Picture books of the day: bringing on the funny in some delightful new humor titles

The Most Haunted House in America, illustrated by Lee Gatlin, written by Jarrett Dapier, published by ABRAMS, ISBN: 978-1419752469.

In the backmatter for this whimsical and rollicking romp, author Dapier (Mr. Watson’s Chickens, Jazz for Lunch) tells how in 2009 First Lady Michelle Obama invited him and two other drummer pals to the White House to perform at a Halloween celebration. With witty rhyming text, he takes this memorable experience and then lets his imagination fly, riffing on the idea that many consider the White House one haunted place. Children arrive to hear the musicians, presented as a jamming skeleton crew, and all seems well. However, after the trick or treating is through, the bony rockers encounter all kinds of ghastly sights inside various White House rooms. Ghosts float through the air and all kinds of creatures dance at the Terror Ball. Illustrator Gatlin seems to be having a blast conjuring up these delightfully morbid scenarios. The images (playfully) startle…in a friendly manner that feels more cozy than nightmare-inducing. This title adds some history and comical spice to Halloween storytimes.

Owl and Penguin, illustrated and written by Vikram Madan, published by Holiday House, ISBN: 978-0823451500, to be released: September 27, 2022.

Madan created one of the best poetry collections I have ever read: the deliriously inventive A Hatful of Dragons. He proves to be just as gifted when creating easy readers with the rather adorable Owl and Penguin. Levelled readers probably seem easy to write. Quick little chapters with deceptively simple story arcs. But wow, to illustrate and write an engaging title designed to reinforce skills for the most beginning of readers takes genuine skills. Madan serves up a trio of anecdotes starring these instantly lovable feathered friends. One involves ice cream, another helping penguin to fly, and the last the perils of splashing in the rain. Each account offers little twists and surprises that delight, and all stick their comical landings. What I love about this book is the way Madan uses emojis and punctuation marks instead of words when the birds converse. And he excels with body language and facial expressions. The reader can tell what the characters feel at all times. It’s an absolute delight.

Rafa Counts on Papá, illustrated and written by Joe Cepeda, published by Little, Brown and Company, ISBN: 978-0316540896.

In a way story might strike readers as more sweet than laugh out loud funny, but wow, award winner Cepeda’s latest makes is one clever STEM-friendly smile-inducer. His signature charming and colorful illustrations capture the bond between a father and child who love to count and measure things. How many branches in a tree. How high their pup Euclid can jump. The fluffiness of clouds. The text bounces along as he treats the reader to delightful images. One of the funniest shows a race with the father playfully trying to keep up with his zipping victorious child. The book takes a tender turn when little Rafa asks if they can measure love. Now Cepeda could have gone all saccharine here, but the book never feels cloying. Instead the illustrations keep on popping and the language keeps on bopping. Words such as “Is your love for me…As mighty as an ox…As steady as a Swiss watch…?” accompany a vibrant and amusing cinematic image of them playing catch. It all leads to a loving, reassuring ending that feels just right.

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