Archive for the ‘Humor’ category

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

July 3rd, 2013

Before she became a writer, S.J. Kincaid interned with a politician in Washington, D.C. and you know that had to influence Insignia, her debut novel. It’s set in a future where corporations have more power than nations and war has become so distant and sanitized that teens are the ones fighting the battles via drones. The threat of a neutron bomb and mutually assured destruction keeps warfare civil.

Tom is recruited a la The Last Starfighter to train in the Pentagon (now a spire like something out of Ender’s Game) and escape his troubled home situation. It’s a fun adventure and, on the surface, is a lighthearted sci-fi story with enjoyable character interactions. I found myself laughing out loud multiple times and that’s rare for me.

But there’s another layer to Insignia, one that challenges what modern warfare really means and what the whole point is. Behind the scenes are employees of megacorporations trying to woo combatants to fight for them. Imagine if the U.S. Army was sponsored by Wal-Mart (with Wal-Mart’s two million employees) and the Navy was run by McDonald’s (where every fish in the sea contained genetically engineered McFish DNA). The great thing, though, is that it’s not preachy and addresses it in an accessible manner.

The tech is pretty cool, too. Each character is introduced with name, rank, and IP address popping up in Tom’s vision. Computer programming takes center stage for a bit, but it either produces humorous or dangerous results, so I don’t think a non-programmer audience will be bogged down by it. I like to code, though, so I may be biased. (Really, the programming action reminded me of the wizard duels in Harry Potter.)

While many parts reminded me of other stories, Insignia‘s a brilliant combination of those different elements told through Kincaid’s honest voice. It’s definitely worth a read and a copy or two on the shelf.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit by Tommy Greenwald

May 15th, 2013

I’m a fan of Tommy Greenwald’s realistic style and he continues his Charlie Joe success with Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit. Charlie Joe is not a horrible student, but he does cause some trouble for himself that results in a lower report card than his parents had hoped. They threaten to send him to an academic camp over the summer if he cannot pull his grades up. Enter the extra credit.

Just like the Guide to Not Reading, Extra Credit has some funny insights into how extra credit is earned and how it is perceived. One of the things that is brought out is how extra credit is sometimes connected to how well the student is liked by the teacher, which isn’t fair to the unlikeable students or to the ones who did their work in the first. Charlie Joe has some insight, not just for students, but for teachers who offer extra credit.

While there are still the humorous scenes – Coach Rodonski is adamant that ambidexterity is the key to global domination – Charlie Joe is faced with tough decisions that most middle schoolers have to tackle and that’s why I appreciate the series. You can tell that Greenwald knows his audience. The series will get more serious as the characters mature, so it will be interesting to track the growth of Charlie as a character.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Extra Credit is a fun read and a great continuation of the series.

Jack Strong Takes a Stand by Tommy Greenwald

April 30th, 2013

I’m really liking the amount of humorous, realistic fiction that has come out recently. It takes a lot of skill to write characters that are believable and yet live in big enough experiences to keep the narrative interesting. Tommy Greenwald succeeds in doing that with Jack Strong Takes a Stand.

Jack is an overscheduled middle-schooler who decides to stage a sit-in on his family’s couch until his schedule frees up. It reminded me a little bit of Avi’s Nothing but the Truth as one tiny action escalates into a media storm. Newspapers, web sites, and a TV show all run Jack’s story – but not the full version of it. All have their own agenda, whether they support the parents or think that Jack’s parents are the worst people ever. What I love is that Jack doesn’t hate his parents. Even when outsiders criticize his family, Jack is quick to try to defend them. His dad has a legitimate reason for wanting to overschedule his son’s life. Greenwald made sure that the dad wasn’t a two-dimensional antagonist (although the two-dimensional illustrations are pretty fun) and we see that it’s done because the father cares about his son.

Fans of Charlie Joe Jackson (a book on the GCRA list, might I remind you) will enjoy the similar style. There’s a fun reference to Charlie in the book, placing the events in the same world as Charlie Joe. I especially enjoyed the characterization of Jack Strong. Yes, he’s overscheduled. Yes, he’s taking a stand. And yes, he sometimes is taking for granted opportunities that others do not have. If the story was just about us sympathizing with a busy teen, it wouldn’t be as compelling. It’s more realistic that some characters agree with Jack’s choice but still think that he’s spoiled.

Jack’s grandmother is a stand-out character in the book and it’s interesting to note that she shares the same last name as Ellen Kellerman, the woman that the book is dedicated to. What a great memorial. I know that the illustrations may remind people of Wimpy Kid, but I would say this is more of a Gordon Korman-style book (and yet with the very unique voice that Greenwald expertly wields). Make sure to grab a copy this fall.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney

January 29th, 2013

It’s Wimpy Kid; you don’t need me to tell you the format. What I will tell you is that it follows in the other six books’ footsteps in taking a joke, building it up throughout the novel, and then looping back around 200 pages later for the punchline. There’s some skill to that, to be sure. Add to it the realistic characters – and the fact that they’re getting older as the series goes on – and it’s an enjoyable read.

Bone: The Complete Saga by Jeff Smith

October 5th, 2012

This is what 1,300+ pages of awesome looks like.

Yesterday I finished Bone by Jeff Smith. I would read a bit at a time in-between all of the other books that I’m reading and then yesterday was the big push towards the end. It definitely is a character-driven fantasy with fun interactions between the cast. I did get the whole epic in one giant book because that was cheaper than getting the individual volumes, but the downside is that big bindings a lot of times translates into more repairs. It was really nice, though, to be able to take in the giant sweep of the story without waiting for the next volume.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

December 16th, 2011

I don’t need to say much aside from this being another enjoyable installment of the series. Kinney writes like a stand-up comic – funny scenario A leads to B then C then back to A with a twist. I paused briefly to read a few pages this morning and ended up reading it cover to cover.

Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading by Tommy Greenwald

December 9th, 2011

This is a funny book for a librarian to carry around.

This is a funny book.

Charlie Joe Jackson has avoided reading a book for all of the years that he’s been in school. He has paid off his friend, Timmy, to read books for him: one ice cream sandwich per book. At the start of the story, Timmy raises his price until finally he refuses. Charlie must create an elaborate scheme in order to finish the final project of the year, a position paper where he must read a lot of books and write a big essay, and yet maintain his non-reading streak. His fans would expect nothing less.

The voice in this book is awesome. Charlie definitely sounds like a non-reader, which then helps non-readers read the book. Sometimes I have to sell a book’s concept to a student so that they’ll endure to the end because they trust that I know what I’m talking about. Charlie Joe Jackson speaks with authenticity that needs no help from me. Also a bonus are the short chapters, illustrations, and the 25 tips that give funny sidenotes to the story. My only nitpick is that sometimes the descriptions didn’t line up with the illustrations. No big deal, but I thought it was a little odd.

Librarians, read the book. It’s an easy recommendation to students that accomplishes what it set out to do – getting non-readers to read, despite Charlie Joe Jackson’s best efforts. This is not a sappy book, though. Greenwald pulls no punches in making fun of other books and airing complaints from reluctant readers.

After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick

October 3rd, 2011

If I told you that a book about cancer patients was funny, you might call me disturbed, crass, or several versions of inappropriate. But After Ever After is funny despite the very serious subject.

This is a sorta sequel to Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. Jeffrey, the younger brother from the first book, is now the main character. He is in remission and has been labeled a cancer survivor. Even though he’s a survivor, cancer could still come back and that’s a fear Jeffrey and his family deal with each day. He makes friends in elementary school with a boy named Tad who also survived cancer. This is part of what sets After Ever After apart from other books that deal with cancer.

The two major players in the book deal with cancer through humor but have very different attitudes towards others. Tad is extremely defensive to the point of being downright mean to everyone in the school. Jeffrey is constantly coaching him on how to be nicer while Tad pushes Jeffrey to never give up.

Cancer is the big force of the book, yet standardized testing is the looming conflict. Jeffrey is doing better in Math, but his efforts could be meaningless if he doesn’t pass the state test and is held back. Methotrexate treatments have made it tough for Jeffrey to stay focused for extended periods of time. The fact that his girlfriend could go on to high school, and high school boys, without him adds to the distraction.

None of this sounds funny, right? What balances the book is a sarcastic narrator. Sonnenblick took a risk making his main character so flippant about life-threatening decisions. It reads as if Jeffrey has truly endured and learned what to take serious and what is out of his control.

Like how Okay for Now made me want to go back and read Wednesday Wars, After Ever After makes me want to read Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie. This is a must-have addition to any library.

Here’s another reminder of HopeKids, an organization that helps families with life-threatening illnesses. Good friends of mine run one of the branches. It’s definitely worth checking out.