5 Kids’ Books for Healing With Humor
Thanhhà Lại | The Children’s Book Review | November 19, 2019
I was a war baby. My father became missing-in-action the week before I turned one. My mother raised nine children during the height of the Vietnam War. My oldest sister had to leave school to go to work. My six brothers knew if they didn’t ace every class and get into college, they would have to hold guns and become soldiers.
And yet, and I know this sounds fictional, I remember us laughing all the time.
My mother set the tone. She would not let anyone pity us. If a relative or neighbor came over and blinked tears, she shooed them out the door. Look to your futures, she said, concentrate on your studies. Somehow we all agreed. So we studied even as my brothers mimicked movie stars and singers and Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee. And we all laughed. Even our dog participated. He was brown, so we named him Brown, and he wagged his tail nonstop.
As I wrote Butterfly Yellow I concentrated on infusing a dire refugee tale with humor. Mixing comedy and tragedy is as natural for me as mixing coffee and milk. A refugee living through horrors does have moments of joy. Same as a cowboy wannabe brought up in comfort does have moments of deflation. Through humor, these two unlikely characters end up anchoring each other through a trying summer.
It’s a story about friendship and how the person you didn’t know a month ago ends up helping you approach the most painful memories, even if you can’t speak them out loud yet.
Below are five stories that call upon humor to work through pain. The degree of tragedy varies, but laughter lifts the heaviness every time.
Written and illustrated by Taro Gomi
I keep this picture book around to laugh on particularly fraught writing days.
A crocodile and a dentist have frightening thoughts about each other—while thinking exactly the same words. The same dread, the same peptalk, the same fear. Gomi has written more than 400 picture books, including Everyone Poops, so you have so many more chances to laugh.
Buy the Book
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: Chronicle Books | August 21, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1452170282
Written and Illustrated by Vera Brosgol
An exasperated grandmother just wants to knit sweaters, but her many many grandchildren keep driving her batty. So she storms off. Only to encounter more interruptions. This is an epic tragedy, as every writer knows what it’s like to finally get buzzed inside a word vortex, then get interrupted.
That’s when I want to yell, “Leave me alone.”
But I don’t, remembering how the grandmother feels after being left all alone.
Buy the Book
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: Roaring Brook Press | September 13, 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1626724419
Written by Kelly Yang
Mia Tang is an indefatigable kid, no matter what life throws at her. True, she and her parents live in a motel and she has to help out at the front desk and more. But she manages to stir up fun while washing towels in a bathtub. True, sunblock is expensive, so she wears long sleeves and pants as a precaution.
Mia smacks against plenty of prejudice and injustice, from those who look like her and those who don’t. But she ultimately wiles her way to a more secure future. This Middle Grade novel offers a look at the back-breaking life of recent immigrants, yet does so without numbing anger. Mia brings the ingenuity and the fun.
Buy the Book
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books | May 29, 2018 | ISBN-13: 978-1338157796
Written by Sharon Creech
Prose poems, a boy, a yellow dog, a poem shaped like a dog, oodles of emotions, the boy’s endearing and funny attempts to avoid such emotions. Perfection in its simplicity. Middle Grade.
Buy the Book
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: HarperCollins | July 24, 2001 | ISBN-13: 978-0060292874
Written by Liz Prince
This YA graphic memoir reveals in gestures and wit what it’s like to grow up “in the middle” –not a girly girl, not one of the guys. Prince handles delicate gender topics with humor and insight. The health-class scene about body changes alone is worth a read. But stay to the last page when Prince, at age 31, grows into her true inner and outer tomboy.
Buy the Book
Ages 12+ | Publisher: Zest Books TM | August 1, 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1936976553
About Thanhhà Lại
Thanhhà Lại came to the United States as a refugee at age ten and didn’t speak a word of English. She is a writer today because she willed herself to learn what she calls a “hissy, contradictory” language by shredding apart the American Heritage Dictionary. After all that effort, she was destined to play with words for a living.
Growing up in a war and then restarting life as a refugee certainly weren’t fun, but she remembers so many hilarious moments from her childhood. After all, this is the same girl who wore a long nightgown to school thinking it was a dress. They do look really similar.
The dress fiasco made it into her first novel, Inside Out & Back Again, a #1 New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award. Funny scenes are also sprinkled throughout her second novel, Listen, Slowly, where a pre-teen California surfer girl is dragged back to her ancestral land for a summer. Her latest novel is Butterfly Yellow.
Thanhhà’s now lives north of New York City with one husband, one daughter, and three dogs. She didn’t mean to rescue so many dogs. But here they are and all she can do is laugh. They snore loudly and never want to go on walks. Then when she finally gets their leashes on and drags them outside, they never want to go back in. Such is life!
Visit Thanhhà’s website https://www.thanhhalai.com/ to email her directly.
Written by Thanhhà Lại
Publisher’s Synopsis: Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Erika L. Sanchez, this gorgeously written and deeply moving own voices novel is the YA debut from the award-winning author of Inside Out & Back Again. 4 starred reviews!
In the final days of the Việt Nam War, Hằng takes her little brother, Linh, to the airport, determined to find a way to safety in America. In a split second, Linh is ripped from her arms—and Hằng is left behind in the war-torn country.
Six years later, Hằng has made the brutal journey from Việt Nam and is now in Texas as a refugee. She doesn’t know how she will find the little brother who was taken from her until she meets LeeRoy, a city boy with big rodeo dreams, who decides to help her.
Hằng is overjoyed when she reunites with Linh. But when she realizes he doesn’t remember her, their family, or Việt Nam, her heart is crushed. Though the distance between them feels greater than ever, Hằng has come so far that she will do anything to bridge the gap.
Ages 12 and up | Publisher: HarperCollins | September 3, 2019 | ISBN-13: 978-0062229212