The best picture books with sideways humor and irony

The Books I Picked & Why

Life on Mars

By Jon Agee

Book cover of Life on Mars

Why this book?

A hapless astronaut is on a mission to find Life on Mars and explores a seemingly barren landscape. The astronaut is unaware of what is going on -- if only he would turn around! This becomes a source of great entertainment and an early lesson on irony. I enjoyed this book not only for the illustrations, which are well suited to this story, but more importantly for the way that the words do not match what is going on in the illustrations.

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Brief Thief

By Michaël Escoffier, Kris Di Giacomo

Book cover of Brief Thief

Why this book?

This book has so many things going for it, including the inimitable pairing of Escoffier and Di Giacomo (see their other book collaborations). Brief Thief is full of wit, charmingly illustrated, and deliciously fun to read aloud using the voices of a lizard and his conscience. Yes, there is potty humor, but it is arguably more about problem-solving and doing the right thing. Even the title is clever – the lizard was a thief briefly, and it was briefs that he stole. The last two wordless spreads are priceless.

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I Want My Hat Back

By Jon Klassen

Book cover of I Want My Hat Back

Why this book?

I Want My Hat Back is my beacon and the inspiration for my own picture book career. This is Jon Klassen’s debut as a picture book author/illustrator. When it was first published, everyone in children’s literature took notice because it was just so daring. The illustrations are pared back, leaving the reader with crisply drawn characters against a spartan stage set. The focus is on the dialogue. And those eyes! When the penny drops for our main character, the reader is relieved that justice has not been thwarted.

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Chicken Thief

By Beatrice Rodriguez

Book cover of Chicken Thief

Why this book?

You know those car chase movies? Well, this is a picture book version featuring animal chases. The Chicken Thief defies stereotypes in a fun wordless sequence. The reader sees that a fox has stolen a chicken and is being pursued by potential liberators. And the reader might worry that foxes like to eat chickens! Wait for the surprise ending.

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Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

By Sean Taylor, Jean Jullien

Book cover of Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

Why this book?

Can a picture book be any more dramatic! The title! Those eyes! Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise pairs Sean Taylor’s purple prose with Jean Jullien’s graphic characters against a sky, “as black as burnt toast.” Readers meet an owl who thinks that he is clever and stealthy enough to land himself a meal – Rabbit? Mutton? Pigeon? Or simpler fare? Look there – hungry owl schemes, dramatically!

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