How important is humour in children’s literature?

I sat among a pile of funny kids books one morning a few months back, many that I used to read with Max, and I started thinking how important is humour in children’s literature?

I’ve since done some research, interviewed established authors and publishers, and the overwhelming answer that keeps coming back is that humour is super important! Because, if a book makes us laugh we’ll be drawn to it and WANT to take it in. Then, importantly, find more books that do the same. And, because humour draws us in, it can be an ideal way of approaching more serious issues.

To look more into why and how humour can get our kids reading, it’s important to look at how humour affects us.

The Joy of humour in literature

Funny books have the power to hook and hold younger, more reluctant or less confident readers. They offer that ‘feel good’ factor for all readers and make reading a joy.

Joy is one of the most amazing emotions a human being can feel. In moments of joy, we feel no pain, neglect, fear, self-doubt or confusion. We feel a connection to something beyond ourselves. So, let’s get our kids reading for the joy of a good story and a few laughs to increase their enjoyment levels.

A major study in the US recently proved that when reading for pleasure, kids mostly wanted books that made them laugh. And, this makes perfect sense. We all love to laugh.

dog and boy laughing showing why we must embrace silly

What is laughter?

Laughter is a natural pain killer – producing endorphins to help reduce anxiety, ease chronic pain and reduce stress hormones. It strengthens heart muscles by accelerating heart rate. This boosts immunity by activating T Cells, which again, help reduce stress hormones. There is some evidence to suggest it might keep you looking young, as up to 15 facial muscles are used to help you smile and laugh. It’s definitely a mood enhancer – easing emotional discomfort and increasing positive outlook on life. But most importantly, I think, for us as a society, laughter can bond people together – increasing the joy in our social, physical, working and our reading life.

Is anything more important than laughter?

There’s no better sound than that of your children laughing. And, even greater when you’re laughing with them! Nothing brings this out more than reading a funny book with your kids. It helps if you’re in a silly mood to begin with and you’re prepared to use the characters voices and even actions. I’d encourage all parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and big brothers and sisters to find some time in your day for this. You won’t regret it.

Some of my happiest memories are the times I spent laughing with my young son. And, I’m sure that if our children have those same memories to look back on years later, it can only make them better for it as well. To know that your children are in that happy place in the here and now pulls at your heart strings like nothing else.

Often in literary circles though, humour can play the poor cousin to the apparently more ‘highbrow’ literary genres. And, that’s fine if kids are reading these, but a large majority of kids aren’t, and as studies have shown, kids want books that make them laugh. So, again a big yes, humour is so important in children’s literature. So, let’s get our kids reading funny!

Humour has a place in all genres

Of course, funny is not only for, or restricted to the so-called comedy genre either. There are so many wonderfully funny authors writing intriguing and entertaining books for kids of all ages and in all areas of life. Writer, Nicolas Brasch of Writers Vic and author of over 400 books for kids, believes that humour is important in any genre. And, no matter what sector of children’s literature he’s asked to write in, he always looks to add some humour. When I interviewed popular Children’s Author and Illustrator, Heath McKenzie, he said that humour can be such an awesome tool in education as kids can laugh and learn at the same time. He said that sometimes children can learn and not even realise that they’re learning something until it’s too late!

Can humour be taught?

Another question is can humour be taught or is it instinctive? Can we teach it to our kids? Can we all write humour? I’ve done some research and the answer again appears to be an overwhelming yes! There are techniques we can all learn and some signs to look for along the way. But, essentially humour is inherent in all humans. It is in fact, the language of children.

We’ll delve deeper into the questions of how to make kids laugh in a future post, as well as tips used by some of the best comedy writers to hone their craft. But for now, happy in the knowledge that humour is important in children’s literature, my quest is to find the world’s funniest books for kids, the stories that make us laugh, their characters and their authors too! Who they are. Where they are. And what makes them so funny. And when I do, I’ll post them right here on this blog for your family to laugh along too.

Great Opening Lines

One thing I absolutely love is to open a book and fall in love with the first line. If I’m in a bookshop and this happens, I’ll often buy the book there and then. I’ve jotted down a few of my favourite opening lines and book titles, and all of them great books. If you have any others, please let me know. I’d love to keep adding to this list on my blog.

‘When I bought my rhinoceros I had no idea what I was getting myself into.’  My Rhinoceros. Jon Agee.

It was a dark and stormy night and something evil was stirring. It was just Mordonna adding sugar to her coffee. The Floods. Colin Thompson.

Skeeta Anderson woke up one summer morning to find that his bum was gone. The Bugalugs Bum Thief. Tim Winton.

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. C.S. Lewis and Chris Allsburg.

What can I tell you about Camden Town? It’s a place in north London with a market and a canal. What you can’t find in the market you’ll find floating in the canal – only cheaper. South by South East. Anthony Horowitz.

Great book titles

I know what you did last Wednesday – Anthony Horowitz.

Yobbos do yoga – Phillip Gwynne

Who flung dung? – Ben Redlich

Cloudy with a chance of meatballs – Judi Barrett

There’s a hippopotamus on my roof eating cake – Hazel Edwards

Rhino Neal– Mini Goss

The day my butt went psycho – Andy Griffiths

Gangsta Granny – David Walliams

And, just for giggles, here are some silly titles people have found on the web

Overpopulation in France by Frances Crowded

The Empty Biscuit Tin by Arthur Anymore

A Hole in My Bucket by Lee King

The Cliff Tragedy by Eileen Dover

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At Reading with a chance of Tacos, we aim to review the books kids love to read. And, our PODCAST endeavours to bring you interviews with the best in the writing, illustrating and publishing business. Check it out right here.