The benefits to humour in children’s fiction, by Emily-Jane Clark
I have always enjoyed writing funny stories. A quick glance through my childhood notebooks reveals my early works include The Day I Got Stuck on The Toilet and My Imaginary Bum Chum – about a girl whose imaginary friend was an actual bottom, which was fine, until it followed her to school and pooed on her teacher’s desk… So, I suppose it was inevitable that I would end up being a (bum joke) comedy writer.
Before I turned my hand to children’s fiction, I was writing for grown up TV shows (The Mash Report, Mock the Week, Jonathan Ross Show) – where I learnt a lot about how to use comedy to engage an audience, make things memorable and convey a message – all of which were really useful when writing my kid’s debut, The Beasts of Knobbly Bottom: Attack of the Vampire Sheep.
There is a very good reason they say laughter is the best medicine. It releases endorphins, the delicious happy hormones that increase our feeling of wellbeing! And those bad boys are addictive! A good laugh can also connect us to others and reduce stress, so why wouldn’t we want more of it?! This is why humour in children’s books is a brilliant way to get even the most reluctant of readers to pick up a book. If something makes a child smile, they will want to feel that funny again and again!
And if that isn’t awesome enough, funny books have other benefits too! Because humour can make a scene more memorable, it can help young people retain information – so is fantastic for comprehension. This is why the Horrible Histories books are so brilliant.
Comedy is also a great confidence booster. Some of the funniest moments in books often stem from a character making a mistake or messing up in some way. For example, Maggie Mckay, the main character in my new book The Beasts of Knobbly Bottom: Attack of the Vampire Sheep, discovers you can defeat vampires with a stake. But unfortunately, she gets the wrong sort of ‘stake’ and heads down to the vampire sheep’s head quarters with a Hello Kitty rucksack full of raw beef- which obviously results in hilarious mayhem. By reading about people failing in some way, kids are less likely to worry if they get things wrong. They might even turn their experience into a funny story! Comedy characters can also help boost children’s self esteem because many of them are quirky, have an unusual hobby or defy social norms in some way. One of the other heroes in my book is Maggie’s friend, Fred who has an unusual set of skills he was taught by his dad, who is an army chef. His set of army rules, including ‘never go anywhere without a spatula’, end up coming in very handy in the battle with the beasts! Characters like Fred, who view the trait that makes them different as a positive, can empower children to be proud of who they are!
As a mother who sometimes spends half the night reading to my children, I really wanted parents to get in on the endorphin action too (God knows we need them!). So, it was important to me that I made my book funny for parents as well as kids!
Combined with Jeff Crowther’s witty and brilliant illustrations, I hope that the Beasts of Knobbly Bottom: Attack of the Vampire Sheep will not only make children laugh but inspire them to write silly stories of their own. Just because something is silly, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a value!