Necessary Whimsy: Hippos, Zombies, Ballroom Dance, and Dragon Vomit

Some time back, when I still had cable, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up at three in the morning to a documentary about Pablo Escobar’s hippos. It was a topic so weird that my brain refused to believe it was true. Clearly, I was still dreaming. The very idea that a drug kingpin would (A) buy hippos for his own zoo, and then (B) that those hippos would get loose and start to take over the countryside, seemed ridiculous. When I got up the next morning, I looked it up online convinced that my brain had produced it during some sort of bizarre fever dream.

It was 100% true, and I still can’t believe it. That documentary immediately sprang to mind when I saw the summary for River of Teeth by Sara Gailey. I thought, “This sounds absolutely bananas.” Followed by, “I need to read this.”


River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth is much like the hippo itself. It seems, at first glance, to be incredibly silly. The hippo is big and round and cartoony and utterly ridiculous as a creature. It’s not something we ever think of as being a killer. And yet, they’re considered to be one of the most dangerous land mammals in Africa. Which makes them more deadly than LIONS. (From now on, the line from The Wizard of Oz will be, “Hippos and tigers and bears, OH MY.”)

Gailey plays up to this just right, taking what appears at first glance to be a ridiculous concept—cowboys on hippos out for revenge and glory—and striking that pitch perfect note between taking it utterly seriously, and giving a little wink to the reader. Yes, it says, this looks silly. But it is also a ferocious blood bath. So while it’s not what I would consider laugh-a-minute, I’m putting it under the whimsy category. Not enough of a hard sell for you? Anje, a bookseller at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA, nails it with her summary:


Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

I had read several of McGuire’s October Daye books, and while I enjoyed them, they don’t really fall into the area of great whimsy. The InCryptid series, however, revels in it. The lead character in Discount Armageddon, Verity, is a member of the Price family, which has been policing the monster world for a couple of generations. Verity is also a ballroom dancer. There are a lot of cool creatures, of course, but my favorite thing? Verity lives with a colony of Aeslin Mice. The mice are highly religious, have an excellent memory, and turn many of the events in Verity’s life, now matter how small, into holy holidays. The mice are hilarious.


Cold Cereal by Adam Rex

I was reading this book out loud to my son and my husband walked by, stopped, popped his head into the room and said, “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘dragon vomit’? What on Earth are you reading?” (This is a frequent conversation.) Cold Cereal is about a boy, Scott, who hallucinates some pretty weird things—like a leprechaun stealing his backpack. Or a giant talking rabbit. Only it turns out that his hallucinations are real, and they’re hiding from an evil cereal company. Complete with commercial breaks and silly illustrations, Cold Cereal is Adam Rex at his wacky best. (We also love his picture book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake.)


The Awesome by Eva Darrows

I’m going to start this with a caveat—not every young adult book is appropriate for every teen. The Awesome is definitely aimed at older teens and is full of language that some parents would object to and talks a lot about sex, which even more parents might object to. So keep that in mind. I would hand it over to my teen, but then he’s heard all that language from me and I’m a big believer in talking openly about sex because knowledge is power and all of that. Got all that? Great. Let’s move on. The Awesome? It’s awesome. Maggie Cunningham fights monsters with her mom and desperately wants her journeyman’s license so she can kick butt on her own. The problem? She’s a virgin, and that’s like catnip to certain kinds of dangerous creatures. Maggie is crude, funny, and actually sounds like a teen. Her attempts at seduction are awkward and hilarious. The honest and open relationship with her mom is delightful. This book is darkly funny and snarky and I wish I’d had it as a teen. Also the cover is, well, awesome.


Big Trouble in Little China Vol 1 by Eric Powell, Brian Churilla, and John Carpenter

It’s no secret in my house that Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favorite movies. It’s weird and funny and different, especially when you realize that Jack, the lead, is actually the sidekick. Wang is, of course, the actual hero. He’s talented, special, and trying to save the love of his life. Jack is just…well, he sort of just falls into everything. So I was both excited and wary of a Big Trouble in Little China comic book. I felt better after I saw that Carpenter was attached to it, but it was Eric Powell’s name that made me really breathe a sigh of relief. (I loved Goon.) So I started picking up the single issues and burning through them. The comic takes up right where the movie ends and continues Jack’s exploits. Powell’s humor and the almost cartoony art style meshed perfectly, and I really enjoyed it. Funny and weird, my two favorite things. However, I have another caveat for you—after the third graphic novel collection, the creators change, the art style shifts drastically and the story takes a huge left turn. The changes might work for you, but they didn’t for me at all, and everyone had to listen to me whine about it for weeks.


Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell

I have a two-year-old obsessed with zombies. He likes zombie toys, pretends to be a zombie, basically goes nuts for anything zombie. (I know I’m biased, but his zombie impression is pretty stellar.) Oddly enough, there aren’t a lot of zombie things aimed at toddlers. When he found Zombie in Love on my shelf, he went nuts. The book is about Mortimer the zombie, who is lonely and just wants to find love. It’s funny, sweet, and a little creepy. (Mortimer is followed around by a zombie dog and a group of adorable worms.) The illustrations are wonderful and done in a watercolor style. They are full of funny and smart details and fit perfectly with DiPucchio’s wit. (Mortimer’s personal ad can be read to the tune of the Piña Colada song.) It is adorably creepy whimsy, and if you love it, you should pick up Zombie in Love 2 + 1 where Mortimer and Mildred end up with a human baby.


Have a favorite funny or whimsical read? List it in the comments! Everyone could use a little more in their lives, don’t you think?

Pyromantic Lish McBrideLish McBride currently resides in Seattle, spending most of her time at her day job at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park. The rest of her time is divided between writing, reading, and Twitter, where she either discusses her desire for a nap or her love for kittens. (Occasionally ponies.) Her debut novel, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was named an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and was a finalist for the YALSA William C. Morris Award. Her other works include Necromancing the Stone, Firebug, and Pyromantic.


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