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Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast in Short & Sweet
Author: Josh Funk
Illustrator: Brendan Kearney
Publishing September 1st, 2020 by Sterling Children’s Books

Summary: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are back with a twist: they’ve been transformed into small children. Now it’s a race against the clock to turn our favorite duo into grown-ups again!

Lady Pancake is aching; Sir French Toast’s looking pale. Could they be going . . . STALE? Maybe a visit to Professor Biscotti’s lab for her despoiling procedure will help. But instead of beautifying them, Biscotti accidentally transforms the two treats into toddlers! Frightened of the now gargantuan (to them) Baron von Waffle, the mini breakfast foods scamper off on an adventure in the fridge, visiting everywhere from the Bran Canyon to Limes Square. Will Baron von Waffle and Professor Biscotti figure out a way to turn them back into a grown Lady and Sir? Or will they stay short & sweet forever?

In this fourth Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast adventure, Pancake and Toast fear they are going stale and visit Professor Biscotti, whose faulty gadget transforms them into toddlers, sending them on an adventure in the refrigerator.

Our reviews of:
Book One
Book Two
Book Three

About the Creators: 

Josh Funk is the author of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, followed by its sequels The Case of the Stinky Stench and Mission Defrostable, as well as Albie NewtonHow to Code a SandcastleLost in the Library, and more. He lives in Concord, MA. Visit him online at joshfunkbooks.com or on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Brendan Kearney is also the illustrator of the first Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast; its sequels The Case of the Stinky Stench and Mission Defrostable; and Bertie Wings It. He lives in St. Albans, UK.

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Kellee’s Review: I think the best review I could give of this book is the joy that it brings my son. I wish you all could have seen his face when I told him I was going to read another Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast book. That face truly says it all! When we finished, and he loved it so much, I asked him if he would help me review it. Here are his thoughts:

What was your favorite part of this book? I love that they go to the library because kids do love libraries and books.

Why do you like the Lady Pancake and French Toast books? They are all funny when everyone goes on an adventure. I like the illustrations and the words. Both. I like that it rhymes. And the illustrations look funny. I just like everything.

This is who these books are for, so I think his words speak volumes!

As for me, I adore this series too! And I always am so impressed that Josh Funk is able to create such a rhythmic rhyming prose–it blows me away and shows his pure rhyming genius. This story was extra wonderful because we got to see little Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast who were so cute!

Ricki’s Review: These books are truly among my very favorite to read aloud. I read them often with kids, and they are a real crowd-pleaser! Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast in Short & Sweet is another masterpiece that will be so useful to teachers and parents everywhere. Reading it brought me so much joy.

The pictures and words pair beautifully to personify the food. I could see kids having fun creating their own personified food stories and using this book as a mentor text.

Right now, we all need humor. Both my kids and I laughed as we read this one, and I am so glad that it is out in the world. I am very grateful for Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney for bringing such cheer to my days.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Josh Funk’s books are instant mentor texts for rhyming and rhythm. Take a spread and have students mimic his rhyming and rhythm using their own characters. Or in general you can use his texts to discuss these as his rhythmic and rhyming texts are some of the best!

Discussion Questions: 

  • What other picture books could you rename with food puns?
  • If you were writing a Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast story, where would you have them visit in the refrigerator?
  • Why was Baron Von Waffle so upset by the Lady Pancake’s and Sir French Toast’s reaction to him?
  • How did Baron Von Waffle save the day twice?
  • There are some other characters in the book that are not named–what would you name them?

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast books, Rhyming texts, Funny books,

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**Thank you to Josh Funk for providing a copy for review!**

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Bird Hugs
Author and Illustrator: Ged Adamson
Published: February 1, 2020 by Two Lions

GoodReads Summary: Bernard isn’t like other birds. His wings are impossibly long, and try as he might, he just can’t seem to fly. He’s left wondering what his wings are good for…if they’re even good for anything at all. But a chance encounter with a dejected orangutan leads Bernard to a surprising discovery: that maybe what makes him different is actually something to be embraced.

Ricki’s Review: Oh my goodness. This book made my heart feel so, so full. It tells the story of a bird who is very different from the other birds. He cannot fly because he has abnormally large wings. As the title suggests, he learns that his wings are good for something other than flying. But it doesn’t end there! The bird becomes so well-loved by the other animals that they take him on his dream flight! There are so many wonderful lessons in this book. I’ll be gifting this book to several friends. It’s that good.

Kellee’s Review: My friend Kaleigh read this book before me because it was sitting by my couch when she came to visit. When she finished she looked at me and said, “You will love this book. and get ready to cry.” And gosh darn it, she was right! Bernard’s story just made me so sad and then so happy. Bernard’s journey is a lot like many kids though–they are taught that a certain way is the only way, either through peers or parents or media, but there is so much out there for us to be. Bernard teaches us that. Everyone should read this book. 

About the Author: Ged Adamson is a children’s book author and illustrator. His picture books include A Fox Found a Box; Douglas, You Need Glasses!; Shark Dog!; and Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed). He has also worked as a cartoonist, storyboard artist, and composer for film and TV. He lives in London with his partner, Helen, and son, Rex. To learn more, visit his website: https://gedadamson.myportfolio.com/home-page
Twitter: @ged_adamson
Instagram: @gedadamson

Praise for Bird Hugs:
“Readers will agree: All differences should be hugged, er, embraced.” —Kirkus Reviews

“The lesson is a simple, familiar one—selflessness and sympathy are key to making friends—but Adamson’s gentle humor and his eager-eyed characters’ yearning become an eloquent testimony to the power of a little TLC.” —Publishers Weekly

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Students might journal about some aspect of them (emotional, physical) that is different. They might explore the ways in which this aspect is actually a strength.

This book could definitely be used in the first week of school during norm and team building. Combine it with the Be Kind! themed books to look at how different doesn’t equal bad.

Discussion Questions:

  • How does Bernard feel when he cannot fly? When he feels really good about himself, he tries to fly again. What happens? Why? What does this teach us?
  • What are some qualities that some people might dislike about us? How might we use these qualities as a strength?

We Flagged: 

Read This If You Loved: Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob SheaThe Magic of Maxwell and His Tail by Maureen Stolar Kanefield

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review and giveaway!**

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Bad Hair Day
Author and Illustrator: Jim Benton
Published July 23rd, 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary: Franny K. Stein isn’t a fan of glamour. She doesn’t style her hair, the thought of wearing makeup makes her want to gag, and she couldn’t care less about wearing dressy dresses when she’d much prefer her lab coat.

But sometimes Franny wonders if her mom wishes she were different. Which gives Franny an idea…for an experiment! What if she can turn the beauty products her mom loves into something more exciting?

Every experiment has its experimental error, and when Franny’s hair takes on a life of its own, Franny must save the day (and her hair).

About the Author: Jim Benton is the New York Times bestselling writer of the Dear Dumb Diary series and a cartoonist whose unique brand of humor has been seen on toys, television, T-shirts, greeting cards, and even underwear. Franny K. Stein is the first character he’s created especially for young children. A husband and father of two, he lives in Michigan, where he works in a studio that really and truly does have creepy stuff in it.

Review: Franny K. Stein is not worried about all those other things other people worry about–she just wants to do experiments and other mad scientists things. And you know what, I love that!!! And I definitely saw what Benton was trying to do with this book when it comes to glamour and such, but I, as a parent, just didn’t like to see Franny’s mom put a bit of passive aggressive pressure on Franny to be anything other than her amazing self. I mean, she makes creatures and fights them–what does a little messy hair matter?! But in the end, Franny’s mom and the reader are reminded of this, so once again Franny can go on being herself.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Simon and Schuster have a wonderful curriculum guide to use with this series: CLICK HERE.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Franny’s mom is supportive of Franny, but she also questions her. How did you feel about how Franny’s mom in this book?
  • I like to describe Franny as awesome, as in I am awe-struck by her. What traits does Franny have that would lead me to describe her this way?
  • Why did Franny’s pig tails act differently than her ponytails?
  • How was Franny’s mom wrong about Igor?
  • Would Franny be successful in her monster fighting without Igor? Why or why not?

Flagged Passages: CHAPTER ONE: FRANNY’S HOUSE

The Stein family lived in the pretty pink house with the lovely purple shutters down at the end of Daffodil Street. Everything about the house was bright and cheery.

But, of course, the outside of a house is never as interesting as what’s going on inside it.

And inside this house, behind the little round upstairs window, something interesting was always going on, because this was the bedroom and laboratory of Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist.

Last week, for example, Franny developed a giant sea horse, and the day before that she worked on a way to fly based on how bats flap their wings.

Those projects became pretty expensive, so Franny needed to get a piggy bank to save her money in.

Of course, being a mad scientist, she created her piggy bank from a real live pig, which meant that she had to learn all she could about pigs.

This got pretty messy, but she didn’t mind getting messy, because that’s just what happens when you’re doing mad science.

Read This If You Love: Dear Dumb Diary series, Frank Einstein series, Zita the Spacegirl series

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The Day the Crayons Quit
Author and Illustrator: Lindsay Ward
Published: December 1, 2019 by Two Lions

Goodreads Summary:Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.

Ricki’s Review: I adored this book. I love stories about the underdog, and gray is definitely an underdog color! Fans who love The Day the Crayons Quit will absolutely love this story. It is very funny and a fantastic read aloud. There are many themes for discussion within the book. Kids might consider whose stories are missing as they think about gray’s emotions. They might also think about the other colors and how they are rude to gray and what this might feel like. The characterization of all of the colors offers much for discussion, too. Teachers and parents will love to read this aloud to children.

Kellee’s Review: As a daughter of an art teacher and art museum director, art education has always been important to me. I think the lack of art classes in elementary and secondary school as well as the push away from imagination in schools is a detriment to our children, so books like this give me so much hope! This book celebrates color education, creative writing, word play, and mood. It even pulls in social emotional learning with a focus on friendship and cooperation. Lindsay Ward did such a fantastic job with all of the elements of the story, and I cannot wait to share this book far and wide. It will be a fantastic read aloud in classrooms when discussing primary/secondary colors, story telling and mood, or even just to talk about how to work together. I cannot tell you enough how much you, your teacher friends, your parent friends, and all the kids you know need this book 🙂

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: The possibilities of this text are very exciting. Teachers might have students choose a story of a lesser known or lesser considered character and have students develop their own fiction! They can share these stories and have a discussion about the people and things we don’t often consider.

Discussion Questions: How does gray feel? How do the other crayons make him feel?; How might you apply gray’s experiences to your own life?; How does the author make the book funny? How does this add to your experience as a reader?

We Flagged: “They never let me color! Just one tiny bit of GRAY? Is that so much to ask?”

You can also look inside the book HERE.

Read This If You Loved: The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, Who Stole Mona Lisa? by Ruthie Knapp, The Dot and Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds, Chalk by Bill Thomson, Art & Max by David Weisner, Not a… series by Antoinette Portis, Art by Patrick McDonnell, Perfect Square by Michael Hall, Cloudette by Tom Lichtenheld

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**Thank you to Blue Slip Media for providing copies for review!!**

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Terrible Times Tables
Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Merrilee Liddiard
Published August 6, 2019 by Cameron Kids

Goodreads Summary: Inspired by a Victorian math primer, Terrible Times Tables is a modern take on learning one’s multiplication tables, from numbers 2 to 10, featuring elementary school themes of homeroom, field trips, cafeteria food, holidays, and recitals. Featuring a reluctant narrator and a few unwitting critters, learning math has never been so much fun or amusing.

My Review: Ah! This book is so charming. The art and the words feel simultaneously old-fashioned and contemporary! It feels just like an older Victorian math primer, but yet the words make it relevant to children today! I read this with my son (who is in kindergarten and too young for multiplication), and we were giggling away at the rhymes and illustration. I’d love to see this book in classrooms. It makes math genuinely fun!

Teacher’s Tools For Navigation: Elementary school math teachers will find great joy in this book. Students might write and illustrate their own math primer with a theme. In this book, each number has a different theme, and I think students would love to create their own! This text is very inspiring for me as an adult, and I wanted to play with words, too! 🙂 I can’t wait for my sons to be old enough to use this book.

I’d also love to compare this with an older, Victorian math primer. Kids would get a kick out of that!

Discussion Questions: Which theme was your favorite, and why?; How do the words and art work together to make this book so successful?; How does the author integrate clever rhymes to make readers enjoy math?

We Flagged: “4 x 1 is 4

Sam pukes. Same pukes some more.”

Read This If You Love: I’m Trying to Love Math by Bethany Barton; On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne; Math 

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Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Author: Laurel Snyder
Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Published: April 2nd, 2019 by Chronicle Books

Summary: It is Mom’s birthday, and Charlie and Mouse and their Dad want everything to be perfect–so when the cake gets burnt the boys have to come up with a new plan, pronto.

View my post about Charlie & Mouse and Charlie & Mouse & Grumpy to learn about the first two books in the series.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I created for the Charlie & Mouse series:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Charlie and Mouse on Chronicle Book’s Charlie & Mouse Even Better page.

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“Making Lemonade out of Lemons: Creating Humor out of Sadness”

One of the things I’m asked most often about my debut middle grade novel, SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS, is the role of humor – specifically how there’s so much in what could be a very sad book. Both the humor and the heaviness stem from truth, because SUPER JAKE is inspired by life with my three sons, the youngest of whom (Jake) had special needs.

Jake’s many limitations were heartbreaking, as was his death at only 28 months. And yet, my family – especially Jake’s big brothers – managed to find, and create, a lot of laughter and joy despite the difficulties. For that reason I tried to balance the inherent sadness surrounding his fragile health with a sense of playfulness and humor throughout the book. Here are five ways to use humor in a sad story, with examples from SUPER JAKE.

  • Establish a fun, or funny, tone from the get-go.

In early drafts, the story opened with the 11-year-old hero, Ethan, being awakened in the middle of the night because of a Jake-related medical emergency. This scene is still in the book; it just comes 155 pages later. Although it was a sure-fire dramatic start, as the main story shifted from Jake to Ethan, it was clear that the book needed to start with Ethan doing his favorite thing: magic. And what could be funnier, and more endearing, than entertaining a dozen 3-year-old girls dressed like Disney princesses? Throw in goofy younger brother, 7-year-old Freddy, and an unexpected appearance by SpongeBob, and you’ve got a fun tone to kick things off. Later in the chapter Jake shows up, too, and a bit of sadness creeps in but – hopefully – the reader already knows this story will have plenty of lighthearted moments.

  • Include a character who provides comic relief.

This, without question, is Freddy, the lovable middle brother. I could always count on him to come to the rescue when things got too sad. Sometimes it was a simple visual gag, like bubble gum exploding all over his face. Other times it was unexpected dialogue, or his interrupting a somber moment any number of ways. And sometimes, it was just his sweet, innocent take on things: he was a great vehicle to lighten tension.

  • Incorporate a sense of play, and playfulness, to mitigate sad circumstances.

There is nothing remotely fun, or funny, about having to “stretch” Jake’s arms and legs because he was unable to do it on his own. And yet in the book, as in real life, his big brothers got in on the act and even managed to turn physical therapy into a good time: Ethan takes a benign teddy bear and creates… Ninja Bear! Another example is how Jake’s unusual hearing creates a funny scene when Ethan plays his trumpet without waking Jake to stir, but Mom’s quiet (and angry) whisper immediately wakes him up.

  • Do something surprising.

This technique is very helpful and can be used frequently and in many ways. Have someone you wouldn’t expect do something unexpected: Ms. Carlin, Ethan’s beloved English teacher, has a crush on Ethan’s hero, Magnus the Magnificent. (Spoiler alert: teachers are human! You heard it here first.) Have an unexpected dialogue exchange, like on p. 23:

Freddy:            I’m doing a huge battle of dinosaurs versus Star Wars. I thought the Star Wars people would win because they’ve got lightsabers. But the dinosaurs were  hungry, so they ate them.

Ethan:              The lightsabers?

Freddy:            The people.

Or create an unexpected, and much-needed, break in tension. This occurs organically in lots of Ethan’s magic tricks. It seems like something has gone wrong, then he pulls it off. Another example of breaking tension with humor is when Ethan tries to convince his frenemy, Ned, that cake will make him feel better. Just as Ethan is about to give up, Ned asks, “What flavor is it?”

  • Switch from tears to laughter.

One of my favorite writers, Paula Danziger, said that her favorite thing to do was switch from tears to laughter, or laughter to tears, “on a dime.” I have tried to do the same. Even if it’s something small, the contrast makes the new, unexpected emotion pack a bigger punch.

Laughter to tears is pretty easy when you’ve got a character like Jake. Here’s bit with Ethan and his buddies at lunch, as they try to figure out how he can pay for a magic competition:

Brian:              Hey! Maybe you could sell one of your brothers.

Ethan:              Nah. I’d have to pay somebody to take Freddy.

Daniel:            How about Jake? Lots of people want babies.

Brian:              Only perfect ones.

Tears to laughter usually happens courtesy of Freddy. In the dialogue below, the truth is the possibility of Jake ever tackling homework is a sad reminder that his limitations are far-reaching and probably permanent. And yet…

Freddy:            Hey, Ethan, you think someday I’ll help Jake with his math homework?

Ethan:              I don’t know. How much is eight plus two?

Freddy:            Twelve?

Creating laughter from tears, or happiness from sadness, isn’t only doable: it’s critical, especially in children’s books. I hope these approaches will show readers that they can find – and make – joy out of even the saddest situations.

More information on the book can be found at: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/naomi-milliner/super-jake-and-the-king-of-chaos/9780762466160/.

Super Jake & the King of Chaos
Author: Naomi Milliner
Published May 7th, 2019 by Running Press Kids

About the Book: A debut contemporary novel about 11-year-old aspiring magician Ethan, who discovers that heroes come in all sizes, and real magic can be found in the most unexpected places.

When life revolves around stressed-out parents and ER visits for his special needs little brother Jake, eleven-year-old Ethan escapes to a world of top hats, trick decks, and magic wands. When he hears of a junior magic competition where the top prize is to meet and perform with his hero, Magnus the Magnificent, Ethan is determined to do whatever he needs to get there–and to win.

His dedication and hard work pay off, and he makes it to the top five finalists: his dream really could come true! Then Jake falls dangerously ill and Ethan’s hopes and plans are in jeopardy. As he searches for any sort of magic that might save Jake, Ethan learns what is truly important . . . and what real magic is.

About the Author: Naomi Milliner has a Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s in Screenwriting from USC Film School. As a long-time member of SCBWI, she created the Authors Book Club (ABC) for published authors and illustrators to share their journey with other members. She has also served on the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads Committee since 2009. She lives in Maryland, with her husband and sons.

Thank you so much for this guest post about how authors mix sadness and humor!

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