July 05, 2018


Funny Kid #2: Stand Up. By Matt Stanton. Harper. $12.99.

Laugh-Out-Loud A+ Jokes for Kids. By Rob Elliott. Harper. $4.99.

Amelia Bedelia 12: Amelia Bedelia Digs In. By Herman Parish. Pictures by Lynne Avril. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $15.99.

     Matt Stanton is showing in his Funny Kid series for ages 8-12 that he can actually take things in somewhat different directions from book to book. The first volume introduced Max Walbert, the Funny Kid of the title, who wants no more than to be class clown and, in that book, maybe class president as well. Much of the first book involved Max’s problems with a horrible teacher named Mr. Armstrong – who eventually got what he deserved – and with a super-smart classmate named Abby Purcell. In the second book, Mr. Armstrong is gone, but Abby is still very much there, and still a thorn in Max’s side – until, near the end, she actually shows some evidence of appreciating Max’s admittedly difficult-to-appreciate charm. Also returning in the second book are Max’s best friend, Hugo, and Max’s duck, Duck. But the plot this time is quite different: it revolves around a school talent show that Max is determined to win because he is, after all, the Funny Kid. But at the pre-show rehearsal, he is upstaged – and unnerved – by the appearance of a clown named Tumbles, who makes Max so nervous and makes such a mess of Max’s jokes that Max finds himself designated the Un-Funny Kid and allowed into the talent show only because the judges feel sorry for him. Things get rapidly more complicated because of a separate plot in which Max’s grandfather, whose personality is distinctly unpleasant, disappears from the nursing home where he lives – to the joy of the other residents – and, it seems, may have been kidnapped. Or maybe not: there is something distinctly suspicious about the ransom note. And who should be investigating the possible kidnapping but Abby Purcell’s mom, who is a police officer? The various plot strands really work quite well together and eventually are tied up into a funny bundle very neatly indeed. And Stanton’s illustrations, of which there are many throughout the book, are really delightful: his two-pager of an explosively angry Max (after Tumbles spoils his Funny Kid act) is hilarious. Oh – and yet another plot element, in which the inept and feckless Hugo becomes Max’s “life coach,” also ties wonderfully into everything and even becomes slightly touching. Funny Kid turns out to be about more than a Funny Kid.

     For aspiring Funny Kids in their own schools, Rob Elliott has produced another of his innumerable thin Laugh-Out-Loud paperbacks, this one school-focused and titled Laugh-Out-Loud A+ Jokes for Kids. Like the other books in this (+++) series, this one offers little that is genuinely funny but does contain various jokes that may bring a smidgen of laughter, or at least a chuckle or two, to some children in the target age range of 6-10 (especially toward the younger part of the range). “Why did the teacher fall in love with her boots? She said they were sole-mates.” And: “How do clams call their parents after school? They use their shell phones.” Also: “How did the cows get to school? On a com-moo-ter train.” And: “Why was the chicken late for school? She didn’t hear the alarm cluck.” And then: “What do you put in your lunchbox for a field trip to the desert? Sand-wiches.” There are also plenty of knock-knock jokes: “Abbott” becomes “Abbott time you finished all your homework,” and “Russian” is “I’m Russian to get to school on time,” and “Honeydew” leads to “Honeydew you know it’s time for school?” There is really nothing special in the jokes, and even less in the illustrations, which make no attempt to be amusing: one shows a stack of books, another has a lunch bag and an apple, a third is of a globe, and so forth. Young readers who can put across lots of these jokes in a genuinely amusing way would certainly need a great sense of timing to do so – and really would deserve to be called Funny Kids.

     Some kids are funny because of what they do rather than because of any jokes they tell or stand-up routines they perform. That is the case with young Amelia Bedelia, whose mild adventures continue to be chronicled from time to time by Herman Parish, nephew of Amelia Bedelia creator Peggy Parish (1927-1988). Herman Parish has now produced his 12th book featuring a young Amelia Bedelia rather than the adult one invented by his aunt; and as in all 11 previous Herman Parish books, the illustrations are by Lynne Avril, who has developed a consistent look for young Amelia and who carries it through with small pictures of her and her adventures on practically every page. Peggy Parish’s still-amusing concept was of a cook and household servant who takes language very literally – for instance, tell her to “change the towels” and she might tear them into strips, splash paint on them or cut holes in them, since all those things would change them. Amelia’s long-suffering employers, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, figure out how to communicate with her through trial and error, and put up with all the misunderstandings because Amelia is a superb cook and baker who can always make things right with a tasty treat at the end of a story. Herman Parish keeps things more modest and somewhat sweeter in his books about young Amelia, who already has the good nature she will show in adulthood without being quite as scattered or mistake-prone as she will become. She does already make good cookies. But her adventures in these (+++) books revolve more around her own family and everyday friendships than anything else – and Amelia Bedelia Digs In is no exception. Amelia has a new best friend named Alice, and the girls are going to the beach together, which means they will both be trying to learn how to surf and will both be involved in the sort of treasure-map-and-pirate-booty adventure that seems to befall pretty much everyone in the 6-10 age range – in books, anyway. The verbal misunderstandings here are quite mild, and it is surprising that Amelia’s parents never quite catch on to them: “‘Isn’t it fun to hit the beach at dawn?’ sked her father. ‘It was until the beach hit back,’ said Amelia Bedelia,” who has been knocked down by a wave. These Amelia-as-a-child books are never more than mildly amusing, but they are pleasantly written, easy to read, and may even get some children interested in checking out the better-developed adult Amelia Bedelia in the original Peggy Parish books.

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