Kellee’s NCTE Session: Humor and the Art of Engaging All Readers with Kim Baker, Caroline Carlson, Jennifer Holm, Kristen Kittscher, and Heidi Schulz




In a few shorts weeks, I am going to have the pleasure of chairing a panel with five amazing authors about the importance and ability of humor within middle grade books.  Within the session we’ll be touching on many aspects of humor including why the authors chose to write funny books, how humor can be used to help address tough topics, how humor is not just for boys!, different types of humor, and different ways humor can be intertwined in a novel. To see our PowerPoint and handout, check out my Slideshare at

I am looking forward to presenting with these wonderful ladies, and I wanted to take a day to share their wonderful (and funny!) books with you all.


Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
Author: Kim Baker
Illustrator: Tim Probert
Published September 4th, 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Goodreads Summary: This is the story of THE LEAGUE OF PICKLE MAKERS.

Ben: who began it all by sneaking in one night and filling homeroom with ball-pit balls.
Frank: who figured out that an official club, say a pickle making club, could receive funding from the PTA.
Oliver: who once convinced half of the class that his real parents had found him and he was going to live in a submarine.
Bean: who wasn’t exactly invited, but her parents own a costume shop, which comes in handy if you want to dress up like a giant squirrel and try to scare people at the zoo.

TOGETHER, they are an unstoppable prank-pulling force, and Fountain Point Middle School will never be the same.

My Review: Kim Baker has obviously spent some time with middle schoolers because her characters, dialogue, and story are spot on. Pickle is a hilarious, though sometimes serious, story about pranks and friendship and more pranks. What I love most about the book, though, is the characters. They are diverse, imperfect, and fully-developed–just like an actual middle schooler. Though some of the pranks and adults are over the top, the middle schoolers are reflections of what really kids are like.

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The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates
Author: Caroline Carlson
Illustrator: Dave Phillips
Magic Marks the Spot Published September 10th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Terror of the Southlands Published September 9th, 2014 by HarperCollins
The Buccaneers’ Code Published September 8th, 2015 by HarperCollins

Magic Marks the Spot Goodreads Summary: Pirates! Magic! Treasure! A gargoyle? Caroline Carlson’s hilarious tween novel The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot is perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society.

Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.

There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.

But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.

Written with uproarious wit and an inviting storyteller tone, the first book in Caroline Carlson’s quirky seafaring series is a piratical tale like no other.

My Review: If you have been following the blog, you know that I thoroughly enjoyed these books. I listened to all of them, and the narrator, Katherine Kellgren, is brilliant. Her ability to do the different voices and accents is just superb! Now, it does make it even easier to love because the books are so well done and so much fun! Hilary Westfield has become one of my favorite strong female protagonists because she just does not care what anyone else thinks or expects of her, she is going to be a fearsome pirate no matter who steps in her way. Additionally, the gargoyle is one of my favorite sidekicks in any book.

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Sunny Side Up
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Published August 25th, 2015 by GRAPHIX

Goodreads Summary: Sunny Lewin has been packed off to Florida to live with her grandfather for the summer.  At first she thought Florida might be fun — it is the home of Disney World, after all.  But the place where Gramps lives is no amusement park.  It’s full of . . . old people.  Really old people.

Luckily, Sunny isn’t the only kid around.  She meets Buzz, a boy who is completely obsessed with comic books, and soon they’re having adventures of their own: facing off against golfball-eating alligators, runaway cats, and mysteriously disappearing neighbors.  But the question remains — why is Sunny down in Florida in the first place?  The answer lies in a family secret that won’t be secret to Sunny much longer. . .

My Review: Jennifer L. Holm does such a wonderful job in Sunny Side Up mixing a really tough situation with a very humorous story. It is the perfect balance. It isn’t over the top, because that would demean the serious topic, but it isn’t too serious either. And you can tell this is a story from Jennifer’s heart because the story is crafted so thoughtful with well-timed humor and well-timed conflict.

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Young and Yang
Author: Kristen Kittscher
Wig in the Window Published June 18th, 2013 by HarperCollins
The Tiara on the Terrace Expected Publication January 5th, 2016 by HarperCollins

Wig in the Window Goodreads Summary: Best friends and seventh graders Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game out of spying on their neighbors. On one of their midnight stakeouts, they witness a terrifying, bloody scene at the home of their bizarre middle-school counselor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward).

At least, they think they do. The truth is that Dr. Agford was only making her famous pickled beets! But when Dr. Agford begins acting even weirder than usual, Sophie and Grace become convinced that she’s hiding something—and they’re determined to find out what it is.

Soon the girls are breaking secret codes, being followed by a strange blue car, and tailing strangers with unibrows and Texas accents. But as their investigation heats up, Sophie and Grace start to crack under the pressure. They might solve their case, but will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a REAR WINDOW twist.

My Review: I am in awe of Kristen Kittscher’s ability to craft such a complicated mystery! There are so many twists and turns throughout that I am sure the plotting of the book was so intensive! I really appreciate Young & Yang mysteries for three reasons. First, Young & Yang (& Bottoms) themselves. They are such unique yet normal characters. Normal in that they seem like regular middle school girls, but unique in literature because they aren’t anything that is stereotypical.  Second, I love that Wig in the Window and Tiara on the Terrace are both a little risque yet safe. Too often mystery books are too easy or boring OR they are so violent or sexual, and my middle schoolers just don’t gravitate towards them. Kittscher’s books are a perfect mix! Finally, as you can probably guess from the topic of the panel, they are quite funny! A mix of all kinds of humor, but throughout there are some ridiculous moments as well as some subtle puns.

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Hook’s Revenge
Author: Heidi Schulz
Illustrator: John Hendrix
Hook’s Revenge Published September 16th, 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
The Pirate Code Published September 15th, 2015 by Disney-Hyperion

Hook’s Revenge Goodsreads Summary: Captain Hook’s feisty daughter hits the high seas to avenge her father’s death at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile in Heidi Schulz’s spirited middle-grade debut.

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

The crocodile’s clock is always ticking in Heidi Schulz’s debut novel, a story told by an irascible narrator who is both dazzlingly witty and sharp as a sword. Will Jocelyn find the courage to beat the incessant monster before time runs out?

My Review: Heidi Schulz must have read my mind because I’ve always felt that Hook was the most interesting character in the Peter Pan stories (Peter himself is actually a bit obnoxious), and I wanted to know what ever happened to him. These books tell me not only that, but also the story of his feisty daughter. Jocelyn overcomes so much to finally become a pirate then, once in Neverland, she goes on quite an epic journey to avenge her father’s honor. Jocelyn is a spit fire and is ready to lead her crew on an adventure of her lifetime.

Recommended For: 

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5 thoughts on “Kellee’s NCTE Session: Humor and the Art of Engaging All Readers with Kim Baker, Caroline Carlson, Jennifer Holm, Kristen Kittscher, and Heidi Schulz”

  1. What a great panel! I have Tiara and I’d love to read it before ncte. We’ll see how my reading time goes. A few others on this list I have, just need to read. Really looking forward to next week!


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