What makes a children’s book funny?
It’s certainly not always fart and burp jokes, although they do feature a lot. No, I’ve pondered this question a lot of late as I’ve been making lists of all the children’s book that have ever made me laugh – and asked others for their favourites too.
(If you want to tell me your favourite in the comments, please do. Things are afoot, and I need all the funny children’s books I can get, old and new!)
While there’s no surefire answer to the funny issue, what’s been interesting is that I’ve seen themes appear within the differing formats – different species, if you will – of children’s funny books.
I thought I’d write them down here, so let’s start with the youngest species and go ever older:
The Picture Book
Picture books often end with a punchline joke, (sometimes it’s the whole reason for the book existing, other times it’s there’s simply to round off the otherwise quite straight story). An example? There are millions, but a GOOD one is I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.
Sometimes the whole concept of the picture book is the funny thing, (an absurd, surreal situation, or an insightful take on everyday life) and both the pictures and words combine to drive the humour from beginning to end. An example? Slow Loris, by Alexis Deacon, or There’s a Lion in my Cornflakes by Michelle Robinson and Jim Field. Many of these books also rely on warm, loveable characters, which always helps to draw you into the jokes.
Next up is the early reader book that exists solely to be funny. The set-up is funny, the characters are mostly absurd/grotesques/silly, and all the daft situations contain jokes. These are often illustrated, and even the illustrations are packed with zany humour. An example? The Twits by Roald Dahl. And don’t forget the gazillion Mr Men and Little Miss books.
At the early end of middle grade are books much like the last category, most of which take the shape of series. Often taking a cracking premise and rolling with it (and also sometimes containing comic such as in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants). An example? The Scream Street Series by Tommy Donbavand, for example.
Next comes the funny comic/graphic novel. Sometimes full of mad-cap humour, sometimes full of jokes and punchlines, funny comics will always have wonderful artwork. An example? Teenytinysaurs by Gary Northfield.
(Comics are generally the most consistent and brilliantly funny works of fiction – a feat that is often forgotten by people in Britain. But times are changing…)
Last up, you get the screenplay-esque Middle Grade/YA novels that incorporate witty character dialogue into the plot. Taking their cue from the wisecracking characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, these books will be a mix of fantasy adventures, rom-coms, and straight stories everyday life. An example? The Bartimeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, too.
If any of you have identified other species, do say so here!