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Friday, November 2, 2012

Make 'em Laugh....

...or what I was supposed to present at KSRA before the interference of Frankenstorm...

    The Cat in the Hat would never have come back if Alice hadn't fallen down the rabbit hole.  There was really nothing funny at all in children's literature until Alice's Adventures in Wonderland arrived on bookshelves in 1865.  Yes, back in 1744 when A Little Pretty Pocket-Book Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly was published, there wasn't much  to be amused about.  John Newbery was too busy teaching morals and 'rules of life'  along with the alphabet and a proverb or two.  (Though I dare say reading it aloud now is hilarious:   "Spit not forth any Thing that is not convenient to be swallowed, as the Stones of Plumbs, Cherries, or such like; but with Thy left hand, neatly move them to the Side of thy Plate" or "Smell not of thy Meat, nor put it to thy Nose; turn it not the other Side upward to view it upon Thy plate.")
    Well, it is 2012 and children's author Dan Greenburg, speaking a few years ago at an SCBWI Conference noted that the funniest word in the English language for kids is UNDERPANTS.  Of course it is. Why else would we have Captain Underpants, Underpants Thunderpants, Aliens Love Underpants, Dinosaurs Love Underpants, and The Underpants Zoo? Lest we need a reason to use humor in children's writing, there is plenty of documentation of its benefits: increased endorphin and dopamine release, increased relaxation response, increased creativity, improved problem solving skills and enhanced memory. Why shouldn't we make kids laugh? 
    Humor in children's literature is divided roughly into four categories:
****Physical Humor
****Humor of Character
****Humor of Situation
These categories coincide with children's developmental levels.  Physical humor is much like physical comedy (very visual) and can be found in books like The Cat in the Hat, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, or I Want My Hat Back.
Wordplay is showcased in Runny Babbit and Amelia Bedelia,
Humor of Character with characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog, or Olivia
and Humor of Situation readily apparent in Dear Mrs. LaRue Letters from Obedience Camp or Click Clack Moo Cows that Type.

As most of my children's poetry is of the zany or nonsensical type, my school visit workshops are most often conducted with a humorous bent.  We write about insects from the their own point of view: what do spiders need these eight legs for?  What happens when a grasshopper wants to just take a walk? Does a ladybug have to act like a lady?
  Or pull out a map and ask kids what the people from Toast, North Carolina, Wink, Texas, or Embarrass, Minnesota like to be called?
  Suppose "There once was a monster named Dave, Who didn't know how to behave?" What do they teach in monster school if you like to bake cookies?
  Could a trout have a superpower?
  Or sometimes we just see what kind of a couplet we can make out of the words vanilla and gorilla.
  What kind of a creature is a SPLONK?
Engaging children with humor will reap huge rewards - and it makes the instructor feel good too.


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