My favorite joke:
Me: Ask me what makes me so funny.
You: Okay, what makes you so f--
I love this joke. It's pure in its simplicity, it conveys an important truth about humor, and it's my father's favorite joke. Whenever I tell it, I think about my father telling it to me and laughing so hard he could barely speak (we were a little punchy that day). But it's a joke that doesn't work well when written.
A funny book takes on the challenge of conveying humor through written word, thus ridding itself of many of the ways to make something funny -- inflection, timeliness, personal connection, and... timing. And if that isn't enough, it has to find the right audience.
What makes something funny is different for every person, depending on taste, gender, experiences, and age. A baby finds peek-a-boo to be the funniest thing in the world, but is uninspired by knock-knock jokes. A kindergartener will insist on telling knock-knock jokes until you run screaming from the room, but doesn't follow the humor of Seinfeld. Mom loves Seinfeld, but can't understand why her son laughs so much at farting. The son laughs at fart sounds, and his father laughs along with him. Some things don't change.
Humorous books for preschoolers focus on funny situations and wordplay. The gender difference in humor isn't as noticeable, and many of the life experiences are the same. But as the kids get older, all of the factors of humor become relevant. There is more separation of girl books and boy books. Gross-out humor and situational humor. Funny real-life situations and funny things happening in completely crazy ways.
Since I'm all about the punchline, here are some of my favorite funny chapter books. I haven't listed ages, but the list starts with books that are better for younger elementary school set and continues on from there.
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business, by Barbara Park
Kids get the joke of the mixed-up language and bad situations Junie B. gets herself into, and parents can too. This series is a comedy gem. Try the audiotape too.
Judy Moody, by Megan McDonald
A moody, mouthy eight-year-old girl gets into funny situations in this series of early chapter books. Her little brother Stink has his own series as well.
Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci, by Jon Scieszka
One of the later books in the Time Warp Trio series, where a group of three boys travel though time and into wacky situations.
Clementine, by Sara Pennypacker
A curly-headed girl who tries to do the right thing, but it often ends up wrong - in a hilarious way.
Birdbrain Amos, by Michael Delaney
Every hippo needs a bird to pick the bugs off his skin. But Amos got more than he bargained for with his bird, who builds a nest on Amos's head.
Amelia's Notebook, by Marissa Moss
Amelia uses her notebook to record thoughts and drawings of growing up with a snotty older sister and a world full of real-life girl problems.
Little Wolf's Book of Badness, by Ian Whybrow
Little Wolf is trying to learn to be a Big Bad Wolf in this funny series.
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean, by Lauren Child
Like Judy Moody a few years later and British.
How to Train Your Dragon (Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III), by Cressida Crowell
Taking funny and mixing it with a little Viking and magic.
Toad Rage, by Morris Gleitzman
From down under comes this story of a ugly toad who wants to make a difference, if he doesn't get himself killed first. Some gross-out humor.
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
While truly a Series of Unfortunate Events, there is lots of humor throughout.
Clemency Pogue: Fairy Killer, by JT Petty
Clemency Pogue mistakenly kills fairies all around the world and sets off to make things right again. Dark humor and some very witty lines.
I'll leave you with my second-favorite joke. A string walks into a café. He walks up to the counter to order a coffee. The barista says, "We don't serve strings here." The string leaves. Outside the café he ties himself up and untwists his top, then walks back in.
"Hey," the café owner says, "you're not a string, are you?"
"Nope," he says, "I'm a frayed knot."
You know, I guess that joke is also funnier spoken too. Well, I've made my point.