Humor books for 12 year old
April 2, 2015 8:34 AM   Subscribe

We're going on a plane trip and I'm looking for light humorous reading for my 12 year old bookworm.

She doesn’t seem to like Bill Bryson. She loves Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and likes Wodehouse (so more humorous fiction is welcome), but I was specifically thinking of humerous essays. However, I don’t know what is appropriate for a smart 12 year old who does not want to read about adult sexuality or drugs or… I don’t know what other “adult” themes might come up. Tina Fey? She has read and enjoyed Dave Barry.

posted by latkes to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
The "adult" Roald Dahl short story collections, like Skin and Other Stories. The only "adult" themes are campy mysterious murders, so nothing that wouldn't come up in Wodehouse.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Maybe Gerald Durrell? My Family and Other Animals is lovely.
posted by Duffington at 8:45 AM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

In the humorous fiction category: I would have loved Soon I Will Be Invincible as a 12 year-old. The supervillain chapters, especially, are a total delight.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:46 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Adrian Mole books.
posted by lukemeister at 8:47 AM on April 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

With Adams and Prachett in the mix, you should look at Robert Asprin's Myth series. Light, humorous fantasy that I liked a lot around that age.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:49 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cheaper by the Dozen

James Thurber
Betty MacDonald
Shirley Jackson (some)
Mark Twain
Erma Bombeck
Will Cuppy

Cecil Adams
Miss Manners
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Daniel Pinkwater? Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars is still one of my favorite books.
posted by something something at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

All Creatures Great & Small, by James Herriot.
posted by Sokka shot first at 8:53 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about some older stuff? At that age, I just loved James Thurber (both essays and The White Deer and The Thirteen Clocks - the latter two still crack me up...and indeed, went over very well as a read-aloud to other adults.)

And Daniel Pinkwater's memoirs and books - the Snarkout Boys in particular.

At that age I liked Robert Benchley, Please Don't Eat The Daisies, The Egg and I and Shirley Jackson's humorous and not-scary child-raising stories Life Among The Savages. (IIRC, though, there is a sequence with some AAVE dialect that is a little dodgy - I might be getting that confused with something else, but you should probably check first. If it's what I think, it's not hostile-ly racist or condescending, but it's not something I feel really good about either.)

The Last Unicorn and Folk of the Air have a lot of humor and I thought they were hiLARious at that age - Folk of the Air opens with a great sequence about a bus, Berkeley, a preppie hitchhiker who is not what he seems...oh, man, it was a different and much gentler world when Peter Beagle wrote that.

Also! Also! John Bellairs's novel The Face In The Frost - it's very creepy in places even to me as an adult, but it's also very, very funny.

I think that any sophisticated child should really read Daniel Pinkwater's The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death - it definitely put me on the path to moving to the city and hanging out with people much stranger than my upbringing had led me to be comfortable with. (I still lead quite a quiet life, but much less quiet than anyone in my family has led for generations.)
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2015

Response by poster: I can tell this is going to be a great, super helpful thread! Thanks for the ideas so far, I'm already requesting some from the library.

Just FYI, we are both devoted Pinkwater fans and have read near all of 'em!
posted by latkes at 8:57 AM on April 2, 2015

Woody Allen's three early books: Getting Even, Without Feathers, and Side Effects (which can also be purchased in a one-volume collection). I remember reading them at about that age, because I got in trouble for laughing out loud in class.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:57 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I little bit different: my about 12 year old nephew reads practically every YA fantasy that comes out, and he loved, loved Randall Munroe's What If?
posted by sevenless at 8:57 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Cartoon History of the World (a series with a bunch of books) is a lot of fun, tho does have some adult stuff (albeit with little doodly cartoon people).
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:04 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

At that age I also really liked the old Bloom County compilations and old Doonesburys - they are text-heavy and take quite a while to read. Bloom County, of course, went off the rails and became totally misogynist plus dull after about 1982, and Doonesbury got depressing and occasionally reactionary in the late eighties.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a youth I tore through the Patrick F. McManus' collections of short stories, all "autobiographical" (and mostly about his childhood). I didn't have any affinity for the setting (rural, focusing often on outdoor sports) and I still ate them up. Super funny, and totally appropriate for a tween.
posted by Poppa Bear at 9:08 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

David Feldman's Imponderables books are really funny, and the reason I'm able to answer various AskMefi questions 20 years later. They answer questions like "Why do Corn Flakes and Sugar Frosted Flakes both have 110 calories per ounce?," teach you a lot about the world, and the short article format makes it easy to pick up and put back down if reading for a long time on a plane makes your child as queasy as it makes me.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:10 AM on April 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was going to suggest Ordinary Jack/The Bagthorpe series for fiction, even though they are a bit younger than some books being suggested here, but it looks like they are out of print?!?!?! TRAVESTY. D:

Perhaps still available at a library?
posted by instead of three wishes at 9:19 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Phantom Tollbooth
More James Herriott . . . all his books in the Great and Small trilogy have very funny moments, as do his short stories..
Calvin and Hobbes and Charles Addams collections, natch.
And check out this helpful list from Goodreads
posted by bearwife at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

When my dorky friends and I were all twelve, we actually made up little AWARDS for humor writing based on Erma Bombeck's books. Seconding her work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:27 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, oh! And The Dog that Wouldn't Be by Farley Mowat. (Actually, a lot of other things by Mowat too, e.g. The Boat That Wouldn't Float.)
posted by bearwife at 9:30 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat. Victorian humor about taking a boat trip up the Thames. Very funny.

Tina Fey is funny but it's a more adult sort of humor, and I think you're right to be concerned about the sexual content if that's something the 12 year old in question is uncomfortable with. I think at that age I would have been more or less OK with the content, but excruciatingly embarrassed to be reading it in public.

I nth the suggestions of Shirley Jackson (some), Jean Kerr, Erma Bombeck, Betty MacDonald, Cheaper by the Dozen, and XKCD's What If?
posted by pie ninja at 9:34 AM on April 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

How about The Martian by Andy Weir? Story of one astronaut stranded and trying to survive on Mars. I it's smart/technical and I found the main character's type of sarcastic humor quite funny. A few bits of adult language but free of sex/drugs and the like.
posted by Captain_Science at 9:35 AM on April 2, 2015

If James Herriott goes over well, and if she likes cats especially, track down the book All My Patients Are Under the Bed, which is basically what would happen if James Herriott was an Italian guy who lived in New York City and specialized in cats.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Good Omens is possibly the funniest book ever written.
posted by signsofrain at 9:37 AM on April 2, 2015

Carl Hiassen has a kids book series that is probably well below your Wodehouse reader's capabilities, but they are nearly as funny as his more adult-oriented stuff.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:40 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

A bit out of left field but how about some Georgette Heyer? At that age, I loved Adams and Pratchett and Wodehouse, but I also loved the Heyer romances. She might get turned off because they are "romances", but they have very little to do with Harlequin romances and the like and are really just hilarious -- very well-written (no cringing required) and super-light reading. They're still my reading material of choice for a long plane ride, because I know I'll get very absorbed. The Grand Sophy would be a good place to start.
posted by peacheater at 9:47 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, there's pretty much no sexual content in the books (just a little kissing), if you were wondering.
posted by peacheater at 9:48 AM on April 2, 2015

At that age I thought Irma Bombeck was hii-larious
posted by sexyrobot at 9:49 AM on April 2, 2015

James Thurber, Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris.
If she likes politics, Molly Ivins.
posted by rmless at 10:17 AM on April 2, 2015

At that age, aside from Wodehouse, I really loved The Portable Dorothy Parker.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:25 AM on April 2, 2015

Gary Larson! And Calvin and Hobbes, of course.

Spider Robinson, maybe. Though some are probably too adult if I remember right, but some might work.

She might be a little advanced for the Wayside School series.
posted by Jacen at 11:56 AM on April 2, 2015

I almost hesitate to make this recommendation because my sister complained bitterly about my constant laughter...but I remember bringing all the Anguished English books by Richard Lederer with us on vacation once, probably at around 12 or 13. If your daughter is the "language nerd" type of bookworm like I was--loves puns, word histories, funny signs, Engrish--she will love them.

Ironically, 20 years later Dad got tickets to a Richard Lederer talk for him, me, and my sister, and she loved it. I think she was just jealous at the time because she wasn't much of a reader and couldn't see how I was getting that much hilarity out of it. Also I do have sort of an irritating laugh.
posted by gillyflower at 12:50 PM on April 2, 2015

I liked Mindy Kaling's book.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:42 PM on April 2, 2015

Oh, I really second Heyer. At your bookworm's age I was reading Heyer in the library and embarrassing myself by laughing out loud all the way through. Her romances are fabulous concoctions of humorous situations, spritely language, and delightfully happy endings, populated by imaginative, intelligent and resourceful heroines and the men who fall for them.
posted by bearwife at 1:55 PM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! He was a ladies' man so there's a bit of sexist language and a couple of references to sex, but nothing too explicit, I don't think. At 15, I thought this book was the best thing ever.
posted by the_blizz at 1:57 PM on April 2, 2015


Seconding both of the Feynman "autobiographies". There's are a few oblique references to sexuality that may well go right past a 12yo without them even noticing.

Could they handle H. L. Mencken? A Mencken Chrestomathy Is a large book filled with many short pieces (1-3 pages in length) that is often laugh-out-loud funny. The downside is that he's not writing about anything current.

More of a low-brow endeavor: Earle Tempel's Tombstone Humor tickled the heck out of me when I was 12-13yo. Slightly morbid, but also thought-provoking in its own uncomplicated way.

Finally - Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny and Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin are both fond memories of mine from around that age.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:33 AM on April 3, 2015

My son of a similar age really likes the Secret Series by "Psedonymous Bosch."
posted by underthehat at 9:10 AM on April 3, 2015

Response by poster: This has been a very useful thread!

So far she devowered What If, Erma Bombeck (I would not have guessed she would like this), Molly Ivins (She was primed to get most of the jokes from previous voracious readings of vintage Doonsbury), and is now giggling her way through Patrick McManus.

We started reading My Family and Other Animals out loud to each other and it is a delight. There is still a large pile of other recommendations from this thread sitting in our library book pile, so I'll update about the other successful recommendations as she finishes them!
posted by latkes at 8:19 AM on April 20, 2015

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