Picture books of the day: a trio of fun subversive books bring on the laughs…and gasps

I love me some comedy. I especially like humor that surprises me. Throw in some off-kilter sight gag or a throwaway line mumbled in the background and I’m in stitches. The best funny picture books not only offer a promising set-up but nail a side-splitting ending. These three books (not coming not out until later this year, but so funny I must write about them now) made me laugh a lot. And they also made me gasp…in a good way.

Chez Bob, illustrated and written by Bob Shea, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN:978-0316483117, to be released: August 24, 2021.

Throughout time there have been comical stories with carnivorous creatures desperately seeking their next furry or winged or scaly meal and going to preposterous lengths for their dinner. Keiko Kasza’s The Wolf’s Chicken Stew quickly comes to mind as a delectable example. Bob Shea’s gloriously strange and always surprising Chez Bob can be added to the Wacky Predator Storytime Menu. His books have made me giggle in the past, but this might now be my favorite Shea. He takes the goofy idea of a “lazy but hungry” reptile hoping to lure birds by opening a birdy-restaurant on his snout and runs with it. Bob (the reptile, not the author) dons a chef’s hat and puts a fancy table on his nose. He sprinkles yummy spices on the bird seed. His eatery becomes an instant sensation, attracting flocks of customers. Soon an entire bird city develops around Bob, complete with “an extensive public transportation system.” Page after page, Shea keeps building on this wacky concept, delivering laugh after laugh. Although Bob, with his sharp pointy teeth, may seem a bit fearsome at first, readers will enjoy watching Bob and the birds become unlikely buddies. The ending is sweet, but Shea still delivers some bite.

The Rock from the Sky, illustrated and written by Jon Klassen, published by Candlewick, ISBN: 978-1536215625, ARC reviewed, to be released: April 13, 2021.

I’m a big Buster Keaton fan. I love that deadpan comedian who keeps a straight face while doing some of the most outrageous stunts ever filmed. I’m not the first person to compare Klassen’s work to Keaton’s. Klassen’s animals make readers laugh by remaining absolutely stoic during the most bizarre situations. Only their eyes move or shift, growing wider or smaller. In the seemingly simple but increasingly ambitious The Rock from the Sky, Klassen brings the house down with a mere shift of the turtle’s pupil or by having his armadillo character squint. The spare dialogue between the characters becomes funnier as the book goes on, and it’s kind of hard to put a finger on just why. Most likely it’s because as the two main characters engage in spare Beckett-like disagreements about where they should stand, Klassen reveals that yes, there is a rock falling from the sky, possibly straight at them. We know something they don’t know–it’s like sci fi mixed with Hitchcock mixed with Keaton mixed with early Jim Jarmusch movies. And it’s all Klassen. Told in five chapters, and with rather gorgeous digital art and watercolors, the book takes some strange turns indeed. I don’t want to spoil the twists. Let’s just say Klassen delivers a punchline I did not see coming and I love that.

13 Ways to Eat a Fly, illustrated by David Clark, written by Sue Heavenrich, published by Charlesbridge, ISBN: 978-1580898904, to be released: February 16, 2021.

I don’t know how David Clark managed to make images of flies being nearly eaten (or successfully eaten) so absolutely hilarious, but wow, hats off. Heavenrich’s lively and informative non-fiction text works as a snappy springboard for the art. Together the words and images create a rollicking look at the various methods creatures use to trap these winged morsels. Frogs zap them with their tongues. Spiders wrap them in their webs. A Venus Flytrap liquifies them and some flies end up Zombie-fied. The facts zoom at the reader at a zippy pace. All the while, Clark’s googly-eyed insects, frogs, and birds dazzle with their comical expressions and fluid body movements. My favorite creatures might be the bats using high-pitched sounds to locate their prey. Clark shows the sound waves bouncing back from the fly’s body. Heavenrich also reminds readers that sometimes humans eat flies…sometimes accidentally, sometimes (grotesquely) on purpose. This little gem seems to be flying under the radar. Hopefully readers who like their non-fiction a little wacky and gross will discover it.

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