“Having battled every kind of audience for forty-odd years, I knew that if you got ‘em laughing you had ‘em. It was the same with kids. Keep ‘em laughing and they’ll do anything for you.” ~ Harpo Marx (Harpo Speaks, Limelight Editions, 1962)
Picture this. Get it in your mind. And this is totally me asking you to do as I say, not as I do, because I can’t visualise.
I close my eyes and it’s darkness, nothing there.
There’s a room, and in that room is a boring person reading a boring book to a bunch of BORRRRRRRRRRRRED kids.
What’s the energy like in that room? Pretty terrible, right?
Now, picture someone reading a book (something like, say, I don’t know, A Very Dinosaur Birthday, for example?) where kids are waiting in anticipation for every line; eyes shining; every laugh followed by another, louder laugh; every line bringing forth squeals of delight, kids leaning into each other to stay upright they’re laughing so much.
What’s the energy like in THAT room?
And which room would make kids want to read more, tell more stories, be inspired to create something themselves?
Exactly … unless you thought it was the first room, in which case get outta here!
And that’s why writing humor for kids is important.
Blog post over.
Have a nice day.
Seriously though, which is an odd thing to put in a post about writing humor, but I did hear a quote I loved the other day, by movie director Paul Thomas Anderson – “We take our work seriously. We don’t take ourselves seriously.”
Isn’t that great? Put everything into your work, give it your all and do it to the best of your ability, but don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s something that has become a problem today! We take ourselves and well, pretty much everything, so seriously!
Play! Celebrate life! Don’t look for ways to be offended (for yourself or others) or ways to find fault.
Do your best. Be kind. Have fun. It’s a pretty good life motto.
Anyway, I digress. Writing humor for kids and why it’s important.
The thing is, humor is a doorway. Let me explain.
Humor is a door way to learning.
The Laughing Classroom, by Diana Loomans and Karen Kolberg (HJ Kramer/New World Library, 2002), is a brilliant example of how humour brings out the best in us as we learn. They even use lots of studies and facts and other impressive things (that I won’t go into here) to show how this is true.
Trust me, though. It is definitely worth a read.
For now, think about this. Were the subjects you learnt best in the ones with a dry, humorless teacher, or the ones where the teacher connected with and inspired you? Were the subjects you learnt best in the ones you enjoyed most, or the ones you were bored out of your brains in?
This inspiration can come from a teacher’s passion, but enjoyment and retention and success often comes from learning and doing and working with a smile on your face. We have to work out how to catch the students’ interest, and one of the best ways to do that is with humor!
Humor is a doorway to and from other emotions.
Paula Finn, in an article from Screencraft (You gotta have heart: The power of drama in comedy; Screencraft, Jan 9, 2023), has amazing takeaways from some of the greats of comedy writing.
“… if you make it funny enough, you can earn a couple of pages of seriousness where you don’t have any jokes …” Frasier’s co-creator David Lee
If we can bring humor to our stories, we can open up the door to discussing more serious topics. We can have a page in a picture book that draws out sadness, a moment of despair for our character (and reader!).
In A Very Dinosaur Birthday, this is the point where the party is a disaster, where nothing has gone right and doesn’t seem like it ever will. I think we’ve all been there at some stage, but often don’t want to talk about it!
And the other joy of being able to do this is …
“… if you can get the audience to emotion … land occasionally on a real emotional moment — then the joke following it is going to be twice as funny …” Roseanne creator Matt Williams.
This is the double win! Using humor allows us to delve deeper into issues, and it also means that we can bring the kids up again with a joke after the emotional moment, for that’s what laughter is - a release of tension!
In the end, for me, the reasons it is important and awesome and amazing to write with humor boil down to an important few.
- It’s more fun for us as writers! I’ve enjoyed writing some serious books, but the most fun is when I am writing and giggling at something I have just written. It’s the best! Even in a serious book, to inject some subtle humour, a break from the seriousness, can give both us and the reader some relief.
- It’s more fun for the reader, especially if the readers are children! Children are made to read so many things they aren’t interested in, so many things that are solely about learning, dry, humourless texts. Their souls are crying out to play, to smile, to laugh, to be free.
- Children laughing is possibly the best sound in the entire world. I believe we should do everything we can to make that amazing sound burst into the atmosphere as often as possible, and books and reading and writing are some of the best ways we have. To be giving that presentation or reading where children are cracking up laughing, there’s nothing else like it in the world.
- And finally, people talk about showing and feeling your emotions, but this is generally, if not always, related to anger, frustration, love - the more “serious” or “negative” emotions. We’re told to acknowledge these feelings, to not push them down, and I agree, this is important … yet when we’re being silly and laughing and playing we’re told to quieten down, be serious and behave!
I put it to you that the MOST important emotion to express, to not push down is laughter and happiness.
If we have a chance, through our writing, our teaching, our parenting, to let kids have a moment (or 80) of joy and laughter in their day, it’s our duty to ride that wave all the way to the beach!
Before you go, make sure not to miss out on A Very Dinosaur Birthday!
Enrich your classroom experience with the following included resources:
🦕 Educator's guide
🦕 Activity guide
🦕 "How to Draw Dinosaurs" book
Experience the excitement, share this whimsical tale with your loved ones and students, and create unforgettable memories and moments of shared laughter.