When I was a kid, I was what everybody called a “reluctant reader.” Basically, if you put a book in my hands, I’d do everything in my childish power not to read it. Jon Scieszka’s picture books are some of the first books I remember reading on my own and actually liking. His strange sense of humor worked on rebellious child-me.
I was very interested to see what kind of anthology Scieszka would curate. The Guys Read series is aimed at “reluctant reader” middlegrade boys, and the theme of this particular book is “humor.” Like all anthologies, this one is a mixed bag. A few of the stories are great, a few are terrible, and most are somewhere in between.
“Your brain is doing some great work when it's laughing.” – Guys Read: Funny Business
For me, these are the standout stories:
“Best of Friends” by Mac Barnett is about an annoying kid who tells his classmates that he won a sweepstakes. Suddenly, everyone wants to be his best friend. The characters in this story are all morally gray, so I automatically liked it.
“Artemis Begins” by Eoin Colfer is autobiographical (I think?). Eoin’s younger brother breaks their mother’s acting award, and his older brother goes to great lengths to keep the younger brother out of trouble. It was interesting to learn that many of Eoin’s story ideas come from growing up with rambunctious siblings.
My favorite story is “A Fistful of Feathers” by David Yoo. It’s about a boy whose parents attempt to replace him with a pet turkey. The plot is completely ridiculous, but somehow it’s also compelling. The characters are unique enough that I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens to them.
I wasn’t sure if I liked or hated “What? You Think You Got It Rough?” by Christopher Paul Curtis when I finished it. It’s about an abusive grandfather who tells his grandson a disgusting story about hotdog nipples. The ending is too sappy for me, but the story is well-written and gross, so it somehow stuck in my mind.
It’s hard for me to critique this anthology because I’m about as far from the target audience as you can get. For me, none of these stories are funny. They’re creative, entertaining, and totally disgusting, but I don’t remember laughing while reading. I can see how this book would appeal to young boys, though, so if you have a young reluctant reader, you might want to try this anthology.