10 Favorite Picture Books With a Dose of Dark Humor

Have you ever found yourself laughing out loud while reading a children’s book with dark humor? You know the kind of humor that makes you belly-laugh with tears in your eyes, but then you feel bad afterwards for laughing in the first place. Some picture-book authors have absolutely mastered the subtle humor technique. They’re skilled at writing stories and creating characters who deal with everyday moral quandaries that kids can easily relate to, and then you have the illustrators who let their art and dark color palettes do most of the talking.

As my children have gotten older, I’ve found they really enjoy humorous books during storytime, especially those that have endings with a surprise twist. It’s always fun to see how long it takes them to figure out exactly what happened in the end. Sometimes they’ll laugh uproariously when the final joke is revealed — other times the joke goes over their heads, and I’m the only one laughing.

Below I’ve rounded up a few books that use visual humor and brilliant storylines to tell dark humor tales. Spy any of your favorites here?

no no 9780823454679 Follow That Frog! by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

According to Aunt Josephine, she was minding her own business when a giant, man-eating frog swallowed her fiancé and hopped away. Unwilling to let her fiancé disappear, Josephine chased the frog from one outlandish situation to another. This rib-tickling adventure will have you and your kids howling with laughter!

9780763655990 This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Jon Klassen is extremely clever in the way he delivers stories in a thought-provoking manner with subtle humor, minimalist illustrations, and relatable themes. This is a sly and humorous tale with a valuable lesson at the end: crime doesn’t pay. I love how it allows readers to come to their own conclusion about what they think happened to the fish.

9781536228755 Triangle by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

This author and illustrator team specializes in deadpan, off-kilter humor, which readers of all ages find irresistible. In this book, Triangle plays a cruel trick on his friend, Square. But an unexpected plot twist surprises Triangle and leaves the reader with an ambiguous ending. Kids who love the simple shapes, dark humor, and spare text will also enjoy the companion books, Square and Circle.

9780553513370 Penguin Problems by Jory John

Penguin is fed up. He’s complaining about everything: he looks silly when he waddles, the ocean is too salty, and he’s not pleased that everyone looks like him. Then penguin meets a walrus full of wisdom who allows him to see the glass as half full. Many grown-ups will relate to the humor in this one while reading to smaller children.

9781536215908 Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth by Jarvis

Kids will love reading this hilarious book about a bully who must learn how to get along with others. Alan the alligator loves nothing more than scaring the other jungle animals with his impressive, shiny (false) teeth. When the other animals discover his secret, they steal Alan’s teeth and leave him with no choice but to find a new identity.

9780763677541 The Wolf, The Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

This book is funny, clever and quirky all rolled into one. It all starts with a wolf finding a mouse and gobbling him up. When the mouse reaches the wolf’s stomach, he discovers that he’s not alone in there — there’s a duck asleep in bed! The ending is dark, hilarious and will have you laughing every time.

9781536227802 The Wolf’s Story by Toby Forward, illustrated by Izhar Cohen

We all know how the events of Little Red Riding Hood go, but have you ever heard the wolf’s side of the story? In this book, the wolf explains how everyone mistakes him as a bad guy — while urging the reader to scoot closer to him. The text and pictures play off each other, making it a hilarious story to read aloud with your kids.

9780399556654 There Are No Bears in This Bakery by Julia Sarcone-Roach

This is a fun read-aloud with lots of great vocabulary words, vivid illustrations, and unexpected guests. Muffin the cat is in charge of watching over Little Bear Bakery at night. He’s memorized all of the familiar sounds, but there’s a new sound tonight that Muffin’s never heard before: a bear! An engaging book for kids, especially beginning readers.

9780803731929 I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean! by Kevin Sherry

Follow along as a squid cheerfully points out how much bigger he is than his ocean-dwelling peers. He goes from page to page, bragging that he’s bigger than everything in the ocean — until he gets eaten by a whale. Thankfully, the squid doesn’t let his situation get him down. Dark humor and relentless optimism make this book a must-read!

9780763655983 I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The plot of this story is quite simple: a bear has lost his beloved hat and goes on a quest to find it, asking those along the way if they’ve spied his lost belonging. It’s a delightfully entertaining read-aloud book, especially for families with a healthy sense of humor. There’s a lot of subtlety at work here, and some important life lessons for people of all ages.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2019 and updated in 2023.

The post 10 Favorite Picture Books With a Dose of Dark Humor appeared first on Brightly.

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