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A very common trope used mostly by children's novels, and sometimes by young adult novels. In an attempt to appeal to kids, many authors or often publishers will give books silly titles that have nothing to do with the actual content of the book, which is often a realistic drama. Executives apparently assume that kids (or parents) will only buy something that they think is funny, but actually genuinely enjoy it if the story turns out to be a Tear Jerker.

As a result, what is essentially a bait and switch is pulled. Lure the kid in with the humorous title and possibly cover art, but once the kid is reading, the book gradually turns into more and more of a drama. Sometimes a very depressing one, at that.

In the examples, please list what the book is actually about in addition to the title and what it might refer to. Books that actually are silly obviously do not fit this trope.

See Covers Always Lie.

Examples of Deceptively Silly Title include:


  • Candyman is about a murderous ghost.
  • A more adult example with Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly. The title is ironic and reflects the whimsical and childlike state of the characters, but does nothing to convey that they are actually sadistic, Ax Crazy kidnappers.
  • Christopher Nolan's first film was a black and white three minute short about a skinny, insane guy obsessively hunting his apartment for some small scurrying creature so he can kill it with a shoe. Said creature turns out to be a miniature version of himself (who is in turn searching for something to squish). He finally manages to kill it with the shoe, only to be squashed himself by a giant version of himself with a giant shoe. The film's title? Doodlebug.

Fan Fiction


  • There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom by Louis Sachar—This book is sad! The title comes from one scene in which a boy actually does go into the girls' bathroom and ends up discovered when he tries to sneak back out. The story itself is about a friendless kid with learning disabilities who is also a bit of a bully, and the help he receives from a counselor who turns his life around.
  • The Chicken Doesn't Skate by Gordon Korman—The cover depicts a baby chick in a hockey rink. The story is about a class that raises chicks as part of a science project on the food chain, but grows too attached to them to want to eat them in the end.
  • Blubber by Judy Blume—The title sounds silly, but it's actually the mean-spirited nickname given to an overweight girl by her bullying peers. The book is a harshly realistic look at bullying.
  • Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War—Yes, there is a war about selling chocolates, in a sense. But it's actually about a high school student's attempt to assert his individuality and the harrassment he receives from a clique of students that practically runs the school.
    • Another Cormier book, I Am the Cheese, could fit here too; one might conclude from the title that the story inside is rather lighthearted, except when one finds out that the story is about how the protagonist's family has to go into the Witness Protection Program to avoid being murdered by the mob.
  • Al Capone Does My Shirts is a deceptively childish title for a book which explores issues such as family and living with an autistic sibling.
  • A Boy and his Dog by Harlan Ellison. While it is a story about a Boy and his Dog, it is NOT for children.

Real Life

  • The 1980s "Ice Cream Wars" in Glasgow, Scotland sound almost silly, reminiscent of a lighthearted comedy drama involving the sale of that well-loved dessert. In fact, the ice cream vans in question were being used as a front for drug sales and other criminal activity, and the violent criminal rivalry underpinning this resulted in the deaths of six members of one family in an arson attack.
  • The term "Banana Wars" brings to mind a mental image of wars that were literally being fought with bananas. It was actually a series of military interventions and occupations by the United States in several Central American countries done primarily to protect the monopoly of its fruit companies in the region, which included unrestricted access to the cultivation of bananas (this is where the term "Banana Republic" also comes from).
  • The 1739-1748 "War of Jenkins' Ear" between Great Britain and Spain might have a silly name and a questionable official reason behind the declaration of war. But for the 20,000 dead, wounded, missing, or captured on the Brittish side alone, it was most likely far less amusing.
  • Swedish history gives us episodes like "the Håtuna games", "the Nyköping banquet", "the great Dalecarlian dance", "the Cudgel War " and the churchbell-rebellion. These were all nasty episodes of rebellions and coup d'etats.
  • "Defenestration" is an Inherently Funny Word, and arguably counts as Amusing Injuries, but really it isn't very funny if it happens to you. Even less funny is the "Second Defenestration of Prague", which started the Thirty Years War...although the fact that the defenestrees probably survived the fall by falling in a mound of horse manure makes the event even harder to take seriously.
  • General Butt Naked, the nickname for Joshua Milton Blahyi, who would lead his Butt Naked Brigade clad exactly as the name suggests, for the benefit of Liberian Warlord Roosevelt Johnson. Said actions including the willful sacrifice and cannibalism of child soldiers, genocides of entire tribes, and at least two confirmed cases of forced female circumcision (and probably many more).