Bookfilter: Please recommend funny middle-grade or tween chapter books
August 20, 2020 8:08 AM   Subscribe

(Some special requirements inside.)

1. My kid won't read it if it's not funny! (Though humor doesn't have to be the genre or the point.) She has thankfully outgrown bored with gross-out humor (Captain Underpants is out, hallelujah), always been somewhat bored by too-gentle comedy (Amelia Bedelia), but is a big fan of everything else - absurd, silly, subtle, wacky, wordplay, biting, deadpan, or over-the-top (an old fave is The Twits by Roald Dahl). She didn't seem to like or "get" the sarcastic/dark humor of Lemony Snicket, however.

2. I need recs for chapter books, not graphic novels or comics. I'm usually pretty hands-off about her reading choices but over the past year she's become weirdly intimidated about reading pictureless books. She's a smart kid, well beyond her grade level at both reading and writing, so anxiety is the only barrier - and the point of this post is to help her through that.

3. To that end, it would be great if the book is fun to read out loud. The main way I help her through her avoidance at starting an "intimidating" new book is by reading her the first couple of chapters out loud at bedtime. Some books are just meant to be read aloud and that makes a huge difference (e.g. a few years ago we really enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo purely for the pleasure of reading aloud, even though we didn't like the story or the characters).

4. This is a super specific and nitpicky thing, but she says she would love to read something with both a boy AND a girl protagonist where the title of the book reflects that they're both equally important. She was annoyed by Harry Potter because "Hermione is just as important as Harry but how come only he's on the title?" She refuses to read Percy Jackson for the same reason. She was similarly annoyed by the Lego Movie where Emmett was the protagonist but Wild Child was obviously way more skilled than he was, apparently. (I didn't see the movie, so please excuse me if I got the names wrong.)

5. Diversity is a must. My girl is brown and the daughter of an immigrant - we'd both love to read about people who look like her or have her background. I would also like to give her more books about, or at least with, queer/LGBT/non-binary characters, characters with disabilities, books about poor characters who don't "magic" away the poverty. (Lilo & Stitch is my all-time fav for this very reason, and there are so few books which do this well!)

6. No genre restrictions. She enjoys realistic books just as much as fantasy or sci fi or mystery or whatever.
posted by MiraK to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch. If she likes it there are more. Definitely has boy and girl protagonists. I'm less sure about the diversity aspect.
posted by crocomancer at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2020

I thought Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer Was hilarious.
posted by carterk at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

My kid and I have been reading Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond by Sayantani Dasgupta, about an Indian/Bengali preteen finding out she's royalty from the Kingdom Beyond Seven Oceans and Thirteen Rivers, and my eight-year-old laughs at lots of the silly asides. Good adventure plot, good discussion of "real" vs "birth" parents (her adoptive parents own a convenience store in New Jersey), good stuff about finding one's own strength. Kiranmala, a girl, is definitely the main character but there is lots of screen time for two princes, and she saves them as much as they save her. We're halfway through the second book now and she's already requested that we get the third.
posted by SeedStitch at 8:50 AM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Try The True Meaning of Smekday. The start is really funny and should get her hooked immediately and the main character is a black girl.
posted by Redstart at 9:22 AM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Louis Sachar is very funny and checks a lot of your boxes. The "Wayside School" books are hilarious but a little bit on the younger/maybe too easy side for a tween. "Holes" is a very good novel suitable for ~10-~13 and is funny but also involves more serious stuff like racism and crime/criminal justice. Holes is mostly about boys, but the sequel "Small Steps" has both a boy and girl protagonist. Small Steps is a little bit "older" in content than Holes - more like ~12 and up.
posted by Mid at 9:27 AM on August 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have recommended him before because I think Carl Hiaasen's books for middle school and tweens are funny, have quirky characters, and have a moral to the story. Only the first two, Hoot and Flush were out when my kids were that age and we all enjoyed them. He has written several more since then. I do not remember about the diversity of races of characters (I know his adult books have POC) but they do have boys and girls (and girls are smart/brave). They have won several awards as well.
posted by maxg94 at 9:34 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Adventurer's Guide To Successful Escapes is a super-funny page turner with a diverse cast and a female protagonist. It has a very Hitchhiker's-Guide-To-The-Galaxy sense of humor that I think would make for a fun readaloud.
posted by yankeefog at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2020

I have not read this book but Rick Riordan's has a series by Carlos Hernandez. The first is Sal and Gabby Break the Universe.

There are probably other books in that imprint which fall under your criteria.

I also recommend Bunnicula and its sequels.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 10:46 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sal and Gabi Break The Universe! I read it to my 11 year old but he would have been happy to read it on his own. He laughed a lot and at things that I didn't think was funny, but then pre-teens are a mystery to me. Boy and Girl protagonists, Sal is the son of Cuban immigrants, Gabi is hispanic, they go to an arts school that I am jealous of and is also mostly attended by POC students. As a bonus, if she likes it the sequel just came out.

He also really liked The Magic Misfits Series by Neil Patrick Harris. He read them himself so I don't know how funny they are but he is supremely picky about what he reads so I consider the fact that he read the three that are available (the fourth comes out in September) to be a pretty high endorsement.
posted by velocipedestrienne at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2020

My kid was also very much like this. He stuck with Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes long after I wanted him to make the jump to chapter books. (Like when he was eight.) That was 15 years ago, so most of what we read was really white.

Newer stuff: The Girl Who Drank the Moon is, I think, the Newberry Award winner from 2017. It has a brown girl and a tiny dragon on the cover. I'm reading the first few pages and they are funny in a quirky way that is kind of snarky and maybe a bit adult. The vocabulary looks challenging though. (compared to Cap'n Underpants), I see a lot of squee about this book on booktube.

I like peeking at free first chapters from Amazon. And I like watching YouTube (booktube) recommendations. I am starting to get subscribed to some more diverse booktube channels (because at first I mostly saw what the YouTube algorithm was pushing), so looking there for middle grade books might be appealing, basically you are watching advertisements for books delivered by real people. (some of whom take sponsorship money )
posted by puddledork at 11:13 AM on August 20, 2020

When I was eight, the funniest book in the world was Howliday Inn, the sequel to Bunnicula. It doesn't fit with your request for gender diversity, but they are very funny and good for reading aloud (that's how I first heard Bunnicula and Howliday Inn).

The same authors has more recently published series, The Misfits, which is less rolling-on-the-floor funny (the cat trying to kill the bunny with a steak! hahaha! I still laugh), but does have more diversity - and some really interesting experimentation with form. The second book is done in short chapters all in alphabetical order, and the third book is in prose-poetry.

Steve Kluger, who specializes in epistolary novels, has a YA/tween book called My Most Excellent Year, which is really sharp and uses the form to be very funny. The snippets of diary, emails, and instant messages are all very short and make the book feel zippy. I also really liked his book set in the 1940s, The Last Days of Summer, which has more deadpan humour, but I don't recall any significant female characters.
posted by jb at 11:22 AM on August 20, 2020

I just got a copy of Bunnicula based on nostalgia for it, and will not be sharing it with my kid - not only is it very white and male in its characters, (the only woman is the mom,) there's a weird aside about Romany people that I did not like. The humor is pretty clunky too.

This after re-reading 101 Dalmatians which also has a Romany episode that relies entirely on stereotypes (admittedly I was expecting 101 Dalmatians to feel dated, it was written in England in the mid-1950s.) What the heck, people.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:39 AM on August 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

Funny Girl might be a good fit, and since it's an anthology, it might give you more author ideas to pursue. The book is edited by a librarian, so it's likely to tick some of your other boxes too, though I can't confirm that off the top of my head.
posted by carrienation at 11:51 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez, oh my god, I've been looking for someone to push this book at, it is SO INCREDIBLY GOOD and funny and charming! Please, all of you, read it right now.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:17 PM on August 20, 2020 [3 favorites]

Recommend Dodger by Terry Pratchett and Daniel Pinkwater's stuff for older audiences.
posted by cross_impact at 12:58 PM on August 20, 2020

It's older but the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole was fun and funny. There's at least 1 sequel.
posted by theora55 at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Meg Cabot's Diaries of A Middle School Princess are great and also hilarious.
posted by Tamanna at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2020

Seconding The True Meaning of Smekday - it was made into the animated movie Home, but they're very different.

These are more funny-weird than funny-haha, but Daniel Pinkwater's books are all insanely awesome. The Neddiad and The Iggyssey and the older Snarkout Boys series all meet your "male and female protagonists" request, though they're also all written in a first-person male voice, if that's a problem.
posted by Mchelly at 3:06 PM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fortunately the Milk by Neil Gaiman and Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos have both worked with my students but have male protagonists. The Origami Yoda Series could be a good one - each book has a different protagonist among a group of friends.
posted by mai at 8:57 AM on August 21, 2020

Ahh, these are great recommendations, everyone!

We had already read the Kiranmala series, those are excellent! As for now, first order of business is Sal and Gabi, since it was recommended multiple times. The library had a copy and I read the first chapters, it's *perfect*. Next - my kid was a big fan of Home, the movie, so The True Meaning of Smekday will have to be read :) We are also adding Meg Cabot and the Funny Girl anthology to our pile.

Many many many thanks to everyone!!
posted by MiraK at 7:43 AM on August 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

If she's read any of the unbeatable squirrel girl graphic novels, there are two middle grade novels featuring the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. I've only read the first one and found it adorable and very much in the vein of the SG comic.
posted by later, paladudes at 10:45 AM on August 22, 2020 [2 favorites]

Also +1 on the Squirrel Girl novels. Shannon and Dean Hale did a wonderful job on them. It helped that they collaborated with Ryan North, who wrote the most recent runs of SG.
posted by plinth at 11:49 AM on August 24, 2020

Update: *both* kids have hugely enjoyed Sal and Gabi. Thank you so much for recommending that! They read the sequel as well and are now refusing to read anything new until the Sal and Gabi fever wears off. :P
posted by MiraK at 8:34 AM on October 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

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