Books by Roald Dahl appear on every "best books for kids" list out there. My kids and I love his magically subversive storytelling in books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, as I'm sure yours do too. But what do you read when you are looking for your next outrageously hilarious, yet slightly wicked tale? I hope this list of books for kids who like Roald Dahl will give you some good ideas.
Because this book list contains titles suitable for a range of ages, I've indicated my best guess in each mini-review. They will all make terrifically enjoyable read alouds, but some are better for older kids and a few are also good for the younger set. Remember, you can always find many, many, many more books on one of the book lists indexed on our master list. (Note: titles and covers are affiliate links.)
MORE: After moving through this list, head over to 100 funny chapter books to find more titles with Dahl-esque humor.
I first thought of the idea for this list when listening to the Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson audiobook. I hadn't read the Amazon review of it, but now I see I am not the only one who likened the premise and characters to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! A philanthropist Countess sends out six mysterious invitations to six children. The eclectic group of children, including our heroine, Tabitha Crumb, arrive at the mansion to discover that one of them is believed to be the Countess's long lost grandchild. However, things are not always as they seem and the children (or at least the good children) must work together to unravel the mysteries of the house. The cast of characters here is delightfully kooky and weird, with inept and neglectful parents, both spoiled and erudite children, and disguise-wearing servants. Ages 10 and up.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry. I loved this splendidly wicked book. I listened to the audiobook narration of this twist on the Victorian boarding school mystery novel, which was glorious. I didn't know what to expect and when in the first few pages, the headmistress and her brother drop dead from poison, and the girls subsequently decide to bury them instead of report it I thought, "how macabre!" But I remembered the delightfully sinister tradition of Dahl's books. The girls, who have wonderful monikers like "Smooth Kitty", "Disgraceful Mary Jane", and "Stout Alice" decide to try and convince everyone that their headmistress is still alive so they can avoid being sent home. Author Berry is a very smart and clever storyteller with sharp wit. Suitable for kids ages 10 and up.
Buckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot was one of our best read aloud novels of 2015. When I read this to my 6 year old we could not stop laughing! I quite enjoyed creating silly voices for all of Sarah Courtauld's ridiculous and charming characters. Hard-working, practical Eliza and her dreamy, prince poster-collecting sister Gertrude are total opposites. When Gertrude goes off one day to find a prince and instead gets captured, her sister heads out to rescue her. We are eagerly awaiting the sequel!!
Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder is a series by Norwegian crime novelist Jo Nesbø. Friends Nilly and Lisa help the good doctor develop the flatulent powder in question and in a move worthy of the Weasley twins, they sell it at school. Their plan is to get revenge on the class bullies, Truls and Trym, which they do in a most hilarious fashion. But when the doctor invents a stronger (much stronger) Fartonaut Powder, the kids must keep it away from those who wish to use the power of farts for evil. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) Explosively good fun. (I couldn't help myself.) Suitable for kids 8 and up.
The Adventures of Nanny Piggins is one of the funniest books I've read. This popular Australian import is a series about three siblings whose father is so frugal he hires a pig to take care of them. Nanny Piggins is no Mary Poppins, however. The enthusiastic circus pig thinks school is overrated, chocolate is a food group and takes the kids on "marvelous adventures." This is a great book for kids (and adults) who enjoy Roald Dahl, and over-the-top, subversive humor and plain, good fun. If you prefer moral didacticism, move on.
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place (Series) by Mary Rose Wood begins with a bizarre premise. While out hunting, Lord Fredrick discovers three siblings raised by wolves and adopts them. Their wild howling and uncivilized mannerism disturbs the lady of the manor and 15 year old Penelope Lumley is hired to be their governess. Penelope is a fan of platitudes, poetry and reading and sets out to tame the children. But something mysterious is going on behind the scenes and kids will have to keep reading the series in order to discover what that is. This series is a clever twist to the classic Victorian governess tale and its metafictional insights will best be appreciated by kids ages 10 and up.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. When Dad steps out for some milk at the corner store he encounters a group of aliens who demand that, as a representative for all mankind, he surrender. He refuses and then gets sucked into a fantastical time-traveling adventure involving a hot air balloon ride with a stegosaurus, wampires (sic), pirates and the aforementioned aliens. Through it all, he maintains a firm grasp on the milk and in the end is, fortunately, able to return in time for his children to enjoy their breakfast cereal. Kooky, bizarre, imaginative and thoroughly Dahl-esque. This is a short novel and suitable for kids ages 7 and up.
Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. How can you not love a book with that title? The farce begins when M'Lady Luggertuck's maid does not tighten her mistress's corset quite as tightly as she usually does. The slight increase inM'Lady Luggertuck's ability to breath sets off a wonderfully ridiculous chain of events, including the theft of the Luggertuck treasure. The over-the-top villains, detectives, servants and all around delightfully quirky characters would fit right into any Dickens or Dahl book. Great fun, especially if you read it aloud and love to do silly voices. Enjoy!
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. My son loved this book, too. This humorous tale by the author of James Bond is great fun. The crazy Pott family purchases a car that can fly as well at catch bumbling criminals. (Don't bother watching the movie! Ugh.) Suitable for reading aloud to early elementary children.
Pippi Longstocking. I hardly need introduce this classic title. The irreverent Pippi is the forerunner of many of our favorite contemporary heroines, so if you've read Dahl's books with your kids, but not Pippi, fix that situation right now. Suitable for reading aloud to any age who is ready to listen to chapter books.
Mr. Popper's Penguins. This Newbery Honor book from 1938 is still as funny today as it was then. Mr. Popper and his family adopt a penguin sent to them by a famous explorer. The brood grows to 12 penguins and the laughs begin. We first listened to this as an audiobook when my youngest son was almost 4 and he enjoyed it immensely, especially the scene in which the Poppers flood the basement with water, then freeze it so the penguins can slide around their home. A wonderful read aloud for children ages 4 and up.
A Series of Unfortunate Events (Series) by Lemony Snicket. You have probably heard of this best selling series filled with orphans and guardians worthy of the best gothic Victorian melodramas. The Baudelaire children, upon learning that their parents have perished in a fire are delivered into the hands of the evil Count Olaf who is determined to get a hold of their fortune. The narrator consistently reminds the reader that this book is filled with depressing events and has an unhappy ending (all in good fun of course) so be prepared! (Or skip it if you don't like tongue in cheek humor – in which case, I got nothing.)
Zorgamazoo by Robert Paul Weston is hard to resist reading out loud with crazy, crazy voices! Weston’s novels are written in lively, creative verse. The fast-paced, clever, rhyming story follows Katrina Katrell, who runs away from her evil guardian, and alights on an adventure with a strange creature called a Zorgle from Zorgamazoo. A complicated mystery, with bizarre and hilarious characters follow. Winner of the 2009 E.B White Read Aloud Award. I read this to my then-5 year old and 9 year old.
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston. The premise is wonderfully silly: in the Kingdom of Spiff everyone is obsessed with fashion, and ridiculously elaborate fashion at that. Well, almost everyone — the Princess prefers pajamas… and books. In Spud, however, things are a bit different and when Puggly of Spud and Frannie of Spiff meet up they set out to teach the others a thing or two about what is really important. This is really fun to read aloud because of the fantastical vocabulary and the rhyming couplets. Even the font is “fancified.” I do, however, recommend it for more experienced listeners. I certainly think a 5 year old can listen to it, but it is not the usual fare and I found that mini recaps of the action before we began each reading session to be extra-helpful. Nevertheless, it was a hit.
When parents tell me their kids have trouble finishing books, I like to recommend The Whipping Boy. It's a short novel, but just as entertaining and fulfilling as longer books. The vain and snobbish Prince Brat and Jemmy, his whipping boy, are kidnapped by a pair of thieves. A case of mistaken identity is the catalyst for lots of action, humor and interesting plot twists. Plus, it's a classic from the 1980s and a Newbery winner so you can feel quite satisfied about getting your kid to read it. Suitable for kids 8 and up.
Fake Mustache: Or, How Jodie O'Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind. I have a bit of a soft spot for crazy long titles so how could I resist this one? 7th grader Lenny Flem Jr.'s friend, Casper, comes into an unexpected windfall and purchases a suit and fake mustache. Shortly afterwards, a string of robberies takes place and Casper makes a grab for world domination. Sound absurd enough for you? One of the surprising twists of this books is that half-way through, the narration switches from the Lenny (male) to Jodie (female) and somehow Angleberger makes it all work brilliantly. You won't find another book with a plot quite like this. Kiddo actually read several passages out loud to me to demonstrate how good he thought the book was.
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. With a knowing nod to my neighbors in New Jersey, you have to admit that any book which couples "Hoboken" and "Chicken" in the title has got to be hilarious. When there are no turkeys to be found anywhere in Hoboken for Thanksgiving dinner, Arthur returns home with a chicken. The problem? The chicken is 266 pounds. Hijinks ensue. I read this aloud to my sons and they loved it. (Suitable for early elementary as a read aloud.)
Dominic. I can't sing the praises of this book enough. It has easily become one of our best read aloud chapter books of 2015 . My 6 year old adored it. It was such a good read aloud that we finished it in one day! (We are very dedicated readers.) I am embarrassed to admit, I didn't even realize Steig wrote chapter books. Dominic is a dog who sets out for adventure. Along the way he meets the Doomsday Gang, a band of ne'er-do-wells who are spreading havoc among the local population. Dominic easily foils the greedy gang and earns everyone's awe and respect. His kindness towards towards others earns him a reward, which he spreads around to the less fortunate as he continues on his journey. Dominic has such a positive attitude towards life, you and your kids can't help but smile throughout the book.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School. I liked reading this book about a wacky school environment to the kids. I think it's good to allow them an outlet for thinking about school in a non-traditional (dare I say "subversive") way. While my then-5 year old did laugh along, the humor was more suited to my 9 year old. Both kids who love the silly and ridiculous and parents who appreciate well-written, humorous books will find something to charm them.
Nancy and Plum. This 1952 book from the author of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is the perfect recipe for an old-fashioned read aloud: two orphaned sisters, an unctuous boarding school mistress who feeds them hard oatmeal, a wealthy bachelor uncle, a Christmas setting and a feel-good ending in which the bad fail and the good triumph. Read it now, or save it for your holiday read aloud list.
The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. (series) Christopher Healy's series is best for kids who like a lot of humor in their reading. Four bumbling princes are thrown out by their respective fairy tale princesses. The princesses have their own personality quirks, but all together they battle the less savory creatures in the kingdom and have their own versions of happy, mediocre and not-so happy endings. Very funny and hilariously tongue in cheek. If you like fairy-tale themed books, I have more for you on my list of Fairy Tale Chapter Books or Princess chapter books.
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library (Series). If you've ever dreamed of spending a night in the library, this is the adventure for you. Luigi Lemoncello, a world-famous game creator has designed the local library and twelve 7th graders get to spend the night. They have exactly 24 hours to find the secret exit and win a prize. Lots of twists and turns take place in this book that is perfect for kids who love to solve puzzles.
Bonus book #23:
The Candymakers by Wendy Mass is frequently compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I first introduced it to you on my son's list of 9 books for 9 year olds. When 4 kids gather for the Confectionery Association Conference, they end up trying to solve the mystery of a stolen secret ingredient and create the best candy ever. A nice long book to keep them reading, reading, reading.
These lists will also have books for kids who like Roald Dahl:
- Books for kids who love Little House on the Prairie
- Books for kids who love Harry Potter
- Books for kids who love Percy Jackson
- Books for kids who like Diary of a Wimpy Kid
- Funny read aloud chapter books
- Books for 11 year olds
- Classic chapter books from the 1960s.
- Middle grade mysteries