Although its location remains a bit of a mystery, the funny bone is certainly an important part of a child's structure. The following new books are guaranteed to tickle it -- whether the child is an older, solitary reader or a young, companionable listener. The first two books, both sequels, are particularly appropriate for family read-aloud sessions. Their considerable humor arises naturally from the conflicts, resentments, and generally disguised affection found in all families with more than one child.
The Steele family has three children -- 13-year-old Nathaniel, 11-year-old Tina, and a 5-year-old regularly addressed as ``Oh Honestly, Angela!''
Oh Honestly, Angela!, by Nancy K. Robinson , describes how, with a likable naivet'e, both girls get themselves into trouble while trying to impress pseudo-sophisticated classmates.
On a shopping trip to the grocery store with Tina, Angela sees her kindergarten nemesis riding in the little seat of a shopping cart. Wanting Cheryl to think that she is shopping alone, Angela cons her sister into believing that she can read their mother's shopping list. Leaving Tina talking with a friend, Angela independently pushes a shopping cart right into a classic misadventure.
Misadventures run in the family. With a different rival but exactly the same motive, Tina finds herself eating eels in a restaurant. The entertaining incidents happen only on the surface level of the story, however. On a deeper level all three children are grappling with feelings of helplessness and compassion over the suffering evident in the world. Through their own efforts, they learn to alleviate suffering the only way possible -- one person at a time. (Scholastic, $9.95, ages 8-11.)
In Switcharound, by Lois Lowry , J. P. and his sister, Caroline, are both subjected to and the instigators of onerous switches. When their divorced father legally forces them to come to Des Moines for the summer, these young, happy New Yorkers are subjected to a series of unpleasant culture shocks.
Interested in computers and chess, J. P. is compelled by his father, who owns a sporting goods store, to coach a baseball team of six-year-olds. One of the members of this team is also his roommate, his half brother Poochie. Caroline finds herself not only rooming with twin baby girls but baby-sitting for them while their mother (her stepmother) takes a real estate course.
With a summer of misery stretching out before them, J. P. and Caroline commiserate and decide to seek revenge. Because they are both extremely intelligent, their revenges are diabolically clever. Because they are both extremely young, their revenges, although partially successful, also backfire -- as revenges are wont to do.
Through a light, witty story, Lois Lowry teaches that hasty judgments can be wrong, and even relatives deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt. (Houghton Mifflin, $10.95, ages 8 to 12.)
In Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You, by Barthe De Clements, the humor masks pain. Helen Nichols is the class clown. Her reputation as a practical joker precedes her into Mrs. Lobb's class, where she continues her not-so-merry tricks. Her self-control is as borderline as her self-respect.
Not only has Helen had serious reading problems throughout elementary school, she also has serious problems with her mother's expectations. Mrs. Nichols refuses to allow her daughter to be assigned to a learning-disabled class, believing that it will stigmatize Helen as retarded. When Mrs. Lobb proves to be both humorless and self-righteous, Helen's precarious hope of going to junior high school the next year deteriorates rapidly.
Although Barthe De Clements has written novels featuring high school students, her forte is writing about upper-elementary students. She has a rare and compassionate understanding of the peculiar perspective of pre-adolescents. She is a natural champion of underdogs -- which pre-adolescent readers both sense and are. (Viking Kestral, $11.95, ages 8 to 12.)