These days Cambridge is completely depressing. Night falls roughly three minutes after you’ve finished breakfast. Today’s weather was fine, but generally it rains now and then – not hard enough that you can justify getting your umbrella out without looking like a ninny, but enough that you end up with a slightly damp face and hair like you’ve just stepped out of a Britney Spears music video. Have I mentioned that the city is already decorated for Christmas? Yes, my friends, these are depressing times.
So, obviously, I don’t want to be reading yet another emo YA novel. I want to be reading children’s books that make me LOL and ROTFL and LMAO! And thankfully, the Roald Dahl Funny Prize has just been announced. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m getting my copy of Andy Mulligan’s first Ribblestrop book tomorrow.
Meanwhile, and just like that, here are a few children’s books that made me laugh when I was a kid and still make me laugh today, and which all of us in dreary dark corners of the Northern Hemisphere should read now and again to laugh November away!
And first on the list is the incomparable Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren! When I think of her at school, or in the shops, or in the (colonialism alert!) South Seas, I immediately start smiling. But Pippi is also the universal saviour of all girls who ‘suffer from freckles’, such as myself. How many times did I read and reread this passage when I was little:
In the shop window was a large jar, and beside the jar was a sign, which read: DO YOU SUFFER FROM FRECKLES?
“What does the sign say?” asked Pippi.
“It says, ‘Do you suffer from freckles?’” said Annika.
“Does it indeed?” said Pippi thoughtfully. “Well, a polite question deserves a polite answer. Let’s go in.”
She opened the door and walked into the shop, closely followed by Tommy and Annika. An elderly lady stood behind the counter. Pippi went right up to her.
“No!” she said decidedly.
“What is it that you want?” asked the lady.
“No,” said Pippi once more.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” said the lady.
“No, I don’t suffer from freckles,” said Pippi.
Then the lady understood, but she took one look at Pippi and burst out, “But, my dear child, your whole face is covered with freckles!”
“I know,” said Pippi, “but I don’t suffer from them. I love them. Good morning.”
And second on the list (as anyone who knows me will expect) are Jennings and Darbishire, the funniest schoolboys in literary history by Anthony Buckeridge. In one of my favourite passages in the series, Jennings and Darbishire ask their friend Temple to help them write a professional-sounding letter to a company that sells videocameras, in the hope that they’ll send them a catalogue…
“You see, I want a catalogue, and I bet the chap won’t send it if he thinks I’m just a chap at school, because he’ll know I haven’t got enough dosh; but if you write it, he’ll never guess. Look, here it is in rough, and we want you to make it sound more grown-up.”
Temple’s twelve horse-power brain soon grasped what was expected of it, and he stared searchingly at the rough copy that Jennings had written.
“Dear Sir“, he read aloud. “I would like to buy one so how much are they and please send one at once but not if they are more than eleven and eight if so just a catalog. We beat Bracebridge School in the end. There was Sports practics last Wednesday only there was not any owing to the wet it was scratched. Hopping you are quit all rit. Yours truly, J.C.T. Jennings.”
Temple raised both eyebrows. “You’re bats!” he said. “What on earth does it mean?”
Jennings showed him the advertisement for the Grossman Ciné Camera de Luxe.
“Oh, I see,” said Temple, as light dawned. “But what’s all this quit hopping stunt?”
“Well, it’s only decent to hope it’s quite all right,” Jennings explained, “and if he isn’t – if he’s got chicken-pox, or something, he’ll be wizard pleased to know that somebody cares about him.”
I’m not a diehard fan of the Asterix comics by Uderzo & Goscinny, but there is that passage in Asterix in Britain… Background story: the Britons have this strange habit of drinking hot water without anything in it. Thankfully, Asterix has an idea: how about adding some herbs to it?
Frenchwise, there are so many funnies that haven’t been translated that just thinking about how you’re all missing out makes me cry. Poor you!
What else? Georgia Nicolson’s hilarious diary, of course, by Louise Rennison. From Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging to Knocked Out By My Nunga-Nungas (and another 8 or 9 books in the series), every page brings moments of lolarity:
If I truly gave up I could be like Wet Lindsay. When Robbie dumped her she got all pale and even wetter than normal. She was like an anoraksick. (A person who is both very thin and wears tragic anoraks.) I just made that up as a joke. Even though I am very upset I can still think of a joke.
Everytime I see a skeletal girl in an anorak I secretly call her anoraksick.
And of course there’s all the modern ones! Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid! That moment when Greg has to thank his family for Christmas presents and decides to write a ‘general form on the computer with blanks for the things that needed to change’:
Dear AUNT LYDIA
Thank you so much for the awesome ENCYCLOPEDIA! How did you know I wanted that for Christmas?
I love the way the ENCYCLOPEDIA looks on my SHELF!
All my friends will be so jealous that I have my very own ENCYCLOPEDIA!
Of course, for some gifts, it doesn’t really work as well:
Dear AUNT LORETTA
Thank you so much for the awesome PANTS! How did you know I wanted that for Christmas?
I love the way the PANTS look on my LEGS!
All my friends will be so jealous that I have my very own PANTS!
This seems like a good place to conclude that there are tons and tons of funny books for kids out there and that should you want to get me a Christmas present, you can’t really get it wrong if you get me one of them. Just sayin’.
I hope this post made you feel a little happier. Long live funny books for kids! Add your own favourite ones in the comments.