Humour in Children’s Literature
My most recent 612ABC radio ‘Bookworms’ half hour was about the books that make our young people, and the adults who read with them, roll around on the floor laughing – or ‘Humour Genre’ as us librarians call it! The Soundcloud of the show is here. Too often adults dismiss humorous books as not quite as worthy as more ‘highbrow’ literary choices. Even I have been guilty of attempting to move children on from Griffiths, Denton and Walliams (sorry guys!): “So great you love the ‘Just’/’Treehouse’/Walliams books, lets now move to something more literary – right this way to ‘War and Peace’ please Mr 9”. A balanced literary diet is great but, so is page after page of laughter over witty writing and words which make young souls smile from the inside out.
My thoughts around humorous books were challenged some years ago now when I read Matthew Zbaracki’s 2003 dissertation (you all read dissertations don’t you?!), ‘A Descriptive Study of How Humour in Literature Serves to Engage Children in Their Reading’. I have also heard Andy Griffiths speak on this topic SO.MANY.TIMES now and at the most recent CBCA Conference, he referred to Zbaracki’s research and quoted, “Laughter is the reward that lures the most reluctant reader” (2003). Most recently I’ve been listening to some of the podcasts from interviews with David Walliams, who was in Australia recently sharing his hilarious writing with our youth – and plenty of adult fans too! Writers like Griffiths and Walliams, and many others throughout the history of children’s literature, have used their wit to entertain, heal with laughter, educate and turn young people into lifelong readers.
Side note on Griffiths – ‘we’ (members of the StoryArts Festival Ipswich team) have Griffiths coming to Brisbane/Ipswich in September. Book here and all tickets are FREE because ‘our’ festival ROCKS and people like Jenny Stubbs work around the clock to make it happen.
I have tried to pull together what I think Griffiths, Zbaracki and Walliams are trying to say about the importance of humour literature into five key points.
Five Reasons Children Should Read Humour
- Humour engages young people (particularly reluctant readers) as they are naturally playful and generally laugh far more than adults do.
- Humorous literature harnesses the exuberance and wonder of youth with words and ideas.
- Young people interact with their peers and foster friendships through humorous literature as they enjoy sharing the laughs with their peers.
- Humorous books reflect reality, which, in reality, is a mixture of sad and funny, joy and pain, highs and lows.
- Far from being an ‘easy option’, humorous literature encourages critical reading as young people learn to read between the lines and develop an awareness of subtly and sarcasm, right and wrong.
And so to my list of books! This was a hard list to write as what one person perceives as humour, another may not. I’m a big fan of darkly funny books and television series – books and shows where you’re not entirely sure if you should be laughing. My husband, AKA #backboy, is more a fan of roll on the floor laughing comedy which I find far too obvious – but he says I am a humour snob and I don’t mind that tag! PudStar (7) takes after #backboy in the humour stakes at the moment and they spend a lot of time laughing at books and watching Jimmy Fallon, which I’m pretty sure isn’t suitable. So Pud, ChickPea and I have chosen some books which we find funny – but there is another 10 thousand titles you could choose from!
Early Childhood – Lower Primary
‘Book-O-Beards’– The laughter and fun with books must start early – we want infants to know that books=enjoyment. ‘Book-O-Beards’ is brilliant, interactive and so very, very hipster.
‘Jurassic Farts’ Do you know how badly I DO NOT want to include this one? But ChickPea would never talk to me again – which actually could work for me. For my dinosaur loving, bodily functions obsessed three year old, this book is the epitome of brilliance.
‘The Worm Who Knew Karate’, from talented new author Jill Lever and long-time favourite Terry Denton comes this very original tale of one little worm and his quest to defend himself from ‘the early bird who catches the worm’. Read my full review here.
All written by Aaron Blabey- these books pretty much never leave the beds of my children. They know them by heart and they still laugh and laugh every single time they read them. Blabey is producing some of the best, darkly funny, very witty book in the Australian picture book scene at the moment.
‘Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator’ and other titles by Mo Willems. The beautiful Trish Buckley, who has given my children some of their most favourite books ever, gave PudStar this one a few years ago – and every time I read it I get a chuckle. It’s almost written more for the adult reader, as many good humorous books are. Like my children could read the Blabey books every night, I could read this one every night.
Middle Primary – Upper Primary
‘Samurai Vs Ninja‘ series. This series is all kinds of awesome – from a duo not unlike Griffiths/Denton, Flowers/Falk seem to spark off each other in their writing and illustrating and create children’s literature brilliance together! Another sidenote and SHAMELESS PLUG for the StoryArts Festival Ipswich – yours’ truly is organising an Samurai Vs Ninja party on Tuesday 8th September with a host of ninja-like authors and illustrators (including Tony Flowers) and it’s going to be greeeat. Tis FREE and you can book here.
‘WeirDO’ series by comedian Anh Do – see full review here. Get on board with this brilliant series. Anh Do’s writting is funny but with real soul and strong messages. #backboy and I took the girls to a literary Fathers’ Day picnic at Brisbane Writers Festival a few years ago to see Anh Do and Dan was ‘rewarded’ with Anh heckling him about his Transformers t-shirt. Seriously Dan could not have been more stoked and had his photo taken with Anh at the end #fanboy. THAT is the very reason I refuse to go to comedy shows – audience participation – I can think of nothing worse than being heckled by a quick-witted comedian.
‘Eric Vale-Epic Fail’. Read my full review here. The ‘Eric Vale, Epic Fail’ books are epically funny and have major child appeal, but with a few strong messages woven in for good measure. Michael and Joe Bauer have crafted a series about resilience, acceptance and inclusivity, with not a trace of the dreaded schoolyard ‘b’ word. The characters are so well portrayed that they could each have a novel of their own…particularly Chewy, who reminded me of several boys I’ve taught over the years. In fact, Derek Dale does now have his own spin-off series…here.
Anything by Andy Griffiths/Terry Denton obviously. See all their titles here.
Upper Primary – Middle Secondary
‘The First Third’ – read my full review here. I’ve just thrown this one in for the young adult age group – I had to throw one in and this is my favourite! It’s a great drama/comedy and I laughed and cried through this book, and stayed up until 2am finishing it. Love it!