Tag Archives: humorous story

跑啊跑的程千里 (Run Run Cheng Qianli) by 冯与蓝 (Feng Yulan)

跑啊跑的程千里The story about a chubby 5th grade boy who is grappling with being the unathletic one in the class is told with a very light and gentle touch: he’s never so troubled by it to be sad, his best friends (who are all fast runners) are all supportive, his teachers do not put him down, even when they try to help him build up his stamina. And his relationship with his parents is loving, albeit full of little conflicts due to his very active mind that is constantly wondering about the world around him and coming up with out-of-the-box ideas.

This is the first of the Rainbow Crow set of high quality contemporary children’s books from China (by the 21st Century publishing company) that I have read and I am definitely impressed: by the author’s understanding of young people’s mindset, by the excellence of the production/design value, and by the publisher’s insistence of offering current stories by Chinese authors to young readers.

Colorful Ravens* “Original Stories in Chinese”* series of 20 titles  were published in 2012.  I obtained four copies and will report on all of them as soon as I finish each.  To read the bilingual plot summary that I made for this book please head over to the Goodreads page.

Rainbow Crow titles*My translations for the series names were different from the publisher’s.  Corrected on 8/18/2015.

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Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

fortunatemilkFortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman,
illustrated by Scottie Young

A fun and funny romp into the land of wild imagination with a warm, Where the Wild Things Are ending.  The father-children relationship is full of heart, too.  I can see it being read aloud in many classrooms as a way to insert entertaining moments during a stressful day.


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Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

floraulyssesOne of the most delightful books I’ve encountered!

So much of it is sparkling, like gems — the humor, the humanity, the friendship, and even the heartaches.  And there’s a special twinkle of absurdity: the squirrel poet, the hysterical blindness, the kind but weird neighbor with the “living” painting, etc.

Read this two years ago but never got to put the book note up and so much of the book is still vivid in my mind.  Indeed a great Newbery choice!


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Fight Club

fightclubFight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

I never watched the entire Fight Club movie — only bits and pieces. Now I have to find time to watch the movie in its entirety to see how they managed to adapt this superb novel into its very successful screen counterpart. Granted, I probably do not wish to see all the gruesome and gross scenes literally translated for film, although those are the scenes that definitely appealed to my reading self. Whether it’s intended by the author or conjured up by my own protective mechanism, the over-the-top crazy schemes and bloody messes always seem to take on a humorous tone — sometimes light and oftentimes really dark, but always laugh-out-loud hilarious. I can see re-reading it in a few years just to trace the narrator’s slow unraveling and downfall and see all the telltale signs of the final reveal along the path. Can’t help but giving it a five star, highly recommended rating!

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Grasshopper Jungle

grasshopperjungleby Andrew Smith

Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Horror

Basic Content Information: 17-year-old Austin from Iowa, our time, records the “history” of The End of the World when he and his best buddy Robbie Bree set off a chain of events that lead to the invasion of 6-foot-tall, hungry and horny, indestructible genetically engineered praying mantises that ravage and take over the human world.  The narrative is full of crude words and thoughts.  Austin is continuously horny, many of the characters are presented through the lens of their sexual behaviors, the descriptions of events are blunt and without the sense of bashfulness.  Austin is also in love with both his girlfriend Shannon and his best friend Robbie, who is openly gay.  There is much tenderness between Robbie and Austin.  There is much confusion and resentment but also acceptance and understanding amongst the main teen characters.  There is a lot of outlandish sci-fi elements that harken to the 50s horror B-Movies and the tone and Smith’s stylistic choices might remind readers of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing.   Most used words in the book: horny, semen, blood, fuck, eat, hungry, penis, and history — much discussion about how history gets to the truth and how it does not.

Edition: Paper Galley

Pub Date: February, 2014

Publisher: Dutton/Penguin

(I’m only recording the bare bone facts about the Young Adult Fiction titles I read in 2014 — Serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee means that I need to be quite cautious in expressing opinions on social media. The safest way is to not express specific reactions publicly. But I’d like to keep reporting the titles I encounter throughout the year. You can always follow the link to Goodreads to see other readers’ reviews.)

Click here for: Goodreads summary and other people’s reviews.

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Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

squirrelby David Sedaris, read by the author

Finished listening to Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk… here are my thoughts: I was really smitten with this audio production and the stories at the beginning — Sedaris is definitely hugely talented and oh so so very clever. And the excellent reader/actors (David Sedaris, Dylan Baker, Elaine Stritch and Sian Phillips!) definitely enhance the listening experience. However, half way through, I realized that Sedaris’ life view is just too bleak and his humor too mean-spirited for me at this time of my life. I almost cringed at the thought of listening to the next grotesque and undoubtedly bleak tale… … but I went on and finished the book — and enjoyed The Grieving Owl (toward the very end of the book). Looking back, that might have been the only story that I could say that I truly enjoyed (about 95% of the tale… the ending wasn’t pretty and I didn’t much love it). I almost wish that I had not encountered some of the denizens in this story collection or witnessed that much ignorance, vanity, pride, and all kinds of unattractive human traits, even when the author’s intention is to belittle and make fun of these traits. Now, I cannot unread or un-know these stories. Shucks!

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The Grimm Conclusion

grimmby Adam Gidwitz

I waited for a while to read this one.  Was somewhat apprehensive.  When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes worried.  What if… What if the book isn’t as good as you’d hoped?  As good as you  believe that particular author could have made it?  What it…

So, I didn’t read the galley.  I did attend an overwhelmingly successful event at Book Court in Brooklyn with Adam entertaining a host of young readers and their parents.  And then, finally, after I started seeing my students toting around this third volume and hearing that they really really enjoyed it (one of them read it more than twice in the week of its publication) I braced myself and delved into it!

What a treat!  I couldn’t put the book down.  Adam not only featured some of MY favorite Grimm tales, he even used one of my favorite STORY TIME staple (Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock!)  And not only Adam continues with the intrusive and flippant (but often kind and comforting) storyteller/narrator, he brings this narrator INTO the story (or, rather, brings the protagonists OUT of the story and into current day Brooklyn.)  I was worried when I knew that there is a metafiction element of the tale that it would have seemed trite or forced — but Adam did it in a natural and fluid way that really works.  The story as a whole seems a bit darker than the first two, but it is to my liking.  And as in so many stories for children (and adults) the power of storytelling is celebrated at the end!

Same as in the first two books, there are definitely some very sticky moral dilemmas that the two kids have to face and conquer.  I am happy to report that the messages do not get in the way of the enjoyment of the tales. And I suspect that these important “lessons” are being absorbed and are strengthening child readers everywhere as I type!

Finally, the new “Kingdom of Children” that the narrator refers to in the end of this book is an apt metaphor for the realm of imagination, for stories and books, and especially for the Grimm trilogy, where children venture in to “run, to play… to tell their tales and face their fears and let whatever is inside out.”

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The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

truebluescoutsby Kathi Appelt

(narrated by Lyle Lovett for Audible)

This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be!  And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama.  This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud!  One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!

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Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

Who would have thought? Richard Peck: the 21st Century Austen for the 8 to 10 set? But he IS! This little gem of a book has all the good stuff:

A cast of talking mice whose actions and living conditions are completely believable and are in tune with children’s fantasy play; a twisting, surprising, and humorous upstairs/downstairs comedy that involves Royalty and seafaring; the perennial favorite plot progression allowing the lower class main characters go up the social ladder due to good luck and hard work; and clean grown-up romances.

Peck’s deft hand also created a great protagonist in the no-nonsense Helena and made her think and speak properly like one would have from the late 1800s. I was completely charmed!

(And the full-page incidental illustrations add to its charm even more!)

Quick – go and get a copy and treat yourself and your young readers!!

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Deadend in Norvelt

Author: Jack Gantos
Publisher: FSG
Page Number: 341
Pub Date: 9/13/2011 (from Galley)

I really enjoyed the many bits and pieces of humor that is a somewhat tamed version found in Gantos’ earlier works.  The characters are more eccentric than completely out of control (with perhaps a couple of exceptions.)  Most of them are quite endearing and are what hold the story together and pull me through — especially Ms Volker and Jack the first person narrator.  Jack’s narrative voice is so lighthearted that the deaths and destruction simply don’t seem that dire.  The mystery aspect only gains momentum toward the very end of the tale and the resolution is fairly uneventful, in keeping with the tone of the rest of the book.
Jack Gantos puts himself into the story as the 14-year-old boy narrator.  It is set against the Cold War era, in a little town called Norvelt (established by Eleanor Roosevelt during the Depression.)  The old folks are dying (somehow mysteriously and rapidly,) the young people are leaving town, the children are bored.  The narrative voice is a sweet one – an earnest and nose-bleeding (there is A LOT of it in the book) boy whose life is both trapped by reality and freed by innovative imagining and by helping with an old woman who’s the town paper’s obituary writer and an inventive historian herself.

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Pieby Sarah Weeks

This is a short and charming caper story with some not-quite-so-believable reconciliations — especially the incredibly fast and easy resolution of the mother-daughter relationship which was so extremely strained. I did enjoy the notion of aunt Polly being such a generous soul and that her legacy was felt and practiced throughout the town by those who truly loved her. I think many young readers will find great satisfaction in reading this story but those who came to PIE because they loved So B. It! should be told before hand to not expect the same kind of intensity, originality, and affecting ending as that previous most-beloved tale.

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Beauty Queens

Beauty Queensby Libba Bray

It’s not easy to categorize this book. There is a little bit of everything — actually, there are A LOT of everything, and almost every “disadvantaged” group of characters: a transgendered former boy band member, a hearing-impaired dancer, a mechanically talented lesbian, a second generation South East Asian overachiever, an African American overachiever, a dumb blond, a sex-maniac teen, a die-heart beauty queen – and a host of other supporting characters and villains. There lies the strength and the weakness of the book: it covers many possible grounds and actually treats all these characters sensitively and with depth; and it loses focus sometimes because all the varied characters and their back stories are told alternatively and at times the readers are pulled into the past when we want to move forward with the plot. It feels too much like the subject (reality TV and mass media) that the author set out to mock. Again, that could be a strength, if one views it and appreciates the intent; or it could be a distraction — at times, the readers might feel completely overloaded by the bombardment of so much farcical humor. I might have loved the book a bit more if some parts are better pruned. I am trying to understand the conceit of the book being published by The Corporation while it paints quite truthfully all the evil dealings the Cooperation sponsored. Perhaps, it is fitting: since the Cooperation only cares about profit margin and a Tell-it-All probably generates the highest monetary return, they don’t even care that it makes the Cooperation the arch-villain in the telling.

Very meta.

Just an aside: as a native of Republic of China – ROC, every time I see the Republic of ChaCha – ROC, with its grotesque dictator on display, I had the visceral cringing reaction. But, that’s just me.

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Good Omens

Good Omensby Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This is just a total delight to read. I marked pages and wanted to record all the humorous metaphors and turn of phrases. Two ingenious literary minds worked seamlessly together to create something that I’d like to just flip to any random page in the future and get either a chuckle or be amazed again. This book makes me want to memorize quotes!

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As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the EarthI will write more about this book later — just want to mark the space for it here. It’s a REALLY unusual book. I kept wavering between LOVING it and WONDERING if it is actually a children’s book. Also wavering between WANTING more (because of the incredibly cool ways Perkins writes and tells the story) and DREADING more (because there are simply TOO many things that go wrong… too many Uh-Oh moments that it sometimes grated on me…)

Must think MORE about this one. But, finally finishing it, I found the ending satisfying and the book so so wise! My current thought is that this book deserves to be shared and many young readers deserve to be aware of this book!

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Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Swordby Barry Deutsch

There is so much to like about this book: the humorous and very realistic treatment of the family dynamics between stepmother and children, between siblings, and between neighbors; the expressiveness of the faces and the bodies; the magical realistic setting and all the references of Orthodox Jewish traditions; and the pure energy and joy of knowing a new and plucky girl character. And yet, since I liked it so much from page 1, and built up such high expectations of wanting a truly enlightening ending, the last portion of the book became a bit of a let down because of a somewhat rushed and unsatisfying wrap up.

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Tiny Tyrant: Vol. 1 – The Ethelbertosaurus

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The EthelbertosaurusAuthor: Lewis Trondheim; illus. by Fabrice Parme
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade

Pages: 62
Publisher: Frist Second
Edition:Paperback, 2009

Most excellent and fun short skit-like tales. This volume contains six stories. King Ethelbert is extremely spoiled and self-centered and yet one simply can’t help but adoring him (probably because more often than not, he gets his just-desserts: a spanking, or being blown out of the palace window!) A French import.

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Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears

Little Mouse's Big Book of FearsAuthor: Emily Gravett
Reading Level: K to 4

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Edition: Hardcover, 2008

This is a fantastic offer from a truly creative mind, and I believe also, from a team of designers and editors who put in so much in carrying out all the ideas: from the nibbled cover and pages, to the flip-the-flap effects, to the completely black page (yes, I was fooled in thinking, ‘huh? this is the end of the book? No way…’ and found out, to my great delight, that there is still half of the book to go and plenty more of information to come!) And of course, Gravett’s talent in illustration is unparalleled! I just love that pencil, getting gnawed to a stub bit by bit.

It will appeal to those children who love words and love to collect the names of so many phobias. It will appeal to those children who love poring over pages with extra words and details quite a few times over. It will appeal to those who enjoy visual jokes (“I worry about having accidents.” page has Little Mouse … um… accidentally leaves something on the bottom of the page… — opposing the picture of a toilet.)

I love the page where all the feathers “have eyes” and “sharp teeth.” I love the page with the newspaper clipping about the farmer’s wife and the three mouse tails. I love the page with the fold-out map of the Isle of Fright. Actually.. I think I simply love all the pages, each for a different reason.

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Author: Anisha Lakhani
Reading Level: HS/Adults

SchooledI read this after hearing lots and reading quite a few reviews about the book, so I am not entirely sure about my reactions – how much was my enjoyment and annoyance colored by these preset expectations? And how much of my secret pleasure and overt disgust came from my having known the author and has been working in the school that this fiction is supposed to be based on? So read on, those of you who are curious to know my opinions about the book, with caution and many grains of salt!

First, I was surprised how the book does not really feature many recognizable students and faculty from the school, nor does it develop the school as a setting fully. In fact, most teachers do not even enter the story. It’s as if this fictional K-12 school has but 50 students and they all go to the 7th grade and there are only half a dozen teachers who come into contact with the protagonist and the children. In short, the setting of the school is not quite fleshed out or rich, and the supporting characters are not 3-dimensional, either. A few incidents or coincidences are probably not identifiable by those who are not intimately connected to the school, either. So much, so much of the story is extremely exaggerated: the characters complete caricatures, and the whole world distorted with the kind of hyper-reality one can only find in Gossip Girls and Sex in the City. (Of course also in the highly manipulated Real Housewives “reality” shows…)

This brings me to say to those who seem to think that this is a truthful portrayal of the Manhattan Private Schools/Ivy League Feeders world, “You are absolutely wrong.” This is fluffy fiction and no more than that.

I don’t think there is even a need to defend my school since there is so little resemblance in SCHOOLED to the actual school — including the physical descriptions and the ways teaching and learning are accomplished throughout the years. Suffice to say that I have encountered scores of most brilliant human beings: readers, writers, thinkers, activists, artists, mathematicians, scientists, all kinds of people — both from its faculty pool and the student body, to feel privileged and proud to be part of this incredible institution.

The biggest weakness of the book, to my eyes, is how bland the writing is… with few exceptions where the lines are actually funny or effective, such as, “The world could be coming to an end and my mother would still find a way to offer a cookie with the gas mask.” and “It was an all-purpose word, something of a Swiss Army knife capable of replacing all sorts of words, such as do, write, create, and especially finish.” The rest of the book is filled with lines with little crafting or “polishing”. Just a few examples here:

page 124: Anna wonders “if Shakespeare would be … delighted that his work was the cause of such delight to a group of… seventh-graders.”
page 126: “The last comment was like a wound in my heart.”
page 131: “And I was an air traffic controller trying to control fifteen little planes all trying to land at one time.”

To compound the problem of such thin prose is the poor editing. Missing punctuation marks, continuity errors, and misused words, such as “My ears were ringing. And when did faux mitzvah enter everyone’s vocabulary accept mine?” ACCEPT? And this is supposedly written/narrated by an Ivy-Leaguer who studied English in college and teaches English to 7th graders.

The one saving grace is that the readers do not admire Anna (oh, maybe a little bit toward the end of the story when she suddenly has a courageous enlightment moment), and that adds some flavor to the tale of a small fry lost in the world of greasy glitz.

And chatting online with a High School student might shed more light on our views over this book:

Edited for clarity:

fairrosa: Yup… I guess… closer to truth. Nothing is TRUE in this book, though. And it’s so hyper-reality that anyone thinks this has anything to do with reality is delusional themselves, I think.
student: You overestimate that, I think
fairrosa: overestimate how?
student: I think you overestimate how attuned the average reader is to Dalton
fairrosa: Definitely — that’s why I definitely need to write about how this is NOT the reality. But I did like the book enough… it’s better than some other trashy novels, for sure.
student: Wha? O.o
fairrosa: All the flaws aside, Anna Taggert is a main character that does not put on a holier-than-thou air, nor is she pretending to be anything but a corrupted small fry lost in a glitzy world, even though in reality, I have yet to encounter any such real-life teacher.
fairrosa: That’s my last paragraph…now.. do you think my analysis fair?? any other issues with the review?
student: Doesn’t put on a holier-than-thou air? I really don’t think you read this book XD
fairrosa: please let me know if I can post it as is?
student: It’s an okay-written review, it’s just wrong. It didn’t bother you that characters spent the whole time hitting on her? That, somehow, nothing was ever actually her fault?
fairrosa: Hey.. .Anna Taggert is portrayed as a silly, money grabbing, totally lost person. There is nothing there to show that she is better than anyone else…
Everything is her choice — she decided that she needed MONEY … she failed to plan lessons — she is stupid…The character is NOT portrayed as a GOOD person. Did you read the book?
fairrosa: One does not read the book and says to oneself that Anna Tagger is SUCH A GOOD person. Does one?
stuent: No, but she thinks she is!
fairrosa: But the READER knows that she is stupid, spoiled, greedy…etc. and the AUTHOR writes in that way…
fairrosa: she curses. she envies. she receives bribes. she cheats
student: Mmm, yes. But do you really think the point of the book is that she’s bad, or that she was a good person placed in a bad system?
fairrosa: I think she was WEAK… maybe Bad/Good is not a great way to describe her or anyone else.
fairrosa: I think she did not really have moral fibers… of course, the world around her doesn’t seem to have morals either…
student: She’s portrayed as a nice girl corrupted by an evil world. Yes?
fairrosa: Nah… I don’t think she’s portrayed as a “nice girl” ever — her motive of being a teacher is so that she would be LOVED by her students…So, I never got the sense that the protagonist is supposed to be a GOOD person.
student: Not that she would really teach or change students’ lives.
student: That’s absolutely false.
fairrosa: Did you find any of the book funny?
student: no.
fairrosa: Or are you just completely incensed?
fairrosa: Do you think it’s because you’re too close to it? Too protective of our school?
student: I think I might have been okay with it – or at least, not hated it – had it been marketed differently, had it not billed itself as that “look at what a 5-figure tuition really gets you”
fairrosa: Fair.

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Quote of the day

I’m listening to Toole’s A Confederacy of Duncies and have many occasions to chuckle or even laugh out loud — although the many comical situations are also profoundly sad. Here’s a quote for the day to show Toole’s genius in characterization without getting into tedious details:

Miss Trixie was never perfectly vertical; she and the floor always met at an angle of less than ninety degrees.

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William Sleator’s books

It was telling when Orson Scott Card, upon finding that I had read many of his books and not just the Ender series, got so excited and asked, “So, you must like William Sleator’s books a lot?” and proceeded to gush over Sleator’s work, specifically Singularity. I acted a bit dense and tried to high-five Card who told me that he’s not the “high-five kind.” ooops! But, our brief conversation reminded me how much I DID enjoy all the books I read by Sleator, and how much I appreciate that he not only creates gripping plot and probing philosophical and moral dilemmas, he also really gets in science right (at least according to the theories of the time when the books were written.) My favorite titles by him are Singularity, for its illuminating explanation of black hole and singularity and for its protagonist’s emotional and moral struggle after he realizes that he can age himself and turn the table on his superior and sometimes bullying brother; The Boy Who Reversed Himself, for its vivid depictions of different dimensional worlds and the protagonists’ grappling with adolescence and romance; The Green Future of Tyco, for its dizzying time-hopping scenes and Tyco’s realization of how a person’s past shapes his future and how one can become careless with one’s actions and turn out to be quite despicable; The House of Stairs for its chilling social experiment and exposure of the darker sides (and some brighter sides) of human nature; Among the Dolls, for its creepy depiction of neglected dolls and their revenge upon the careless girl. And I can’t talk about Sleator’s works without mentioning how much fun my students and I have had for years now when we shared the jokes (gross, quite often) and humorous events (highly exaggerated, quite often) in Oddballs — short stories based on his family stories.

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