I Even Funnier
I Totally Funniest
by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
illustrated by Laura Parks
Jamie Grimm is a funny kid, stand-up comic funny. He uses humor to deal with tough situations in life. He is facing the usual struggles of middle school, but rather than rant and fume, he deals with it in his own balanced way.
Oh, and Jamie is in a wheelchair. And he is an orphan. Just a page or two in when you start thinking not another snarky middleschooler again, the book grabs your heartstrings with this revelation and doesn't let go till the end when we find out that the same accident that paralyzed him waist-down took his parents and his little sister. However, no pity is evoked nor is there an angry defiance.
Jamie is sent to live with an aunt's family, the Kosgrovs; he calls them "the Smileys" as they never smile or laugh, seemingly lacking a sense of humor, of which Jamie has aplenty. Of course, it is not enough that Jamie has gone through enough already, but, the Kosgrov kid, Stevie, Jamie's cousin, is the local bully who never misses a chance to belittle Jamie or generally be nasty to him. No idea why Stevie resents Jamie so much, but, then again, Stevie resents just about everybody, except perhaps his two cronies.
Jamie has an amazing uncle, Frank, who always supports him and even gives him a job working at his diner after school. The beautiful bond between uncle and nephew is revealed gradually, making it relatable and sweet. In fact, it is Uncle Frankie's suggestion that gets Jamie started on the path to professional comedy.
Jamie casually enters the local 'Funniest Kid' contest. And wins! And the first book ends. In the second book, he becomes the New York champion. And finally, in the third book, he gets to go for the "Planet's Funniest Kid" contest. And wins!
Of course, not being an International contest, it was a bit odd to claim "Planet's Funniest" title, but, it's just a title, and it's just a story; and we love Jamie Grimm so much that we don't care if he is called "Universe's Funniest Kid" !
Both the seven and ten year old simply adored this set of books, rooting for Jamie to win the Planet's Funniest Kid contest. As he grows a year older and his hormones kick in by the third book, Jamie starts acting uncharacteristically unpleasant to his friends, which is also completely relatable and understandable. He redeems himself of course. Why else would we love him so much?
The added bonus is the illustrations and the cover to cover peppering of one-liners and kid-friendly jokes. As Jamie grows older, there is a bit of kissing and feelings involved with a girl or two but it is all handled quite gently and realistically, without much drama or sensationalism.
The bullying did disturb the seven year old, but he chose to continue with the book as he loved Jamie too much and wanted to see him see better days and be happy in the end.
Jamie never comes across as sour or resentful despite all that has happened to him; neither does he come across as holier-than-thou goody-two-shoes which will be just as unpalatable. He is a regular kid with regular issues, plus some more.
Over the three books, we end up caring for Jamie Grimm, never wanting to let him go. Kid readers start thinking about deeper issues like being disabled or differently-abled, suffering a bully, going after a dream, working hard, accepting what fate has meted out and not getting bitter about things you can't change, and above all, using humor to approach difficult situations in life.
Quite a fun set of books. And we loved the audiobooks as well, narrated by Frankie Seratch.