Here are some recommendations from some guys we trust.

Dan Gutman

Anything by Robert Benchley, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, Dave Barry, Roald Dahl, Robert Cormier, Jack Gantos, Peg Kehret, Gary Paulsen, Carl Hiassen, Andrew Clements, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Gordon Korman, Roland Smith, Anthony Horowitz, and some guy named Jon Scieszka.

  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret
  • Genius. The Sgt. Pepper of children's books.

  • Hatchet
  • Still the best survival story.

  • Ball Four
  • This is the book that turned me on to reading. For the first time, somebody wrote like they were having a conversation with me.

  • Yertle the Turtle
  • Or anything by Dr. Seuss. Can’t beat it.

  • Mad Magazine
  • Without it, all intelligent life on Earth would have ceased to exist.

Jon Skovron

Jon Skovron is the author of Struts and Frets, Misfit, and most recently, Man Made Boy. His short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Defy the Dark, GRIM, and the forthcoming Apollo's Daughters.

The first three suggestions here are for younger readers, suggested by Jon's sons, Logan and Zane, aka the SkovBros.

The next three books are for somewhat older readers, suggested by Jon.

 

 

  • The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
  • Tom Angleberger
  • "It's a mystery with a lot of Star Wars jokes and funny pictures. And at the end of each book, it shows you how to make a different Star Wars character."

  • How to Grow Up and Rule the World, by Vordak the Incomprehensible
  • Vordak T. Incomprehensible
  • "It's about a super villain. And it's funny. There should be more books about funny super villains."

  • Bunnicula
  • James Howe
  • "It's about a vampire rabbit who sucks the juices of vegetables. My dad liked this book when he was a kid. It's still good."

  • The Pawn of Prophecy
  • David Eddings
  • "Swords, sorcery, spies, gods, adventure, and humor. I'm not sure what else you need. This is the first book in The Belgariad series, which hooked me on reading forever."

  • White Cat
  • Holly Black
  • "Mafia gangsters with magic."

  • I Hunt Killers
  • Barry Lyga
  • "The son of a serial killer catches serial killers. Not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach."

Alison DeCamp

Alison DeCamp is the author of My Near-Death Adventures (99% True!), as well as a former teacher and current booksller at Between the Covers bookstore in Harbor Springs, Michigan. 

"I have a daughter and a son, I've taught middle school and high school and worked at a bookstore. These are all books I love, can sell, and that my children loved as well."

  • Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori, Book 1
  • Lian Hearn
  • Kind of a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fantasy set in an alternate Japan where people can have superpowers. It's really well-done fantasy.

  • Knucklehead
  • Jon Scieszka
  • A fantastic graphic novel about Jon's boyhood in Flint, Michigan, where my husband is also from. It's funny and real and mostly funny.

  • Out from Boneville, Boneville Series, #1
  • Jeff Smith
  • These are so imaginative, innocent, and creative. I am a big fan of smart graphic novels and how they make us think.

  • The Eddie Dickens Trilogy
  • Philip Ardagh
  • There's a stuffed stoat in these books. I'm not even sure what that is, but do I really need to say more?

  • The Willoughbys
  • Lois Lowry
  • Same Lois Lowry as THE GIVER, but a completely different kind of story, one where the kids are super smart and the adults need to get a clue.

  • Winger
  • Andrew Smith
  • My 16 y.o. has read and reread this book about a 14 y.o. rugby player. It's a story about all the confusion that's part and parcel of growing up while simultaneously injecting humor and love and redemption into the entire mix.

  • Nicholas
  • Jean-Jacques Sempe
  • Nicholas is irreverent and slightly naughty and a bit clueless but always funny.

  • How They Croaked, The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
  • Georgia Bragg
  • (by Georgia Bragg & Kevin O'Malley)

    Just like the title says, this is a book about how famous people died. But really it's a history book.

  • We Were Liars
  • E.Lockhart
  • I read this book in three hours. Granted, I told my family I wasn't feeling well so they actually left me alone for that amount of time, but I devoured this book. There's an unreliable narrator and a shocking ending and a slew of open-ended questions that we still argue about in our house.

Adam Selzer

Adam Selzer was born in Des Moines and now lives in Chicago, where he writes humorous books by day and researches history, ghost stories and naughty playground rhymes by night. After eleven published books, including the acclaimed Smart Aleck's Guide to American History and I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, not to mention How To Get Suspended and Influence People (which people try to ban now and then), he is just famous enough to have a page on wikipedia. He has been described as "subversive, but in a fun way....like the offspring of Bob Dylan and some Muppet." (taken from the author's website, adamselzer.com)

 

  • The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death
  • Daniel Pinkwater
  • A story of two kids who sneak out to go to late night double feature picture shows and end up fighting aliens with wrestlers and detectives. I pretty much based my life on Pinkwater's teachings, and this one, in particular. It's set in a thinly-veiled version of Chicago, and the fact that I live near some of the locations now is not entirely a coincidence. It's available in a really good collection called "5 Novels" which also has a couple of other masterpieces in it.

  • Rotters
  • Daniel Kraus
  • A book about a guy who finds out that his father is a grave robber. I love grave robbing so much that my neighbors are reluctant to come to my barbecues.

  • Knock On Any Door
  • Willard Motley
  • How Nick Romano went from being an altar boy at 12 to dying in the electric chair at 21. A really tough, gritty novel about life on the streets in the 40s, this book is also the origin of the phrase "live fast, die young, have a good looking corpse." I found this in a bin at a thrift store in high school and bought it because I knew Jim Morrison had liked it; a week later it was my favorite novel ever. The writing just pounds you in the face.

  • Martin Chuzzlewit
  • Charles Dickens
  • The easiest Dickens to start with is A Christmas Carol (you already know the plot, and it's short), and the best ones are probably Great Expectations and Bleak House (which has a guy who spontaneously combusts in it). But sometimes I feel like I have a duty to tell people that Martin Chuzzlewit is under-rated; it comes right in between his early, zanier books and his later, more serious ones so you get the best of both worlds. Dickens books can take weeks to read, but they're worth it. You lose yourself in a larger-than-life world full of kooks and crooks with lots of droopy taverns and winding alleys. Even the most serious ones are funny as hell.

  • I Hated Hated Hated Hated This Movie
  • Roger Ebert
  • A collection of Ebert's worst reviews - just about everything you need to know about writing is mixed into these. Reading Ebert's best and worst reviews will tell you more than 100 "writing craft" books. He was really funny when he was ripping into a movie - he says one of them should be chopped up and made into free ukulele picks for the poor. And the notes he had for that movie where Shaq plays a genie are some of the best writing advice you can get.

  • Space Station Seventh Grade
  • Jerry Spinelli
  • Spinelli's first book, re-reading it in college is what made me realize that YA books could be just as "literary" as anything else on the shelves.

  • Nemesis
  • Phillip Roth
  • Roth's latest and apparently last book, a story about a gym teacher in a Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey during World War 2 who questions his faith when a couple of kids die of polio. He seems to have no idea what's going on in Europe. But the reader does.

  • The Shakespeare Wars
  • Ron Rosenbaum
  • A nonfiction book about controversies among Shakespeare scholars (like, does Juliet talk about having an orgasm? Did Shakespeare revise his work? How much of Macbeth is missing from the script we have?) Academia is weird world full of cliques and drama, Rosenbaum succeeds in making it look as though professors throw folding chairs at each other during conferences. He also speaks as well as anyone about how Shakespeare can just cast this spell over you that you may never recover from if it hits you just right (while freely admitting that most Shakespeare productions, and most essays about him, are boring as all get out).

  • Skinnybones
  • Barbara Park
  • Look, writing middle grade humor is really, really hard. Way harder than YA humor. I re-read this one lately and couldn't believe how funny it was. Barbara Park made it look so easy.

  • The Lost Continent
  • Bill Bryson
  • Bill Bryson drives across the country, makes fun of things, and muses about how America has changed over the decades. One of those books where you can just open to any page and read a bit.

     

    BONUS REC OF OBSCURIA:

    The Sears Catalog and Consumer's Guide, Fall 1900
    They reprinted an abridged version of this in the 1970s; you can find it online for a couple of bucks. It's the best bathroom reading in the world. The 1927 one is neat, too.

Jeffrey Brown

Jeffrey Brown lives in Chicago with his wife and two sons. As a kid, he loved comics and dreamed of making them. With a long line of publications and art shows behind and in front of him, we'd say he's certainly living that dream. He's definitely a case of if you can dream it, with a lot of hard work, you can do it. Most lately he's the author of the New York Times bestselling Jedi Academy series. 

photo credit: Jill Liebhaber

  • The Complete Tales Of Winnie-The-Pooh
  • A.A. Milne
  • Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
    I only knew the Disney version of Winnie-The-Pooh until I had a son, and discovered I'd really been missing out. I was familiar with Shepard's excellent drawings, but had no idea just how funny and smart the original Pooh stories are.

  • Anything by Roald Dahl
  • Roald Dahl
  • There have been some notable Dahl adaptations - the original Willy Wonka film, Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox - but Dahl's books are more than just great source material for movies. They're endlessly entertaining, often laugh-out-loud funny, and great to read at any age, alone or with someone else also of any age.

  • Labyrinth
  • A.C.H. Smith
  • Going in reverse, here's a novelization of film I loved, and read a ton all the way to my teenage years. Recently reprinted in a nice edition that includes some of Brian Froud's goblin sketches, it's a fairy tale informed by the imagination of Jim Henson and the humor of Monty Python's Terry Jones.

  • His Dark Materials Trilogy
  • Philip Pullman
  • Fans of Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien should be sure to check out this fantasy series. The tone is earnest and sincere, and the adventure is full of wonder and mystery.