It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

I volunteer as a School Reading Partner through my local school district. My job? Reading one-on-one each week with two first graders I’ll call Eva and Nick. Although the program provides reading materials, the selection is limited. So each Friday, I bring in a big bag of books hoping some will appeal to my seven-year-old friends. Not easy! They may struggle a bit with reading, but they are sharp and discerning and have very particular tastes.

In addition to being loads of fun, reading to the kids has been invaluable from a writing perspective. Eva and Nick don’t care if a book is highly acclaimed, made the New York Times Bestseller List or conveys an important message. In fact, I’ve discovered, some of the “buzziest” books fall flat. After we’d read several pages of one such book, Eva proclaimed it “boring” and said “Let’s read something else.” 

What does engage them? 

Humor. 

Not so much the puns and clever language that I appreciate (oftentimes it goes over their heads), but silly, slapstick, CRASH-BOOM-BANG humor. 

And, of course, they want a good story with escalating drama. Eva, in particular, loves identifying patterns and predicting how the story will unfold (she’s usually spot-on).

A few winners? They got a big kick out of Archie the Daredevil Penguin by Andy Rash . . .

and Tim Miller’s Moo Moo in a Tutu —featured in this PBB post—was also a big hit (so much so that Nick has asked me to bring it back multiple times).

And they loved Jon Agee’s It’s Only Stanley, featured today.

Although it’s a bit older than most of the books we highlight here (it was published in 2015), reading it aloud several times gave me lots of food for thought. In particular, it got me thinking about the different forms of humor used in the book. Here are a few:

Absurdity-within-Normalcy Humor. Walter and Wilma Wimbledon are trying to sleep, but—one by one—their kids alert them to a series of strange sounds and odors. Each time, Walter dutifully drags himself out of bed to investigate, then returns to calmly reassure everyone that “It’s only Stanley” clearing the drain or fixing the oil tank. Just normal stuff, right? Except that it’s the middle of the night . . . AND Stanley happens to be a dog—one with an extraordinary aptitude for science, tools and tinkering.

Clueless-Adult Humor. Time after time, Walter vastly underestimates the scope of Stanley’s projects. For example, when he discovers Stanley stirring a steamy vat of greenish liquid amidst an alarming jumble of beakers and tubes, he tells the family, “It’s only Stanley. He’s making catfish stew.” 

Visual Humor. An ordinary beagle with a mad scientist bent offers plenty of opportunities for funny illustrations. But there’s also a visual side story running through the book: Max, the cat, as the unwitting victim of Stanley’s experiments—lapping up toxic spills, getting dripped on and shocked. (Eva, in particular, found the cat illustrations hilarious.) In addition, the perfectly timed page turns and double spreads amp up the drama and laughs.

Language Humor. The alliterative family names—Wilma, Walter, Wendy, Willie, Wanda and Wylie Wimbledon—are funny and fun to say, as are the plentiful sound effects: CLANK, BLUBB, SLURP, BZZZ, SPLISH, SPLASH, SPLOOSH, KAPOW!

Besides all that, the book is written in clever and perfectly-rhythmic rhyme, which propels the story forward and lets kids anticipate what’s coming and fill in the blanks.

Jon Agee has been doing this for a long time, and is a master of the picture book form (we’ve featured other Agee books here and here). Want more? There’s a great interview with him at Authors Revealed.

Any books made you laugh out loud lately? For kids or adults? I’d love to hear.

And, as always, thanks for reading!

Linda

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Linda Ashman

Linda Ashman is the author of more than 35 picture books, as well as The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books, a “how to” e-book for picture book writers.

43 Comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing the types of humor! I agree that kids know what they like; it doesn’t matter if it has a shiny sticker on it or not!

  2. Funny stories are my kind of picture books, too!

  3. I love It’s Only Stanley: such a fun read aloud with rollicking rhyme!!

  4. I’ll have to check out this book ASAP! Looks so fun and in rhyme!!

  5. Great post! My son and I enjoy humor as well. These aren’t recent but ones I can think of are: I’M NOT A CHAIR, DOUG NEEDS GLASSES, and BE QUIET.

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post! Laugh-out-loud picture books are my favorites. Here are three more I love: Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook, A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting, and Glamourpuss.

  7. Thanks for the book recommendations, Linda. I also read with students in a local school – 9 different kindergartners. Finding books they like is most definitely a challenge. I’m with you about lugging in bags of books to improve the choices. When all else fails, I bring in a book with the word “poop” in the title.

  8. I have read Its Only Stanley over and over and it just keeps getting better and better!

  9. Stsnley’s Party – another funny Stanley (also a dog!) book – I recently found this book hidden and forgotten in a living room cupboard, and my husband and I laughed out loud reading it again – it is one we read to our kids (now in their 20’s and 30’s) . Stanley raises the stakes each time his family leaves the house, starting with a little lounging on the off-limits couch…

  10. Just tossed this onto my holds list. Thank you for sharing! I love Jon’s work, but this one slipped my radar. I whole-heartily agree with your assessment that kids have their own value hierarchy that is unique from our own. It was so refreshing to my soul this morning to be reminded of that fact. It’s for the kids. We get bogged down with theme and message and language and structure and archs and everything in between, when we should concern ourselves more with the ones our stories are intended for–certainly not for adults and the least bit for stuffy awards committees. It was interesting how you broke down the differing forms of humor present in this story. Lots of thoughts percolating. Thank you!

  11. I, too, love It’s Only Stanley, but you provided much more insight into it. Agee is amazing. I have a few new favorite laugh out loud books – We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, and especially for writers, No Boring Stories.

  12. You had me convinced when you said your second-grade friends enjoyed the books, (Not to mention they appealed to me) but when you said IT’S ONLY STANLEY was a rhyming book, I wrote down all three titles to get at my next library visit. Thanks!!

  13. Potato Pants by Laurie Keller. I had to buy it as soon as I read it.

  14. Love these titles! (Makes me wish I wrote humor!)

  15. I’m familiar with It’s Only Stanley, and I love it, too!

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    Valerie Bottcher

    Oh, three great book recommendations! I can’t wait to read them all, especially It’s Only Stanley. I, too, read weekly to two first-graders and bring along books from my own stash or the library. Thanks, again.

  17. Looking forward to this one!

  18. Amazing all they types of humor found in one book! Thank you for sharing It’s Only Stanley and the other humorous story recommendations!

  19. Great book suggestions! Absurdity does seem to be a favorite for kids. I love books that make me laugh outloud!

  20. I loved the humor in It’s Only Stanley. Agee makes it seem so effortless. A recent book I found pretty funny was Truck Full of Ducks by Ross Burach.

  21. This looks wonderful. Thanks for showing it to us.

  22. I’m taking a three semester PB writing class. I love it but can get lost in the nuts and bolts and forgets the kid listeners/readers.

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