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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | funny

Laughing Matters

This month, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root, the usual hosts of this column, have invited Kari Pearson to share her recommendations for funny picture books.

Kari Pearson

Kari Pearson

Let’s play a game! It’s called Funny/Not Funny. It goes like this:

Funny: Eating greasy bloaters with cabbage-and-potato sog (see: How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen)

Not Funny: Shoveling gigantic snowdrifts out of my driveway into piles almost as tall as myself.

Laughing matters, as anyone who has survived a Minnesota winter will tell you.

Whether you’re snowbound or not, I hope you will enjoy the warmth and wit this quirky collection of picture books has to offer. Some of them are old (look for them at your library or online through Alibris), others are newer. Most importantly, all are guaranteed to be more hilarious than discovering you have to kick your own front door open from the inside because it has frozen shut overnight in a blizzard (file under: not funny). Not that that happened, because that would be ridiculous.

The Big Orange SplotThe Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater (Scholastic, 1977)

It all starts with The Big Orange Splot. More specifically, with a seagull who is carrying a bucket of orange paint (no one knows why), which he drops onto Mr. Plumbean’s house (no one knows why). Unfazed, Mr. Plumbean allows the splot to remain and goes about his business, much to the neighbors’ chagrin. On this neat street such things simply aren’t done. Eventually, Plumbean agrees that this has gone far enough. He buys some paint and gets to work correcting the problem.

Overnight, the big orange splot is joined by smaller orange splots, stripes, pictures of elephants and lions, steamshovels, and other images befitting a rainbow jungle explosion. “My house is me and I am it,” Plumbean tells his flabbergasted neighbors. “My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.” But Plumbean doesn’t stop there. Palm trees, frangipani, alligators…nothing is too outlandish for his new dream house. “Plumbean has popped his cork, flipped his wig, blown his stack, and dropped his stopper” the neighbors exclaim in dismay. They go about hatching a plan to get things back to normal on their neat street. But as they soon discover, once a Big Orange Splot appears, there’s no going back. Plumbean’s unbridled imagination far outstrips even their most ardently held pedestrian sensibilities. Wigs have only begun to flip.

Nino Wrestles the WorldNiño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook, 2013)

“Señoras y Señores, put your hands together for the fantastic, spectacular, one of a kind…Niño!” So begins the most improbable lucha libre wrestling competition of all time. Our hero is Niño, a diminutive boy in a red mask with more than a few tricks up his (non-existent) sleeves. Armed with little more than a popsicle, a decoy doll, and assorted puzzle pieces, Niño prevails against a colorful array of foes. La Llorona (the weeping woman), Cabeza Olmeca (a sculpted basalt head from the Olmec civilization), and the terrifying Guanajuato Mummy are just a few of the characters in this winning tribute to the theatrical world of lucha libre. Certain illustrations might be a bit scary for the youngest readers, but they are presented in a silly way that make them less frightening and more fun. And lest you think that Niño has no serious competition, rest assured that all bets are off once his little sisters, las hermanitas, wake up from their nap…

Slow LorisSlow Loris by Alexis Deacon (Kane/Miller, 2002)

If you’ve ever been to the zoo, you probably noticed that some animals are just not that exciting. Or are they? This story delves into the daily life of Slow Loris, an impossibly boring animal who earns his name by spending ten minutes eating a satsuma, twenty minutes going from one end of his branch to the other, and a whole hour scratching his bottom. But Slow Loris has a secret. At night, he gets up and does everything fast! When the other zoo animals get over their surprise at how wild Slow Loris really is, they don’t hesitate to join his all-night party, which includes (among other things) a multitude of hats, colorful ties, dancing, and an epic drum solo (by Slow Loris, of course). As you would imagine, it’s a slow day at the zoo after that as the party animals sleep off the previous night’s shenanigans. Boring!

Stop That Pickle!Stop That Pickle! by Peter Armour, illustrated by Andrew Shachat (Houghton Mifflin, 1993)

As fast as Slow Loris may be by night, I’m guessing he still couldn’t catch the runaway pickle from Mr. Adolph’s deli. Rather than be eaten by one Ms. Elmira Deeds, this plucky pickle leaps out of the jar and makes a break for it. Stop That Pickle! is a delightfully wacky story of one pickle’s daring escape and ultimate triumph over a host of other foods trying to catch it. (And if you were wondering if there is any solidarity in the food world, this book answers that question with a resounding NO.) 

When Mr. Adolph is immediately overwhelmed by the pickle’s speed, a disgruntled peanut butter and jelly sandwich joins the chase. “Everyone knows that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is not the fastest sandwich in the world, but it does have great endurance.” Page by page tension builds as more foods join the pack, all shouting: Stop That Pickle!. By the end of the book the pickle is being pursued by not only the sandwich (hello, endurance!), but also a braided pretzel, green pippin apple, seventeen toasted almonds, a crowd of raisins, a cake doughnut, a cool grape soda, and an elegant vanilla ice cream cone. How will our pickle prevail??? The story culminates in a back alley moment of truth which I won’t spoil for you, but rest assured that this pickle lives to run another day. With its satisfying (yet totally ineffectual) refrain, Stop That Pickle! is a great read aloud book and will definitely make you think twice about the moral advisability of skewering the last pickle in the jar.

Sophie's SquashSophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013)

When Sophie spots a butternut squash at the farmers’ market, it is love at first sight. Her squash is “just the right size to hold in her arms. Just the right size to bounce on her knee. Just the right size to love.” Finally, Sophie has found the perfect friend! Except…her parents seem to want to eat her friend. “Don’t listen, Bernice!” Sophie cries at the suggestion of cooking Bernice with marshmallows. And so Bernice becomes part of the family. She goes to story time at the library, rolls down hills, visits other squash. Everything is fine until one day Bernice is not quite herself. She starts looking spotty and her somersaults don’t have “their usual style.” What to do? This heartwarming story is has a simple, funny sweetness to it as Sophie learns about being a loyal friend and what it means to let go. Don’t miss the illustrated endpapers which feature Sophie in her unparalleled squashy exuberance! This book also offers a seasonally appropriate lesson: winter might seem like the end, but sometimes it is only the beginning.  

How Tom Beat Captain NajorkHow Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Atheneum, 1974)

No self-respecting list of funny picture books would be complete without How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen. This gem is from an era where picture books were a bit longer, but that just means there is more hilarity here to enjoy. Tom is a boy who knows fooling around. He fools around “with sticks and stones and crumpled paper, with mewses and passages and dustbins, with bent nails and broken glass and holes in fences.” You get the idea. He’s an expert.

This deeply troubles Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong, a formidable woman in an iron hat who believes boys should spend their time memorizing pages from the Nautical Almanac instead of doing things that suspiciously resemble playing. So she calls in Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen to teach Tom a lesson in fooling around. As you might imagine, Captain Najork has wildly underestimated Tom’s expertise in these matters and gets his comeuppance accordingly. Quentin Blake’s wonderfully zany line drawings are the perfect accompaniment to the hijinks of this weird and totally satisfying story. Greasy bloaters, anyone? There’s also some cabbage-and-potato sog left. Somehow.

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Marsha Wilson Chall and Jill Davis

I recently had the honor of interviewing Marsha Wilson Chall, the author of the new picture book, The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo, and her editor, Jill Davis.

Marsha Wilson ChallMarsha Wilson Chall grew up an only child in Minnesota, where her father told her the best stories. The author of many picture books, including Up North at the Cabin, One Pup’s Up, and Pick a Pup, Marsha teaches writing at Hamline University’s MFAC program in St. Paul, Minnesota. She lives on a small farm west of Minneapolis with her husband, dog, barn cats, and books.

Jill DavisJill Davis has been an executive editor in children’s books at HarperCollins since 2013. A veteran of children’s books, she began her career at Random House in 1992, and worked there at Crown and Knopf Books For Young Readers until 1996, after which she worked at Viking until 2005. After that, she held positions at both Bloomsbury and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is the author of three picture books, editor of one collection of short stories, and has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University

Secret Life of Fiiggy MustardoMark: The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo came about in a different way than most picture books. You were asked to write a story based on illustrations of a character. Could you tell us about this process and a little about the story?

Marsha: You’re right that this story evolved differently than my others. My amazing editor, Jill Davis, sent me Alison Friend’s thumbnails of an adorable canine character she had named Figgy Mustardo in a variety of human-like poses and costumes. For me, it was love at first sight! So I set about the process of creating Figgy’s story based on my impressions of him through Alison’s art and then, via Jill, Alison’s written notions of his characterization and story ideas.

Alison FriendAn imaginative, spirited fellow, Alison visualized Figgy zipping through many adventures on his scooter. In the book, I took the liberty of changing the scooter to a race car and also cast Figgy as a rock star and a pizza chef who organizes and stars in a neighborhood rock concert, pizzeria, and stock car race with his animal friends. Lots of Figgy fun, but this did not a story make. I needed to know why these activities mattered to Figgy and how he grew as a character.

Secret Life of Figgy MustardoI also had to think about the nuts and bolts of how Figgy might transform from dog to dilettante. I was fairly certain of my own dog’s boredom and loneliness while our family is away, so I started my story exploration there. We all know that dogs, as social creatures, dislike being left alone and are often fraught with anxiety leading to certain not-so-flattering behaviors and/or the escape of sleep. A story with a sleeping dog would not be too interesting, so I chose the much more exciting, destructive route. What if Figgy ate things–any things–in his frustration, fell asleep, and dreamed about himself as a manifestation of what he ate? We all know “you are what you eat,” so in Figgy’s case, for example, he eats Mrs. Mustardo’s Bone Appetit magazine, falls asleep, and dreams of being Italian Pizza Chef Mustardo serving Muttsarello and Figaro pizzas to adoring gourmands. When he wakes, he knows his dream is a sign, so he makes a real one of his own, “Free Pizza,” and serves his entire animal neighborhood at Figgy’s Pizzeria.

Most importantly, I needed to develop a motivation for Figgy’s adventures; how were these events connected to him? What did they mean? How would they affect Figgy’s world outside and inside? The answer arrived in the form of loss; every animal neighbor came to Figgy’s concert and pizzeria and car race except Figgy’s family, the Mustardos, especially George (his boy). In desperation, Figgy creates the sign “Free Dog” to find a family who will talk and walk and play with him like all the other families he sees through his window. Where are the Mustardos? The family Mustardo arrives in time to show Figgy how much they care with a promise to take him wherever they can and to provide him companionship when they can’t in the form of new pup named Dot. Figgy and Dot go on to enliven the neighborhood with Free Shows nightly.

Mark: What kind of revising/editing process did you and Jill go through?

Marsha: Once I knew my character and his problem, I dashed off the story, sent it to Jill who loved it at first sight, then sat back satisfied with a good day’s work.

Ha! Not the way it happened, but I did write a first draft within a few days that Jill found promising. So many drafts later that I can’t even recall the original, Jill exercised plenty of patience waiting for the story she and Alison hoped I could write. I know she’ll protest my tribute, but I have never worked with an editor so open to my trial and error. Her abundant humor carried us through the process that I think would have otherwise overwhelmed me.

Mark: Will there be any more books with Figgy and his further adventures?

Marsha: Figgy hopes so and so do Jill, Alison, and I. For now, I hope Figgy wags his way into the hands and hearts of many human friends where he belongs.

WOOF!

Mark: How was this project different having a character first and then having to find a writer to tell his story?

The Secret Life of Figgy MustardoJill: It was kind of hard. The illustrator had invented this little dog who she wanted to be an adventurer—yet she wasn’t sure how to make the story happen. When I saw the dog, I thought of Marsha’s One Pup’s Up—and I knew how talented she was. Seemed like a slam dunk! But all of us—Marsha, myself, and the illustrator, Alison Friend, had  to share plenty of feedback, edit, and revise a bit before Marsha was able to tell both the story she envisioned as well as the story Alison had in mind. Marsha pictured Figgy at home, and really loved the idea of using signs. Alison seemed to feel Figgy was some kind of James Bond. So how were those two visions going to meet? They finally did when Marsha realized that Figgy would go to sleep and dream about his exciting alter-ego. And we all loved the idea. The book may seem a little bit sad because Figgy is always being left at home, but Marsha told it in such a great way that Figgy showed his grit! If he’s hungry, he eats what’s there—but then the magic happens and he goes to sleep and dreams of something related to what he ate. It’s so fun and so imaginative. I love what Marsha did with Figgy’s story, and Alison did, too.

Mark: What was it like to work with Marsha in this new role as editor after being her student in the MFA in Writing for Children program at Hamline University?

Jill: It felt very wonderful and natural. Marsha does not use intimidation as a tactic in general. She’s the rare combination of brilliant and super silly. That’s one reason she’s so loved at Hamline and in the continental United States, generally speaking.

There were times when she should have been frustrated or wanted to spit at me, but she was cool as a cucumber in the freezer in the North Pole. So professional and what I loved also about working with her is how much I learned. I learned how she makes use of repetition, alliteration, and very careful editing. I can be sloppy, but Marsha walked straight out of Strunk and White. She’s exact and wonderfully detail-oriented. She was also involved at the sketch stage. Actually at several sketch stages. We worked on the phone, we worked at Hamline, and we worked until we thought it felt perfect. And she loved it because she could use it in her teaching! And I just loved working with Marsha!

Mark:  Thank you Marsha and Jill for taking the time to tell us about your collaboration on The Secret Life of Figgy Mustardo. The book is now available at everyone’s local independent book store.

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Bookstorm™: Turn Left at the Cow

 

Turn Left at the Cow

Turn Left at the CowWho doesn’t love a mystery? Whether your find them intriguing puzzles or can’t-wait-to-know-the-solution page-turners, a good mystery is engrossing and a little tense. Throw in a little humor, a detailed setting, and well-drawn characters and you have a book you can confidently hand to young readers who are already hooked on the genre and those who have yet to become fans.

We are pleased to feature Turn Left at the Cow as our May book selection, written by the expert plotter Lisa Bullard, replete with her characteristic humor.

In each Bookstorm™, we offer a bibliography of books that have close ties to the the featured book. You’ll find books, articles, and videos for a variety of tastes and interests. This month, we’re focusing on books for middle grade readers with mysteries, humor, and bank heists. 

Downloadables

 

 

Don’t miss the exceptional resources on the author’s website. Try your hand at butter carving with “Butter Head Beauties,” engaging science, art, and language arts skills. Re-create the book’s chicken poop bingo with “Chances Are,” calling on math and language arts. Lisa Bullard’s Pinterest page has more great ideas that you’ll find useful as you incorporate this book into your planning.

BOOKSTORM TOPICS

Middle Grade Mysteries. There are amazing books written for this age group. We’ve included a list that would help you select read-alikes or companion books, drawing on titles first printed in 1929 (yes, really) to 2015.

Butter Heads and Other State Fair Strangeness. A butter head is one of the attention-worthy objects in the book. Begin an online research assignment with a few articles about butter heads around the country.

Fish Out of Water. Travis lives in southern California. When he runs away to his grandmother’s cabin in northern Minnesota, it walks and talks like a different world, one that Travis has to learn to navigate if he’s going to solve the mystery.

Missing Parent. Even though Travis left his mother behind with her new husband, Travis is most interested in finding out about his dad, who died before he was born. Books for this age group often revolve around a parent or parents who are not present. We’ve recommended a few of them. 

Robberies and Heists. Travis has trouble believing his father could have robbed a bank but the townspeople seem to think so. We’ve included books that delineate bank or train robberies, some of them true.

Small Town Festivals. One of the most exciting scenes in Turn Left at the Cow takes place in Green Lake, Minnesota’s annual summer festival where chicken poop bingo is a tradition. We’ve found articles about other small town festivals that would make good writing prompts, research projects, or PowerPoint projects.

Mysteries offer a special pleasure to many readers, both children and adults. They provide an excellent opportunity to talk about plot and how that plot is reinforced by intriguing characters (and good writing!).

Let us know how you are making use of this Bookstorm™. Share your ideas and any other books you’d add to this Bookstorm™.

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Gifted: Up All Night

My mother had the knack of giving me a book every Christmas that kept me up all night … after I had opened it on Christmas Eve. I particularly remember the “oh-boy-it’s-dark-outside” year that I received The Lord of the Rings and accompanied the hobbits into Woody End where they first meet the Nazgul, the […]

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