastical, something that could never happen in real life, read The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. It’s the story of a young, American college student, Bex, who goes to England to study abroad and ends up marrying the British Prince. (How many college girls have swooned at that thought!) As a former English major and all-around Anglophile, this is the alternative history that I’ve been waiting for.

The Royal Family in the book is loosely based on the current Royal Family. The Queen, much like Elizabeth II, is always in control and always gets the last word. The Prince in question is obviously the stand-in for Prince William and his red-headed, mischief-making brother for Prince Harry. The Prince’s father is distant (though I’d like to imagine that Prince Charles isn’t as unkind as his literary substitute in this book). The depiction of the Prince’s mother is handled tastefully. (I’ll make you read it to find out what the authors did with this delicate situation.)

I enjoyed watching Bex develop in her relationship with Prince Nicholas from girl-next-door to keep-it-a-secret girlfriend to hide-from-the-paparazzi fiancĂ©. It gave me a new respect for Kate and how she deals with the cameras with such aplomb. With all the craziness that Bex has to deal with once she comes into the paparazzi’s crosshairs, it makes me wonder: If the truth can be crazier than fiction, what must poor Kate go through that we never even hear about?

Fellow royal watchers might also like Kate: The Future Queen by Katie Nicholl, Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess by Jerramy Sage Fine, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, and The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne.


New Year, New School: Great Choices for the Upper Elementary Set

It’s back-to-school time!  If you haven’t returned to the classroom already, you will very soon.  Here are some intermediate fiction suggestions for children in grades 4-6 to make the school year even more fun.  In each book, the main character is starting a new school.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
In 2015, with this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, author Cece Bell earned Newbery Honors and an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids.  Bell relates her personal experience as a deaf child in first grade joining a classroom of children without hearing issues.  She wears a hearing aid strapped to her chest which opens up her auditory world, but makes her feel awkward socially and hampers her quest to find a true friend.  Interestingly, the hearing aid also allows her to hear her teacher’s conversations wherever she is in the school.  This becomes Cece’s “superpower”, and as a result she dubs herself “El Deafo”.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown
In this graphic novel, Roan is just starting middle school.  His application to pilot school was rejected and instead he has accepted a surprising invitation to attend the mysterious Jedi Academy, where he finds he’s the oldest student.  Apart from Yoda, many of the characters in this new series are entirely unrelated to the cast of the Star Wars films, but are equally intriguing.  Much more than a take-off of a popular franchise, this novel/comic diary tackles some important school-age issues, such as friendship, bullying and perseverance.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
The experiences that eleven-year-old Ellie encounters as she starts middle school include more than just friendships ending and beginning, awkwardness and discovering new academic interests.  She also gets to know her grandfather, Melvin, who has figured out how to reverse the aging process and is now a thirteen-year-old enrolled at Ellie’s school.  This unique novel is a wonderful blend of fantasy and realistic fiction and exhibits an enthusiasm for science that should inspire any reader.  We also offer this book in compact disc and eBook formats.

The New Kid by Mavis Jukes
This novel is also about starting a new school, but with the added challenges of doing this in the middle of the school year and switching from an intimate private school to a large public school.  Eight-year-old Carson has just moved with his dad to northern California, leaving behind his grandparents and familiar places and faces.  Although at first not completely comfortable in his new surroundings, the love of his father and the acceptance of his classmates smooths the transition.  Author Jukes shows true empathy for Carson’s experience settling into a new environment and tells her tale with humor and understanding.