5 Favorite Picture Books with a Dose of Dark Humor
by Charnaie Gordon
Have you ever found yourself laughing out loud while reading a children’s book with dark humor? You know the kind of humor that makes you belly-laugh with tears in your eyes, but then you feel bad afterwards for laughing in the first place. Some picture-book authors have absolutely mastered the subtle humor technique. They’re skilled at writing stories and creating characters who deal with everyday moral quandaries that kids can easily relate to, and then you have the illustrators who let their art and dark color palettes do most of the talking.
As my children have gotten older, I’ve found they really enjoy humorous books during storytime, especially those that have endings with a surprise twist. It’s always fun to see how long it takes them to figure out exactly what happened in the end. Sometimes they’ll laugh uproariously when the final joke is revealed — other times the joke goes over their heads, and I’m the only one laughing.
Below I’ve rounded up a few books that use visual humor and brilliant storylines to tell dark humor tales. Spy any of your favorites here?
This Is Not My Hat
Jon Klassen is extremely clever in the way he delivers stories in a thought-provoking manner with subtle humor, minimalist illustrations, and relatable themes. This is a sly and humorous tale with a valuable lesson at the end: crime doesn't pay. I love how it allows readers to come to their own conclusion about what they think happened to the fish.
Penguin is fed up. He's complaining about everything: he looks silly when he waddles, the ocean is too salty, and he's not pleased that everyone looks like him. Then penguin meets a walrus full of wisdom who allows him to see the glass as half full. Many grown-ups will relate to the humor in this one while reading to smaller children.
The Wolf, The Duck and the Mouse
This book is funny, clever and quirky all rolled into one. It all starts with a wolf finding a mouse and gobbling him up. When the mouse reaches the wolf’s stomach, he discovers that he’s not alone in there — there’s a duck asleep in bed! The ending is dark, hilarious and will have you laughing every time.
There Are No Bears in This Bakery
This is a fun read-aloud with lots of great vocabulary words, vivid illustrations, and unexpected guests. Muffin the cat is in charge of watching over Little Bear Bakery at night. He’s memorized all of the familiar sounds, but there’s a new sound tonight that Muffin’s never heard before: a bear! An engaging book for kids, especially beginning readers.
I Want My Hat Back
The plot of this story is quite simple: a bear has lost his beloved hat and goes on a quest to find it, asking those along the way if they’ve spied his lost belonging. It’s a delightfully entertaining read-aloud book, especially for families with a healthy sense of humor. There's a lot of subtlety at work here, and some important life lessons for people of all ages.