Funny stories save lives!
- STORIES that make us laugh through the medium of television and raise money for disadvantaged children
- STORIES we read in books that make us feel good and help us understand others
Whether or not you support Comic Relief (the distribution of funds has certainly caused controversy in recent years), raising awareness of and for children who are impoverished or disadvantaged in some way is still so important to share with pupils at any opportunity.
“The creativity that goes into helping people have a better life is extraordinary.’Sir Lenny Henry, Comic Relief website
Lenny is referring to all the fantastic things that people do to raise money, I think this can be said of authors of funny books too. Reading as we all know, enriches lives and has an immeasurable effect on a child’s well being and future success.
Does your ‘funny’ book stock include a range of styles?
The comedy genre is complex, as we saw in Nikki Gamble’s Exploring Children’s Literature Summer School session, and doesn’t only include books that are simply funny. Pathos and humour often go hand in hand; a good ‘funny book’ often has an emotional story running alongside or beneath. Steven Pastis ‘Timmy Failure’ series does this particularly well, as does Zanib Mian’s ‘Planet Omar‘ series and the recent debut from Helen Rutter The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh. Themes of belonging, identity and self-awareness often feature.
This wordle image created at the Exploring Children’s Literature Summer School shows the many facets of humour.
Humour is objective and when it comes to book selection, funny books can encourage children to think about their own preferences and as such develop independence and their own self-awareness. It is important to know what you like and what you don’t like. Some will prefer wordplay and punning, others will lean towards slapstick and caricature.
Laughter is the best medicine
Laughter therapy, formal or informal has enormous physiological benefits. The release of endorphins simultaneously powers up the brain and calms the mind. So indulging in scatological humour, and books that just make you laugh is not to be knocked. Laughter really is the best medicine and plays an enormous role in our wellbeing. A good quality collection of jokes, such as Andy Griffiths’ The Tree House Joke Book can be more effective than any medication.
Funny books have always been a popular choice amongst children. There is a simple reason children will volitionally read Mr Gum and Captain Underpants …..they enjoy it! The enduring popularity of Nicholas Allan (the king of toilet humour) with titles such as The Queen’s Knickers and Father Christmas Needs a Wee, speaks volumes. Stephanie Blake’s Poo Bum and Peter Bentley’s The Great Dog Bottom Swap can evoke the kind of children’s laughter we all want to bottle and inebriate ourselves with on a Friday evening after a long, difficult week.
The comedy genre is popular and is definitely one of the most engaging collections of titles you are likely to have in your classrooms and libraries.
Access and engagement
Love them (or not), many comedy writers have successfully diversified into children’s writing: David Baddiel, Adrian Edmondson, Sandi Tostvig, Helen Rutter and Ben Miller, to name a few. Comedians by trade, know how to make people laugh and the publicity that comes with them can provide a highly engaging enticement into books and reading for children, who may otherwise be less interested and who in all likelihood don’t know these people for their stand-up or acting anyway. Those who are known for their celebrity status offer a convenient stepping stone to fantastic writers who may be unfamiliar to many children.
Roald Dahl paved the way in creating characters children love to love and those they love to hate. Andy Stanton, Philip Ardagh, David Solomons are all examples of authors who create funny characters; some of whom children are rooting for, others, usually the butt of the jokes (and the less desirable characters) the reader delights in laughing at, panto style, when they get their comeuppance. If we dig a little deeper into these characters and the situations they find themselves in, they have much to offer by way of discussion, particularly regarding behaviour and relationships.
Seeing authors, who write within the comic genre, perform is when you can fully appreciate their talents. The physicality of Andy Stanton and Steve Cole is akin to the best stand up comedians; the dry humour of Philip Ardagh never fails to make me smile and Maz Evan’s knows how to work a crowd like the best of them. It is the connection with their audience that makes the author-reader relationship so special. Face to face it is pure magic, but even through the medium of the written story, an engagement between writer and reader is very special.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
It is increasingly common to see writers breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the reader, often before the story has even begun. A technique that draws the reader in, grabs and maintains their attention throughout. This is partly why funny books are very good to entice the less engaged reader. Asking the reader directly ‘are you still reading this? – oh good, then I’ll continue’, creates a line of communication that makes the child feel valued, and that their opinion matters. Gareth P Jones and Rachel Delahaye invite readers of The Daily Joker to take a pledge which really does feel like an invitation to join an exclusive club, and, ironically, it also demands a commitment to take this humour seriously!
With hand on heart I promise to try each day of every year to make the people around me laugh And grin from ear to ear. With hand on heart I promise to make them giggle and guffaw, Chuckle and snort and hoot and howl ’til they’re rolling on the floor. With hand on heart I promise I will do my funny best. And until I’ve laughed my guts up I shall never ever rest.Gareth P Jones and Rachel Delahaye
Michael Rosen, of course, is a master of funny. I am indebted to him for Hairy Tales and Nursery Crimes which was an immediate crowd pleaser at book road shows in primary schools (try it in assembly – published within Even My Ears are Smiling). The perfect choice to engage an audience of young children into book recommendations. The words are funny themselves but oh how much funnier it is to hear Rosen himself read his works – I always point children towards the CD in the Bloomsbury mixed media anthologies. On another occasion, I remember reading Drew Daywalt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors to a group of teachers and ended up reaching for the tissues, such was the intensity of the laughter.
Reading Aloud creates a common bond through laughter
Reading aloud can often help the reader to find ‘the funny’. I was recently talking to a colleague who had shared Diana Wynne Jones’ classic fantasy Charmed Life with her son. I hadn’t considered it at all funny, but on rereading particular passages aloud myself, I immediately changed my view. Remember to seek out the funny in less obvious places. Introduce Oscar Wilde via The Remarkable Rocket and children will lap up this literary genius.
Poetry is the perfect vehicle for humour and there are so many excellent examples of poems and poets who have the ‘power’ to create genuine laughter in children of all ages. Matt Goodfellow offers a high energy author visit and his latest collection Bright Bursts of Colour offers both silly and sensitive. James Carter’s offbeat humour in Weird, Wild and Wonderful is a joy. You can hear him talking about it in an interview with Nikki Gamble In the Reading Corner.
Poetry uses words in such a highly crafted way that words alone can produce the effect of joy and laughter. This is partly why rhyming books are also very popular particularly with young children. The reader can often predict that last word of the sentence as the story bobs along to a rhythm created by the use of rhyme. Many authors use this to great effect. Julia Donaldson of course and the brilliant Peter Bentley…from one of my old favourites: The Great Sheep Shenanigans to the recently published The King with No Clothes. The added value of these funny reads is that a lesson is usually taught, whether it be the dangers of pre-judging and assumption or the perils of vanity and lying!
Illustration has a huge role to play in evoking smiles and laughter. On reading Zeb Soanes latest instalment in the Gaspard foxtrot series, I laughed out loud when I got to this drawing from James Mayhew of Peter the cat falling off the sofa in shock to see his fox friend on the television.
Words © Zeb Soanes, Illustrations © James Mayhew, published by Graffeg, 2021.
With their skilful use of colour and design, comic books and graphic novels have much to offer when it comes to laughter. Gary Northfield, Jamie Smart, Sarah McIntyre, among many others, have given us plenty to laugh about in their comic creations.
Books with an element of interaction such as Open Very Carefully and This Book Ate my Dog offer full engagement on the part of the audience and anticipatory laughter as each page is turned. B.J. Novak went a step further and has proved that a few chosen words alone (along with the commitment of the reader to read every word printed out loud) can be equally successful: The Book with No Pictures is still a top selling title. The main reason this title is so desirable to children is the power it gives them over whoever is reading the book. It goes back to the appeal for weak adult characters, that children can triumph over in Dahl’s stories.
Funny IS power: funny concepts, funny characters, funny words, funny pictures, funny sounds. Goodness knows we all need a good laugh this year, so find laughter in your libraries and classrooms. If ever there was a time to surround children in funny books, it is now. So I hope you embrace ‘funny’ in all its forms and celebrate humour this week and every week.