Posts Tagged ‘humor’

Going Postal and Making Money by Terry Pratchett

I am late in discovering the great Terry Pratchett, but at least I have gotten here at last. (Many, many thanks to my former student Anthony who first recommended the Discworld novels many, many years ago. They are as good as you promised me!)

Normally tyrants and con men are not among my favorite characters, but within the city of Ankh-Morpork, I have come to adore con man Moist Von Lipwig and even admire the tyrant Lord Vetinari who knows everything that happens–and controls most of it. Going Postal and Making Money give a hilarious account of the sometimes reluctant partnership.

Going Postal opens with Moist von Lipwig being led to his death. He falls through the trap door into a new chance at life–if he will accept Lord Vetinari’s offer to run the Post Office. It is no easy task. The Post Office has been falling apart–literally and figuratively–for years. Mail is no longer being delivered, so it piles up and fills every nook and cranny in the building. The only staff left are a bit strange. And there are powerful business forces that would like to see the whole thing put out of its misery.

Even though von Lipwig is not used to making an honest living, he finds that his skills as a con man can be put to good use as he gets the Post Office up and running. All it takes is a glittering gold suit, the introduction of stamps (even more fascinating to collect than pins), and a willingness to take on the clacks conglomerate. In his spare time, von Lipwig even discovers romance with a fierce defender of golems nicknamed killer and listens to the secrets whispered by the undelivered letters.

When Making Money opens, Moist von Lipwig has the Post Office running smoothly, but he is getting a bit bored. Lord Vetinari steps him to offer him a new challenge–making money by taking over the Mint and shaking up the entire banking industry. Von Lipwig is not sure he wants it (taking it on will ensure that powerful people such as the Lavish family will want to kill him), but fate intervenes when Topsy Lavish leaves her majority shares of the bank to her dog–and names von Lipwig as his caretaker.

Life may get even shorter for von Lipwig if he can’t pull the biggest con of his life on the people of Ankh-Morpork. All he as to do is break the world’s best counterfeiter out of jail, break into his own bank vault to rescue the chief clerk (who is hiding a desperate secret of his own) and discover what happened to all the gold that used to be in the vault. Oh yeah, he also has to talk to the dead to learn–and share–the secret to controlling the golems who now surround the city and threaten the balance of power throughout Discworld.

Life is never dull in Ankh-Morpork. I love the surreal world where things that shouldn’t make sense almost do. Even though the bizarre is commonplace, it has an eerie resemblance to our own world. I laughed out loud through much of these books and can’t wait to read more. I do hope the saga continues with the hinted promise of taking on taxes.

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, including in the linked picture above. Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz

Amazon affiliate link

The fairy tales (and nursery rhymes and Biblical allusions) are back with the absolutely true (and sometimes bloody) account of Jack and Jill. Yes, they fell down and hill and Jack indeed split his head open, but they were not sent up to fetch a pail of water. Oh no, they climbed a beanstalk, killed the giants, and then fell off the clouds. Why did they do this? Well, it has to do with finding a magic mirror or else they die. Of course, death and gore and horror lurk around every corner where Jack and Jill go in search of this magic mirror. If the giants don’t succeed in squashing them, then they might succomb to evil mermaids or devious goblins. Don’t forget the fire-breathing salamandar and the murderous Others.

At least the narrator is once again a reliable guide. He generously points out the places where it might be best to close your eyes or walk away from the book altogether. Except when he forgets. At least he apologizes after the blood and gore finishes dripping down the page. Just as I did in the first book, A Tale Dark and Grimm, I love the humor the narrator adds as he (or maybe she) interrupts the story to warn and taunt the reader.

Adam Gidwitz has created another hilarious (if somewhat bloody) romp through another collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes with In a Glass Grimmly (Puffin Books 2012). Rather than connecting retold stories as he did in A Tale Dark and Grimm, he uses the fairy tales as inspiration and and jumping off point for original stories involving characters we thought we knew–llike the Frog Prince. He’s really just a frog, but a funny frog.

Even though this is a fun story to read, it explores big ideas that will resonate with readers young and old. For much of the story, Jack and Jill are con-fused. They can’t separate how they want others to see them from how they see themselves. It is only once they learn to see themselves clearly, that they find what they have been searching for all along.

Maybe that’s why fairy tales have such enduring power. Through tales of princesses and giants and enchantments, we learn to see more clearly through the fog that con-fuses us our “real” lives. Which fairy tales–fractured or not–help you to see life more clearly?

Disclosure: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. If you decide to make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate links, Amazon will pay me a commission. This commission doesn’t cost you any extra. All opinions are my own.

Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

song of the quarkbeastA gift came in the mail this week, a gift of the best kind, a brown envelop containing a book I have been waiting for most of this year.  You see, last Christmas I had gift cards to spend on books.  Since I had been given Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer in paperback, I chose to preorder the second book in the Chronicles of Kazam in paperback, too.  The Song of the Quarkbeast (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, Hodder and Stroughton 2011) finally released in the US in paperback this month.

That’s a long time to wait to see what the rise of magic might mean to Jennifer Strange and the motley collection of magicians at Kazam Mystical Arts Management.  It was worth the wait.  Even though magic is surging through the Ununited Kingdoms, all is not well.  King Snodd and his Useless Brother are up to their usual tricks.  This time they are joined by an evil magician who goes by the name of Conrad Blix, and the fate of magic–and the world–hangs in the balance. Who is the only one who can stop them?  Jennifer Strange, of course.

The highly capable foundling might have her hands full.  Kazam Mystical Arts Management forced into accepting a challenge from Blix.  Kazam should have no trouble taking on Blix and his few magicians, but the contest just might be rigged.  Two of Kazam’s most powerful wizards get turned into stone.  They others are being rounded up by the police.

Just like the first book in the series, The Song of the Quarkbeast is packed with quirky humor and unforgettable characters.  Blix is a villain that you will love to hate.  I loved the introduction of the Mysterious Boo. What’s not to love about someone who rescues quarkbeasts and has a deep, dark secret?  We even learn more about the transient moose and finally meet–however briefly–the Great Zambini.

If you’re totally confused right now, don’t worry.  Jasper Fforde excels at the kind of humor that introduces random things that somehow make sense in the end.  Just hang on tight and enjoy the ride.  The only down side is now I have to wait for the release of The Eye of Zoltar.  The sneak peek in the back is just enough to leave me wanting more.

The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

imageI first met Deza Malone when I read Bud, Not Buddy.  When I learned that Christopher Paul Curtis had written her story, too, I couldn’t wait to read The Mighty Miss Malone (Scholastic 2012).  Not only is it a fun story with memorable characters, but it also opens eyes to the challenges of the Great Depression and echoes the challenges that many children and their families face today.

Deza is smart and determined–the perfect narrator to introduce her family and share their story.  At first it is a story filled with laughter.  Mr. Malone constantly speaks with over-the-top alliteration.  Big Brother Jimmie is always up to something–usually something that leads to trouble.  Mrs. Malone is the heart of the family and the hope that draws them together no matter how far apart they are.

I laughed through much of this book as Curtis brought to life the entertainment of the Great Depression, from the Joe Louis-Max Schmelling boxing bouts to the Negro Leauge baseball games and singing at speak easies.  But It only takes one bit of bad news to throw a family off track–or in this case on the tracks to a hobo camp.  No matter how bad their circumstances, Deza never forgets that she is something special.  Even as she clings to her promise, she learns to let go.

I enjoyed sharing bits and pieces of this story with my students throughout the day last Friday.  I hope I have convinced some of them to give historical fiction a chance.

Flat Broke by Gary Paulsen

imageAfter getting busted for all his lies in Liar, Liar, Kevin is back with even grander schemes to solve his newest problem:  he is Flat Broke.  Now that everyone he lied to is mad at him, his income stream has dried up.  His parents have suspended his allowance for a month.  His Aunt Buzz isn’t speaking to him, which means no work for for her design business.  He still babysits Markie, but because of his parents’ divorce, they can no longer afford to pay Kevin.

Of course, Kevin doesn’t let this stop him.  After browsing through is dad’s business books, Kevin decides to go into business and become a gazillionaire before he reaches high school.  He is full of money-making plans:  organizing poker games for money, managing his sister’s new makeover business and Katie’s new tutoring business (Can you believe they provided these services for free?), cleaning out garages in the neighborhood, and selling snacks through the college dorms.  He even has hired staff–his best friend John Paul and his new girlfriend Sam.  Oh yea, there’s also Tina, the girl of his dreams that he wants to impress with his new tycoon status.  What could possible go wrong?

Gary Paulsen nails Kevin’ voice with wit and humor.  Kevin is endearingly confident rather than obnoxiously cocky.  His heart is so obviously in the right place, it’s hard to get too mad at him when everything blows up in his face.  Of course, I’m not on the receiving end of any of his schemes, just a bystander enjoying the laughs.  I can’t wait to see what Kevin is up to next in the third installment.

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

imageWhat do you get when you combine fading magic, a dying dragon and a most unlikely heroine?  If you sprinkle it all with a dose of wacky humor (and a few very odd magicians), you get Jasper Fforde’s The Last Dragonslayer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010).

Jennifer Strange has everything I want in a heroine:  She’s a foundling (yes, that’s your classic orphan raised by the sisters in the Blessed Ladies of the Lobster).  She’s very capable at running Kazam Mystical Arts Management (an employment agency/retirement home for magicians) ever since its owner disappeared months ago.  She is caught up in a greater destiny than she knows, and she doesn’t know it, but she will play a major role in the coming Big Magic.  Most of all, she has heart and wit.

The Ununited Kingdoms are quirky, to say the least, most of all the House of Kazam.  You never know when you will walk through the Transient Moose (one of the magical residents of Kazam).  Magic may be dying, but plenty of unexplained things abound.  The quarkbeast may look ferocious with its mouthful of razor-sharp teeth, but it is loyal to Jennifer until the very end.  Even the last dragon is not at all what I expected.

I love this book–the magic, they mystery, the humor.  The best news of all is that it is just Book One.  I have more adventures in the Chronicles of Kazam to look forward to, and hopefully will read much more of Jennifer Strange.

The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet by Tom Angleberger

The Origami Yoda series by Tom Angleberger is an ever-popular reading selection for my middle school students, and I love them as much as they do.  The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppet may be my favorite yet.

Dwight has returned to McQuarrie Middle School, but trouble looms on the horizon with the introduction of Fun Time.  If this evil is to be eliminated, Tommy, Sara, Dwight, Harvey and the rest of the gang must form a Rebel Alliance.  Will it be enough?

All the things I love about the first books are back:  Kellen’s drawings, Harvey’s comments, multiple voices, and much middle school drama.  This time the stakes are higher:  Angleberger takes a direct hit on the push for ever-higher test scores and the resulting loss for education.  I hope that students will take notice and fight back for the education they deserve like the students at McQuarrie do.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

imageI have always loved Jane Eyre.  It’s one of those books that I return to again and again, so I was thrilled when I saw that Sync YA offered this classic governness tale in its free downloads this summer.  I had not heard of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood, but as soon as I heard Katherine Kellgren begin to read The Mysterious Howling, the first book in the series, I was hooked.

First of all, the narrator is witty and a bit condescending (but only in a very funny way) as she relates the story of Penelope Lumley, a new graduate of the Swanbrne Academy for Poor Bright Females.  She is only the least bit daunted when she meets her  three charges in her new post as governness at Ashton Place.  You see, the three children–named Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible by their finder Lord Ashton–were found in the woods, having been raised by wolves.  In no time at all, Miss Lumley has the children  reciting poetry and quoting Latin, but can she have them ready to attend the Christmas party in time?

Penelope Lumley has been well-prepared for the challenge before her.  She can quote the wisdom of the legendary Agathy Swanburne. (The founder of the Swanburne school was quiite pithy.)  She is inspired by her favorite stories about the pony Rainbow and the tales of governnesses. (Lord Ashton is not dark and brooding, but there may be something mysterious and possibly mad hiding in the attic.)  She carries a volume of poetry in her pocket to give her courage. (I knew poetry was good for something.)  In addition to teaching children who bark and howl at the moon, Penelope must cope with the other residents of the household:  kindly housekeeper Mrs.  Clock, spoiled Lady Constance, the mysterious coachman, and imposing Lord Ashton.  Someone seems to have a sinister plan in mind for the children, but just what the plan is and who is behind it remains a mystery.

I thoroughly enjoyed the audio book, but I suspect I missed out on the delightful illustrations by Jon Klassen found in the book itself.  I also wish I had a print version to copy down some of my favorite quotes.  As a graduate of a women’s college, I can relate to Penelope’s oft asked question, “What would a Swanburne girl do?”  I also love the literary references.  My favorite is on the use of hyperbole:  It should be used sparingly and only by someone with the proper literary training.

Three of the six books in this series are already out, and the fourth is coming at the end of this year.  While we wait for the rest of the series, check out the possibilities at The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

Middle School Get Me Out of Here! by James Patterson

imageRafe Khatchadorian may have survived his first year of middle school, but seventh grade looms on the horizon.  And seventh grade promises more changes for Rafe and his imaginary best friend, Leo the Silent.  First, Rafe’s family moves in with Grandma Dotty in the big city.  That means a new big city middle school to survive–Cathedral School of the Arts–and a new mission–Rafe Get a Life.

Just like last year, trouble follows in Rafe’s wake, no matter how hard he tries to avoid it.  Trouble first shows up in new bullies and then a new friend–Matty the Freak.  Along the way, Rafe tries all kinds of new experiences, from riding the subway to dropping water balloons, uh gloves.

Like the first installment, Middle School Get Me Out of Here (Little, Brown, and Company 2012) by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts is packed with snarky humor (and innocence from Rafe–Who, me?).  Rafe’s illustrations of his life reveal that his imagination is much more interesting than real life.  Rafe also discovers a surprising secret about his dad.  That’s the only part of the book that bothered me.  I’m not sure why his mom would keep the secret the truth about Rafe’s dad.

I do think that fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Origami Yoda will enjoy this combination of text, pictures, and humor.  I suspect that some of my incoming seventh graders might share Rafe’s fear and trepidation of starting middle school.  A little humor can go a long way to dispel some of it.

If you can’t get enough of Rafe’s adventures and attitude, and if you haven’t yet gotten his little sister’s story in Middle Schooll My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar, you can check out Rafe’s Rants, a web series on Patterson’s website.

Liar, Liar by Gary Paulsen

imageEven though Gary Paulsen may be best know for his survival stories (Hatchet and the rest of the books following Brian), he may be as popular in my classroom for his humor.  I predict that Liar, Liar (Scholastic 2011) will be a hit in my classroom.

Kevin has it all figured out.  Why tell the truth when a little lie–or two or three or ten–can make everyone’s life a little easier.  After all, it’s not easy being the youngest of three kids in a family that might be unraveling.  It’s not easy convincing Tina that he would be her perfect boyfriend.  It’s not long before all his lies have grown out of control and Kevin must face the unthinkable–telling the truth.

Despite his chronic lying, I like Kevin.  He is actually a good student and proud of it.  Even when he plans to skip class to pursue Tina, he makes up all the work he missed and even does extra work to get back into his teachers’ good graces.  His heart is in the right place even when his schemes have unintended consequences.  And when Kevin is confronted with those consequences, he doesn’t run or hide from them.  He takes them on and owns up to his role.  As a result, he is going to be quite  busy in the near future:  debating the city council, completing extra projects, babysitting the neighbor boy, writing sports stories for the paper, painting sets for the school drama, and joining the wrestling team

My only regret is that I don’t have the next books in this series on deck to read next.

1 2 3