Growing Reader

Funny Early Readers Sure to Hook Kids Who Are Learning to Read

by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Photo credit: KidStock, Blend Images/Getty Images

Like me, my 6-year-old is a sucker for big, juicy stories. At bedtime, I read novels aloud to him, including Charlotte’s Web, the first four books in the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, and two of the Little House books, and he loves the Ramona and Roald Dahl audiobooks. For this reason, I assumed he’d be a bookworm from the start, but when it came time to learn to read, he wasn’t very excited about the process. Sounding out words and sentences was a boring chore, one that sometimes led to tears. I tried to explain that these basic skills were building blocks to being able to read the “big books” on his own someday, but he wasn’t convinced.

I knew I had to find books that would absorb my son the same way that novels do, but finding early readers with gripping plots was challenging. Then one day at a friend’s house, I saw him giggling over a joke book, and realized humor might just be an acceptable substitute for the deeper, longer plots he’d come to love. Here are a few of the books that got us through the early reader stage with more than a few chuckles and belly laughs.

  • The Steve and Wessley books

    by Jennifer E. Morris

    There are two books (so far) in this series, written and illustrated by seasoned children’s author Jennifer E. Morris. Much like Frog and Toad, these books let the reader in on the hilarity that ensues when opposites are also best friends — Wessley is a know-it-all rabbit and Steve is a worrywart possum. In The Ice Cream Shop, Steve desperately wants an ice cream cone, but can’t figure out how to get into the shop until Wessley comes and helps him. In The Sea Monster, Steve sees a monster in the pond, where Wessley only sees a floating stick. The twist at the end made my son gasp with delight!

  • The Elephant and Piggie books

    by Mo Willems

    Written and illustrated by Caldecott and Emmy-winner Mo Willems, at 23 books (and counting), this series is robust. Again, this is an “opposites attract” series that lets its reader in on the joke; worrywart Gerald the elephant and devil-may-care Piggie are best friends who see the world differently. Our favorites are I’m a Frog! (in which Piggie pretends to be a frog and Gerald frets that she has actually become one), and Let’s Go For a Drive! (in which together they accumulate all sorts of goodies to go for a drive … except, oops, for a car), but you can’t go wrong with any of these.

  • The Buzz Boy and Fly Guy books

    by Tedd Arnold

    Tedd Arnold has written and illustrated over fifty books, and the fifteen books in this series are dynamite. Buzz Boy is a kid and Fly Guy is the pet fly who can say his name; together they go on many adventures (there are also six books in the Fly Guy Presents series, which are slightly more challenging and fact-based, introducing nonfiction subjects like dinosaurs, sharks, and space). Hi! Fly Guy, in which the titular characters meet, is one of our favorites, as is Buzz Boy and Fly Guy, which features a story inside the story, in which they battle pirates and a fire-breathing dragon.

  • The Golly Sisters Go West

    by Betsy Byars, illustrated by Sue Truesdell

    The first in a series of three books about performing duo Rose and May-May, The Golly Sisters Go West is hilarious and sweet (the two subsequent books, Hooray for the Golly Sisters and The Golly Sisters Ride Again, are both out of print, but well worth trying to get your hands on). Newberry- and National Book Award-winning Byars’s skills as a prose stylist are on display as she deftly draws out the sisters’ quirky relationship, and Truesdell’s illustrations beautifully compliment the story.

  • The Boris books

    by Andrew Joyner

    Boris is a young warthog navigating school, friendships, and the world around him in this four-book series. Compact, with a slightly smaller font and many vibrant illustrations, this series is a great stepping-stone to wordier chapter books and might appeal to kids who enjoy having comic books read to them. One of my son’s favorites is Boris Sees the Light, in which Boris and his friends decide to have a backyard campout, which goes very well until it gets dark outside. The lighthearted way the book touches on the trio’s fear led to more than one helpful conversation about my son’s own worries about the dark, and there are plenty of giggles in this and the other books as well.

  • Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids
    and Jokelopedia

    Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes For Kids by Rob Elliott;
    Jokelopedia compiled by Ilana Weitzman, Eva Blank, Alison Benjamin, Rosanne Green, and Lisa Sparks, illustrated by Mike Wright

    Joke books aren’t just a great way to get a reluctant reader jazzed about sounding out words (there’s a big payoff just at the end of every sentence!), they’ll invariably bring your family together (kids aren’t the only people motivated by a fun, social experience). Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids is compact enough to fit in a back pocket, and jammed with hilarious one-liners (and there are sequels too). Boasting 1700 jokes, Jokelopedia is much bigger in size, spotlights comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Charlie Chaplin, and even has pages at the end where your child can record her own jokes. Whichever book you choose, you’ll both be in stitches in no time!