Childish Nonsense

Exploring Children's Literature

The Nonsense of Nonsense

on May 28, 2012

Humor is primal. Just ask my dog. If he knows an action will make me laugh, he’s bound to repeat it. Most mammals are natural comedians. A lot of birds are too.

Kids are the same. They learn very early that laughter is good. You will get more attention and people will like you if you’re funny. How many parents wait for that first real smile from a baby? (The answer is: all of them.)

Even the most serious stories need some comic relief to help hold the reader’s attention and draw in more readers. Page one of The Hunger Games includes a description of “the world’s ugliest cat.”

At the same time, even the funniest book has a serious side. I just read Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury, the fiftieth anniversary edition of the book that introduced Lyle, The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber. After all these years, children can still identify with Lyle’s completely outrageous behavior and learn about the world.

Somewhere in the middle is best.

I’m not a big fan of potty jokes nor of slapstick that seems harmful, like the Three Stooges poking eyes. These are the things that generally appeal to adolescent boys. I was never an adolescent boy. But slapstick has worked well for many authors.

I am, however, a big fan of plays on words and puns. I think I mentioned before that certain members of my family have very dry senses of humor, so I grew up with this. One does not react to puns, even if one thinks they are funny. It only encourages people. If you and I ever meet, don’t assume I don’t appreciate your humor, even if I don’t laugh. One of my favorite books in this genre is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Oddly, this book also celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 2011. (The early 60s were a banner time for funny books.) Many books containing this type of humor seem to be classified for adults. I can’t figure out if the booksellers don’t think children can appreciate plays on words or if it’s because adults can still appreciate them.

Irony and sarcasm are way up there on my list, too. And those seem to appeal to children, as far as they can understand the jokes.

Of course there are many other types of humor. Children’s literature should aim to keep the kids’ attention and have them get something out of what they’re reading. Humor helps.

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