Polly Horvath, , illus. by Marylin Hafner. . FSG, $16 (179pp) ISBN 978-0-374-35817-4

Following her National Book Award–winning dark comedy The Canning Season , Horvath reprises the unalloyed giddiness of Everything on a Waffle —and ups the ante with some outrageous, Pirandello-like flourishes. Seemingly dire problems forever loom over the Pepin family: toads lurk in their shoes, or their hot chocolate has grown too cold to drink. Their addled responses (nobody would ever think of simply reheating the chocolate) group them with the beloved fools of Harry Allard and James Marshall's Stupids books and of Chelm tales. The difference is that Horvath impishly colludes with the audience. She inserts "the author" as a character, too, a great psychic who can receive suggestions from readers: "If you put one finger on each temple and concentrate, she will be able to hear your solution and share it with the Pepins and other readers." The narrative folds in ideas from "readers" (these are invariably as ridiculous as the Pepins' own). "Wait! Yes, my antennae quiver," writes Horvath during the hot-chocolate conundrum. "One dear reader from Brookline, Massachusetts, thinks that all the Pepins need to do is find a very successful writer and have him or her blow some hot air on the cold chocolate" (the Pepins dismiss the notion, because of "all those germs"). If the end seems a bit abrupt, no matter: the sly running jokes about place names and brazenly funny developments keep the conceit and the comedy energetic all the way to the finish line. Ages 8-12. (Aug) .