Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Debatables: March–What’s So Funny?

Time for another round of Debatables, where Mike Allegra, my partner in literary pettifog, and I take on meritable topics such as “Who is the Most Appealing Mouse of Middle Grade Fiction” and make quite a fuss. Sometimes Mike wins, and sometimes I do. Like last month. Just saying.

This month we take on the serious topic of “The Funniest Picture Book.” Now, I could be at a disadvantage because Mike is truly a funny guy. His family stories are a hoot. I shall strive for another win. Like last month. (oh dear, I promised Mike I wouldn’t crow).

Here are the Debatables ground rules:
Each debater is allowed one brief argument (fewer than 300 words) on a previously agreed-upon topic. These brief arguments will then be followed by a briefer rebuttal (fewer than 150 words).

For my Funniest Picture Book entry I nominate:


Yes, this book is so funny it’s been a play at the Kennedy Center, a TV special, AND a Disney movie.


Mike suggests:

Image result for stinky cheese man

Okay, fine–it won an award

Cricket’s Turn:
Some days just start out wrong, and keep getting worse. Having a bad day, especially from a kid’s point of view, is what Judith Viorst’s classic picture book is all about. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is just that–a really bad day in the life of six year old Alexander.

This is one of those books that is a perfect blend of text and illustrations. Viorst succinctly states with comic vaudevillian timing the woes of Alexander’s day. Ray Cruz’s illustrations deliciously capture Alexander’s expressions. Like this one:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations

Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he trips on his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink. And that’s just the start of his day. He’s smushed in the car pool, his friends snub him, he leaves out 16 in counting, and there’s no dessert in his lunch. And the day just gets worse. There is also the running gag of moving to Australia.


Alexander’s no good day is relatable. This is a book anyone from 6 to 96 can enjoy. The story is funny. The illustrations are funny. Alexander’s bad day is a good funny, because all bad days come to an end. Viorst knows this and doesn’t sugarcoat the terrible, horrible of the Alexander’s bad day. They just happen. And when they are done we can laugh about it.This is a book that parents and children can read and laugh about together. Bad days happen. They just do. It’s cathartic to laugh about them. A book, a play, a TV special, a movie–people can’t get enough of this story.

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrationsMike’s choice of The Stinky Cheese Man is commendable, yet its satirical humor leans towards mean. The gentle humor of Viorst and Cruz is family friendly and it’s made for kids. TSCM? Do kids, little kids, the ones picture books are supposed to be for, really get that crazy, hyperbolic humor? Hmm, to each their own kind of funny. Alexander is cute. The cheese man is, well, stinky. What’s so funny about a stinky cheese man?

Mike’s Argument:
“Gentle humor” and “funniest” aren’t synonyms. Not even close.

Is Alexander And The Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day a good book? Yes. It is an excellent book. It may even be a better book than The Stinky Cheese Man.

But hardly anyone could say it’s funnier. And this debate is all about the funny.

AATTHNGVBD generates warm, nostalgic smiles. But Stinky Cheese gets laughs. When my son was little, I read him both Alexander and Stinky. He liked them both, but only laughed at Stinky. Heck, the book still makes him laugh. It still makes me laugh, too.

In this compendium of “fairly stupid tales,” an ugly duckling grows up to be really ugly. A “frog prince” is is fraud, one who just likes smooching (and cares little about the slime he leaves behind on princess’ lips). The titular Stinky Cheese Man, like The Gingerbread Man, runs away to avoid being eaten; but nobody is chasing Stinky Cheese because, well, he stinks something nasty.

Lane Smith’s illustrations greatly contribute to the book’s comic tone. His ugly duck, for example, is not just a dippy, drooling disaster; he is a happy, dippy drooling disaster. He’s ugly. He knows it. And he’s cool with it. What could’ve been a cruel story in the hands of a lesser illustrator, is hilarious, for Smith’s duck seems incapable of hurt feelings.

Image result for stinky cheese man ugly duckling

And let’s not forget the character that ties all these ridiculous tales together. Jack the Narrator accidentally drops the table of contents on Chicken Little’s head. He spoils the ending of “Little Red Riding Shorts.” And, in a great running gag, he tangles with a very belligerent giant.  

Nope, no “gentle humor” here. The Stinky Cheese Man is brash, wildly original, and comic gold.

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Some people like obvious humor that’s a bit loud:

Image result for stinky cheese man cow

This cow is flabbergasted that a stinky bit of cheese is remotely funny

Others enjoy the subtle comedy of a facial expression or comment can evoke:

Image result for alexander and the terrible horrible no good very bad day illustrations dad office

It comes down to what’s funny to an individual. In a world that dwells on harsh and mean, I much prefer the gentle humor of a boy coping with a bad day where delightful illustrations accompany witty commentary. It’s relatable, enjoyable, and resonates with good vibes long after I’ve read it. I smile just thinking about Alexander. He lightens my bad days. I choose him over slimy frogs and the stink of rude, cheesy banal jokes.

Mike’s Rebuttal:
You’re right, Cricket, one’s interpretation of “funniest book” will always be subjective. But you’re not making an argument for The Funniest Book; you’re making an argument for The Most Relatable, Resonant, Warm, Fuzzy, Good Vibe-ist Book.

C’mon, you! Yes, I’m looking at you, Cricket—with your smart aleck ways, plethora of puns, and encyclopedic knowledge of weird cow jokes. Let’s get real.

You might love AATTHNGVBD—and you should love it—but you know which book generates more honest-to-goodness laughs. Stinky Cheese pulls out all the stops. One page is upside down. Another page contains a Surgeon General’s Warning. Another page is blank because the diva-ish main characters walked out of the story in a huff. Stinky Cheese is a layered, visual and verbal feast of funniness.

The book blazed a new trail in no-hugging-no-learning meta fiction. And readers laughed. So did critics. So did the Caldecot judges. So did I. And—admit it—so did you.


Well, there you have it. You, our most marvelous readers, now have the opportunity to add in your own commentary about which of the two books is the funniest. And while we appreciate your suggestions, we really, really want you to stick with what you see here: either Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible No Good Very Bad Day  or The Stinky Cheese Man.

Thanks for stopping in and thanks even more for your comments and votes.

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67 thoughts on “Debatables: March–What’s So Funny?

  1. I love you, C’Muse, and your personality, too! -but agree with Mike. When I saw your choice of book I agreed with Mike. (I also wondered why neither of you picked Bark, George or King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub or Stuck.)

    I also think Mike stated why his choice is funnier better than I thought to: because AATTHNGVBD is a classic, feel-good book with a bit of subtle humor. Stinky Cheese Man is not the most clever of funny (see my list above), but IS much funnier than the one you’ve picked. :/

    Sorry, C’Muse. I hope I’m not put out to pasture for voting against your pick again…

  2. I’ve never read either of these, because my life is obviously rubbish. I think on balance, although I sympathise with a bad day, Mike’s choice clinches it for me with the artwork and the style of humour.

  3. I think I have to suck up t…..I mean agree with Mike this time. I love to laugh and I need to laugh. I haven’t read either book yet but I do see where Mike would consider his funnier.

    Sorry Cricket….

  4. Pingback: Debatables: Finding the Funny – Hey, Look! A Writer Fellow!

  5. I can’t take sides this time.

  6. I’m not a fan of piling on, but it just happens that everyone so far has voted for Mike, and that’s not my fault, is it? What I find so funny about the duck and the cheese are not that one is ugly and the other one stinks, but that both tales blow our expectations out of the water. Everyone knows an ugly duckling turns into a swan, but… Everyone knows a running edible gets chased, but… And little kids love to talk about stinky things. Then they grow up and start farting in front of their spouses, and everyone laughs uproariously. Were it not for this book, people might not laugh at farts as adults. It’s an important book to maintain the social fabric. So, Mike gets my vote. And I hope I caught all of the autocorrect fails for “duck.” D and F should be on opposite sides of the keyboard. Cheers!

  7. I will have to find a copy of The Stinky Cheeseman before I can vote with any knowledge, but Alexander has long been a favorite of mine and my kids and we used the tag line, “even in Australia” for years and years. Still do as a matter of fact. I’m a big fan of subtle humor. So while I’m tempted to vote with Cricket, I feel to do this debate justice (and to redeem myself from my anti-mouse views) I should stop by the library and see if they have a copy of the Stinky Cheese Man.
    “I’ll be Bach.”

  8. You two really took different paths on this one! I think I’ll have to go with Mike on this one. While Alexander’s day is humorous while read at a distance, we all know it doesn’t feel one bit funny in the first person.

  9. I went to the Library this afternoon and checked out The Stinky Cheese Man so I could make an informed vote. I’m still going to voter for Alexanders, Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day.
    It wins hands down over The Stinky Cheese Man in my not so humble opinion.
    While I liked the narrator and the illustrations of TSCM, I didn’t think it was very funny at all.
    Now, ATHNGVBD, does have humor, subtle humor, but it has so much more. It has life lessons. We all are going to have a day like that, but it’s important to know that everyone struggles at times and that tomorrow is going to be better.
    The humor is not stupid. Like when Alexander’s dad asks him to please not pick him up from work anymore, that is funny. You can relate to Alexander and his family. Stinky Cheese Man just took a bunch of really good fairy tales and ruined them. It was kind of like talking about writing a book all through the book and telling why it was going to be a good book, or maybe how hard it was to write a book, which is essentially not writing a book. Sorry Mike, but I have to vote with Cricket this time!

    Oh, and I also found The Snowy Day and read it while I was at the library. I still think Tigger is a better pick for a balloon. However, I liked the book and will probably end up reading that to my grandson in the next year or two.

    *If this was a disjointed opinion, it is from lack of sleep. While that doesn’t change my opinion, it does change how I write.

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