I have a confession to make. Although I love to read and I love the snuggly-ness of reading books to my little kids, I don’t always love the actual reading out loud part, especially when the same book is demanded four or five times in a row. It’s even worse when I’m asked to read a book that’s not remotely clever, cute, or funny, but my child has fallen in love with for some reason only kinder kind can understand. And don’t get me started on books that force strange rhymes or make you emphasize weird syllables to keep the rhythm going. Enough is enough, people!
Ok, so even if you aren’t as grumpy about reading aloud as I am, you might be tired of reading picture books that just ain’t that great, and if you are, I’m here to save the day. Here are 13 clever, cute, and laugh-out-loud funny picture books that you won’t get tired of reading to your kids. (This list covers books appropriate for ages 18 months – 8 years.)
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1. Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton
In a contest between a toy shark and a toy train, who will win? Well, that depends on the contest… Each page of this book shows the opponents competing in all sorts of different contests, everything from toasting marshmallows or selling lemonade to giving rides at a carnival or trick or treating. Some contest are obviously better suited to a shark, while the train trumps in others. The situations are funny enough, but the clever running commentary from each toy makes the book just as enjoyable to adults as kids.
2. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
When Duncan opens his crayon box, all he finds are letters of complaint, one from each of his crayons. Red complains that he’s overworked (he has to color fire engines, apples, strawberries, and everything else that’s red, not to mention every single Christmas and Valentine’s picture!) while tan is bitter that brown gets all the good gigs while he’s stuck coloring Thanksgiving dinner and wheat. White’s worried no one even knows he’s there, and orange and yellow are in a fight over…well, you get the idea. The letters are hilarious and are accompanied by kid-style artwork on each page.
3. The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord
The town of Itching Down has a problem: 4 million wasps have taken up residence, annoying the heck out of all the inhabitants. In the quest to get rid of them, the town baker decides trapping them all in a giant jam sandwich just might do the trick. This picture book is a classic. Kids will love the crazy details of how the giant sandwich is constructed and adults will enjoy the clever verse that’s actually easy to read.
4. My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis
The story of a dump truck that gets stuck when a wheel hits a hole is told in fun to read rhythmic verse (Dump truck comin’ down the road / dump truck haulin’ a great big load / Round and round the wheels they roll / Round and round, into a hole!) The truck drivers flag down other cars who try to help tow the truck out, with little success. The best part of the story is told in the illustrations, however. The hole was dug by some pesky gophers who make off with the truck’s load of bones, unbeknownst to the drivers. When you read this book, you’ll hear “again! again!” and you won’t mind obliging.
5. The Three Pigs by David Wiesner
In this Caldecott winning retelling of the three little pigs, the wolf huffs and puffs so hard that he manages to blow the pigs right out of their story. So, naturally, they go exploring, visiting a number of other familiar storybooks and making new friends along the way (one of which, a dragon, comes in quite handy when they eventually make it back to their own story for a final encounter with the big bad wolf). An extremely clever retelling of the classic tale.
6. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein
Papa’s trying to read a bedtime story, but the little red chicken just can’t help but interrupt. She jumps into Hansel and Gretel’s story to warn them not to go in the candy house because the woman who lives there is a witch! and warns Little Red Riding Hood about the big bad wolf. Since the characters know what pitfalls to avoid, their stories end abruptly, sending Papa chicken off to find something else to read, and causing kids to giggle. (This clever book is sort of a kid’s version of the How It Should Have Ended videos you can find on Youtube.)
7. What Are You So Grumpy About? by Tom Lichtenheld
Each spread in this book explores on of the many traumatic events that can cause a kid to be grumpy: having to eat grownup cereal, getting underwear as a birthday present, gravy touching their peas, and more. The clever text is accompanied by detailed illustrations which elaborate on each situation (like a closeup of a cootie jumping from a sibling’s finger onto the child’s arm). This book is great for helping kids learn to laugh at the things that make them grumpy, and any parent will appreciate the gamut of experiences that can “ruin” a child’s day.
8. Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin
This has been one of my favorite books to read aloud to kids for years. The premise itself is pretty hilarious: the cows on Farmer Brown’s farm have gotten ahold of a typewriter and used it to write him a note demanding electric blankets. Farmer Brown has no intention of being ordered about by his cows, so he refuses, and the chickens and ducks get in the game too. My favorite line in the book describes a secret meeting the cows are having: “All the animals gathered around the barn to snoop, but none of them could understand Moo.” Love it. Kids will especially enjoy joining in on the refrain: “Click clack moo. Click clack moo. Clickety clack moo!”
9. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett
There’s a reason animals should not wear clothing – a number of them, in fact. Each page in this amusing book depicts an animal in an item of clothing that’s completely unsuitable for it and explains why: a kangaroo might find a coat with lots of pockets unnecessary, while a moose might find suspenders hard to manage. It’s worth the price of the book just to see a chicken trying to lay an egg while wearing pants. This book is bit of an oldie (1970) but it’s just as funny now as it was back then.
10. How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long
Jeremy Jacob impresses a crew of pirates with his sand castle building skills, and they invite him to join them so he can help bury their treasure. Jeremy Jacobs quickly decides he loves pirate life: no need to eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, or go to bed on time. There’s just enough pirate speak to make it fun to read without going overboard (who doesn’t like a chance to yell “scurvy dog”?). Kids and adults alike will love it, although parents may enjoy the sequel even more: Pirates Don’t Change Diapers
11. If the Shoe Fits by Allison Jackson
The old woman who lives in a shoe has so many children, she decides she needs to find a nicer place to live. So she takes her brood and visits locations from other nursery rhymes, trying to find something a little more comfortable. The family tries out Miss Muffet’s teacup, Humpty Dumpty’s wall, Hickory Dickory’s clock, and more, but find that each new location brings new problems. The variations on all the other nursery rhymes are fun to read, the illustrations are adorable, and the message (stop looking somewhere else or happiness) is perfect for kids and adults alike.
This book is absolutely laugh out loud funny. Instead of bears, it’s about three dinosaurs (Mama Dinosaur, Papa Dinosaur, and some other dinosaur who happens to be visiting from Norway) who try to lure a delicious child into their house. A “poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks” happens upon their house and finds three bowls of chocolate pudding, one of which is too hot, one of which is too cold, and one of which is just right – all of which she eats, because, hey, it’s chocolate pudding. Kids will like the book just because the story is familiar, but adults will LOVE the tongue-in-cheek reinterpretation that highlights the more ridiculous parts of the original story. Truly one of the funniest picture books ever.
13. Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis
This book is just sweet and perfect. It’s about trains, so little kids are pretty much guaranteed to love it, and the rhyming text is cute and easy to read so parents will enjoy it too (Sun’s up! Morning’ here. Up and at ’em, engineer!). The adorable illustrations show a young boy’s train set and toys coming to life and taking a journey all around his bedroom. The book ends with the train getting tired and pulling into the station (Sleepy, sleepy ch00-choo, ’til tomorrow: Whoo000 Whoo0000), making it a perfect book to read before bed, or anytime your child wants a little snuggle. This book is obviously geared to the younger end of the picture book set, but I’ve been surprised how much my 6-year-old still enjoys it.