This post was originally published on the Children's Books Academy blog.
Kids love humor. And parents enjoy reading books aloud and hearing their children laugh in response. Nothing brightens a moment more than a smile. Including humor in a picture book is one way to grasp the attention of the youngest readers as well as the adults reading to them.
Humor in picture books can be portrayed as over-the-top wacky, outrageous, dry, ironic, or subtle, to name a few possibilites. Humor can touch the characters, the setting, or both. Picture book creators use clever wordplay, impossible situations, misunderstandings, running jokes, mashed up topics, and more when adding layers of humor to their stories. Sometimes the illustrations do the heavy lifting, and other times the words create the humorous framework. Often, the funny interplay between text and art keeps the situations moving forward.
Humor can often be used successfully when writing about difficult topics. And a funny situation can help bridge the gap between what children know and what they might be hesitant or fearful about. Most important, humor in picture books creates connections between children and the stories they read.
Here are five recent picture book examples that brilliantly feature humor:
1) “Russell’s granddaddy was the Texas Tickler. He’d been perfecting his famous Texas Ticklehold for the better part of a century. The only wrestler who could beat him was Russell’s grammy, Dorothy the Dropper, with her Kansas Crusher.” Russell Wrestles the Relatives, by Cindy Chambers Johnson, illustrated by Daniel Duncan. The witty wrestling names create smiles, and the vivid illustrations perfectly complement the clever text.
2) Homer the dog is speaking about his arrival at Wolf Camp: “I was greeted by Fang and Grrr, our counselors.” Word bubble: “They seem nice.” Wolf Camp, by Andrea Zuill. Readers will chuckle throughout this book. Also check out the hilarious illustration of Homer back from Wolf Camp, sleeping with an electric blanket.
3) The humor starts on the title page of this book, with an illustration of a dinosaur and the word bubble: “Hey Kids! You will never be eaten by a T. rex. They are extinct, I promise!” We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, by Ryan T. Higgins. The laughs continue from there.
4) “Hey!” said the orca. “You’re not a penguin!” “How did you know?!” cried Harriet. “Penguins don’t wear bow ties,” he replied. Harriet Gets Carried Away, by Jessie Sima. The absurdity of the situation creates the perfect canvas for humor in this loveable and relatable tale.
5) “Nate pretended he was a frightful, bite-ful, great white shark at home . . . chomp! chomp! at the park . . . and at school. chomp!” (Speech bubble: Watch out! It’s Shark Nate-O!). Shark Nate-O, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, Illustrated by Daniel Duncan. Clever wordplay and a unique premise - a boy is obsessed with sharks but can’t even swim - amplify the humor.
Just try not to laugh when you’re reading these funny stories!