Tag Archives: humor

Review: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (read by Bahni Turpin)

Published: print: Hyperion, 2007
audio: Books on Tape, 2010

Source: school library

Why I chose to read

2011 Winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production.


Gratuity “Tip” Tucci is about to embark on a road trip to Florida, where all U.S. citizens have been relocated following the Boov invasion of Earth. Even worse, Gratuity’s mother was abducted on Christmas Eve, so she is alone. On Moving Day, Tip packs up her car – and her cat, Pig – and sets out from Pennsylvania, only to find her journey turned upside down and inside out when she meets J.Lo, a Boov mechanic.

What I enjoyed

  • J.Lo – he absolutely stole the show!
  • The loving relationship depicted between Gratuity and her mother.
  • Author Rex may be well known for his drawing skills, but he flexes some serious linguistic muscles.
  • Rex uses flashbacks and intersperses the narrative with other character voices/perspectives.
  • The flashback technique used by Rex is effective at engaging the reader. Tip’s first essay attempt raised so many questions, I was impatient for the story to continue so I could find the answers!
  • Gratuity’s voice is sharp, perceptive, and dredged in dry humor.
  • The parallel drawn between alien invasion of Earth and European exploration of North America.
  • Although this is science fiction, the book doesn’t take itself too seriously and pokes a little fun at the genre.

What detracted from my enjoyment

  • I had a difficult time visualizing the aliens – they were so different from Hollywood depictions! That is good, but I sometimes couldn’t keep the image in my head.
  • Happy Mouse Kingdom was clearly meant to be Disney World, but I wondered if this was in order to satirize it, or due to fear of copyright infringement. I was preoccupied by this, but I’m sure most readers wouldn’t be.

It is obvious why this audiobook won an Odyssey – it is extraordinary! Adam Rex created the characters and the story, but Bahni Turpin breathed new life into them. I don’t think I could imagine J.Lo sounding any different. A marvelous listening experience, one that an entire family could enjoy.

Related reads

Stories with alien characters

Stuck on Earth by David Klass
Boom (or 70,000 light years) by Mark Haddon
The Doom Machine by Mark Teague

Books that feature humorous road trips

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham


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Review: The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt

Published: print – Clarion Books, 2007
audio – Scholastic Audio Books, 2007

Source: School library copy

Why I chose to read

The novel is used in our sixth-grade English classes. I thought it was about time I read it!


It is 1967, and Holling Hoodhood is the only Presbyterian in his seventh-grade homeroom class. Consequently, he is the only student left behind on Wednesdays when everyone else goes to Hebrew school or catechism. In his opinion, this draws the ire of his teacher, Mrs. Baker. Why else would she force him to read Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is not Holling’s only concern. He also has to deal with rats, avoid Doug Swieteck’s brother, confront his father’s expectations of his future position with Hoodhood and Associates, and scrape together enough money for 24 cream puffs – twice. And that is just the beginning.

What I enjoyed

  • The humor, oh, the humor! The humor was highlighted particularly by Joel Johnstone’s hilarious narration.
  • Schmidt captured the tentative dynamic of middle-school romance perfectly.
  • The rat subplot.
  • Once again, Joel Johnstone – this time for the voice of the principal.
  • Mrs. Baker – she is the teacher I aspire to be.
  • Following Holling’s journey as he finds his “guts.”
  • Introducing today’s students to the joys of sentence diagramming.

What detracted from my enjoyment

The main plot did take a while to get going. I was distracted by the myriad deviations from the subplots early on. Many of them did end up tying back in later on, so it wasn’t wasted time, and all played an important role building an understanding of Holling and his world.

Related reads

Stories set in the Vietnam era
Countdown by Deborah Wiles
Kaleidoscope Eyes by Jen Bryant

Humorous school stories
Frindle by Andrew Clements
Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

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Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Does My Head Look Big in This?
One of the first elements that drew me to this book is the cover. The second was the quirky title. So, I had expectations of humor, as well as gaining some insight into a Muslim custom.

Randa Abdel-Fattah creates a likable and realistic character in Amal. Amal has a clear perspective and is a down-to-earth teenager. I liked both her and her family. It was refreshing to read a novel with a functional, even loving, family.

The plot centers on Amal’s decision to wear the hijab. This means that if she is around people outside her family, she must cover her hair, arms, and legs. This decision has repurcussions for her at school and in some relationships, but mostly it is accepted. There are some minor problems along the way, and one big subplot that is not related to Amal’s decision. I have read so many “problem” or “angsty” books that I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and something terrible or embarassing to happen to Amal. Instead, it was a slice of life, intelligently portrayed, albeit a bit didactic.

Some other interesting points for me: the Australian setting, Amal’s two different sets of friends, and the funny subplot of dissecting communications with boys.

Despite the religious significance of Amal’s decision, this is a lighthearted read that I highly recommend.

Source: school library
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Bibliotherapy for losing a pet


This past weekend, my husband and I made the painful decision to put down our cat Isabelle. Although she was fifteen years old and sick for the past nine months, she went downhill in a matter of days. Losing her has been painful, and as I struggle to deal with my grief, I keep waffling between two extremes. Do I indulge my sadness and read books that provide an empathetic reaction? Should I distract myself by escaping into a scary or humorous book?

Unfortunately for me, I have no option but to work and do homework for my graduate classes. However, I know there are teens out there that have lost pets and are struggling with the same questions I mention above. For them, I provide the following suggestions.

Pet Stories: Books in which the relationship between the protagonist and pet is an important feature of the story.

The Summer of Riley by Eve Bunting: William has the perfect dog. But because Riley chased and injured a neighbor’s horse, Oregon law states that Riley must be put down. Can William find a way to save him?
Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko: Ant deals with her dislike for her family with creative lies, volunteerism, and loving her dog Pistachio.
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech: As he records his distaste for poetry, Jack slowly develops his own poetic voice and begins to deal with a personal tragedy.
Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan: The “world’s worst dog” eats couches, howls incessantly during thunderstorms, and inspires the love of his family. An adaptation of the adult book Marley and Me.
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: Mia worries she is crazy because of her undiagnosed synesthesia. Thankfully she has Mango, her cat, to keep her centered.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains, Billy buys two coon dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann, with the hopes of raising them to be a top-notch coon-hunting team.

Humorous stories: So funny you forget your loss for a while.

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar: Scott has such hope when he begins ninth grade. Then he falls in love with Julia on Day 1, his older brother is frustratingly absent, and his mother reveals that she is pregnant. As the year progresses, Scott becomes sleep-deprived and desperate.
My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger: Told alternately by T.C., Augie, and Ale, this is a witty and heartwarming story about family, friendship, and choosing who you will be. (Come on, isn’t the title enough?)
Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen: The narrator is sent to live with relatives on a farm. However, one of those relatives is Harris, who creates mayhem and drags the narrator into his wild schemes. A quiet story of farm life it is not.
A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck: The indomitable Grandma Dowdel is up to her old tricks, causing Mary Alice no small amount of embarrassment and pride. One of my favorite chapters involves an outhouse on Halloween.
Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging (Georgia Nicolson series #1) by Louise Rennison: Georgia is the teen version of Bridget Jones. She is burdened with a slightly loopy four-year-old sister and Angus, her cat.
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka: The escapades of author Jon Sciecska and his five brothers. Warning: includes cat yakking.

Scary stories: You’ll be too busy looking over your shoulder and holding your breath to think about anything else.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson: Classic true (?) story of the Lutz family’s month of terror in suburban Long Island in 1975. This was much more than just a haunted house. I must have read this 10 times when I was in middle school.
I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan: Four teenagers commit a crime and then cover it up. Someone knows their secret, and wants revenge.
(Truly, anything by Lois Duncan will work. IKWYDLS is not my favorite from her. Check out Stranger With My Face, Daughters of Eve, and The Twisted Window, too.)
Dead Girls Don’t Write Letters by Gail Giles: When a letter arrives from Sunny’s dead sister Jazz, she knows something isn’t right. When “Jazz” returns, Sunny is suspicious and scared. Who is this imposter?
Acceleration by Graham McNamee: Duncan finds the journal of a serial killer in the lost-and-found of a subway station. With the help of two friends, he sets out to stop the murderer from continuing his killing spree.
Killing Britney by Sean Olin: Someone is killing everyone close to Britney. They say popularity has a price, but is this really what Britney deserves?
Streams of Babel by Carol Plum-Ucci: In a New Jersey suburb, two women die of brain aneurysms within twenty-four hours. Now the government suspects terrorists have unleashed a deadly biochemical agent. With each glass of water they drink, the people of Trinity Falls are poisoning themselves.

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