As a kid, my favourite picture book was Poorly Pig. In this darkly comic tale of woe, increasingly awful things happen to a cartoon animal. On Monday, Poorly Pig gets a cold. On Tuesday, Poorly Pig falls down the stairs and breaks his arm. And so it goes, until by Sunday, Poorly Pig is run over by a truck and is in a full-body cast in hospital. I have no idea why four-year-old Sam found this story so screamingly funny, but she did. Four-year-old Sam had a dark sense of humour; I suspect most children do.
A lot of why I loved this book was about how my mum read it to me. She'd get totally into it, do all the voices, really ham up the repeated sarcastic refrain of "poor Poorly Pig!". I think it was as fun for her as it was for me.
It's extremely easy (and so satisfying) to make small kids laugh. I recently had my friend George's daughter Zoe in stitches over Zoom for like ten minutes, just by pretending to hide off-screen, then reappearing. It's easy for this to go to your head! You start to think, "wait, am I actually HILARIOUS? Am I a comedic genius?" And then before you know it, BOOM, you're laughing at your own puns and sprouting Dad Jokes all over the place. The easy laughter of toddlers is the crucible in which Dad Jokes are made.
I've been reading a lot of picture books recently (it's research for a new Book Dash book I'm working on) and I swear they've gotten SO MUCH FUNNIER since I was a kid. The classics are still wonderful: Goodnight Moon, The Gruffalo, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, The Cat in the Hat, Harold and the Purple Crayon... but there's a new crop of picture books that you probably haven't heard of unless you've had small children in the past few years, and they're bloody adorable, no matter what age you are. My favourites are the ones that play with the interactive experience of reading with a small child. A lot of them get quite meta, in fact.
You don't even have to be a child, or have a child, to enjoy them. There are some nice people on YouTube who will read them to you, and they do all the voices ;)
It's a Tiger! by David LaRochelle
Cat Secrets by Jef Czekaj
The Book With No Pictures by B. J. Novak
This video is just the first half of the book, but B. J. Novak reading it himself is the best.
I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen (the sequels This is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat are also great)
TRIANGLE by Mac Barnett
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems (his Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is also great)
I've mentioned some of my favourite Book Dash books before, and you can also watch them being read by their writers.
Here's Lauren Beukes reading And Also!
And Sam Wilson reading The Elephant in the Room:
- A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black
- How to Trick the Tooth Fairy by Erin Danielle Russell
- Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
- Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe
- Why? by Adam Rex
- The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
I'm always looking for recommendations for wonderful picture books. Hit reply and tell me about your favourites, friends!
Wishing you sneaky tigers, cat secrets and also hats,
Updates from Sam-Land
We went up the Norfolk coast last weekend and tried to go to the "beach" and it was basically like being in the Arctic. We did have a great time exploring the weird little seaside towns, including literal joke shops, an abandoned funfair, and a grumpy duck that caused a traffic jam by refusing to get off the main road through the village. It's pretty great to finally get to know this odd island I've moved to!
- Currently reading The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon, which is a supremely well-written novel about a religious terrorist group, and The Story of My Tits by Jennifer Hayden, a poignant graphic novel about cancer.
- Currently obsessed with a bonkers Bachelor-style reality show from 2014 called "I Wanna Marry 'Harry'", where twelve American women compete for the love of a man they believe is Prince Harry of England. Spoiler alert: he is not the real Prince Harry. I know, shocker, right?