A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears, by Jules Feiffer

In a world bursting with children's stories that feel like they were designed by an algorithm to appeal to the widest possible audience, Jules Fieffer's A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears stands out. It's a genuinely weird book, and I'd bet cash money it never would have found a publisher had it been written by a less well-known author.

A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears is the story of Prince Roger, who is so busy giggling and making other people laugh that nothing ever gets done. Frustrated, his father sends him to consult J. Wellington Wizard, who promptly sends Roger out on a quest—but a quest without an object. All Roger knows is that when he has completed his journey, he will have finally taken something seriously.

I struggled to identify the ideal target audience for this book. A Barrel of Laughs, a Vale of Tears isn't going to blow the socks off of every kid. Not even most kids. A lot of them will find it weird and talky and slow. But there is a small subset of kids out there who are going to think this is the funniest book ever. So if your child (or you) liked The Sword in the Stone, The Little Prince, or (obviously) The Phantom Tollbooth, give this story a shot. It's not one of those glossy kid books you buy at Costco, but it has an oddball charm all its own.
Posted by: Julianka


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