Parenting is a Journey
An Adventure of Discovery Not Only of our Children But of Ourselves as Well
By Mary Ann Scheuer
We all like doing the things we have fun with. Psychoanalysts might call this the “Pleasure Principle,” but I call it common sense. So how do we help our kids discover the fun in reading?
At the Bay Area Book Festival, I sat down with three local authors to talk about how humor hooks readers. Megan McDonald writes the Judy Moody and Stink books, bringing shenanigans and hijinks, along with real -life struggles, to every chapter. Travis Nichols combines word play, comic book panels and crisp, clever capers into punchy picture books like “Betty’s Burgled Bakery.” LeUyen Pham illustrates the “Princess in Black” series with Shannon Hale.
Travis and LeUyen both started drawing from a very early age, using pictures to tell stories. Drawing was really important to both of them as they tried to find their place in the world. Uyen talked about how she was very shy and realized that her classmates really liked the drawings she could do. She even started selling her drawings of popular movie characters to classmates!
I especially loved how Megan talked about the humor in Judy Moody stemming from how readers can relate to Judy. In the very beginning of “Judy Moody Was in a Mood” readers know just how awful it is to be in a bad mood and so we can relate to how Judy’s feeling. But we can also laugh at how grumpy Judy gets. So while we’re empathizing with her, we’re also laughing at ourselves in a safe and gentle way.
A large part of humor is in the timing. With picture books, illustrators really work at using the page turn to create tension and set up the punchline. They also really play with kids’ expectations and then turn the tables. We had a blast listening to some of the kids’ jokes!
I also loved how they all agreed on the importance of pictures in creating the humor that hooks kids. LeUyen emphasized how reading the pictures and seeing the funny setups there were just as important as reading the words. That’s a really important message to share with young kids who are struggling with decoding. They bring so much to the story by figuring out what’s happening in the pictures!
Travis talked about how his newest book, “Betty’s Burgled Bakery,” started from a failure. He was struggling with the follow up to “Fowl Play,” trying to focus the story on idioms, when it came to him how alliteration might be funnier and easier for kids to get. This makes me think about the way LeUyen described incorporating her mistakes in artwork. She really likes doing artwork by hand and not just the computer, because the mistakes make her more creative and bring even more out of her drawings.
Favorite Funny Books
Especially for developing readers (ages 6-10)
• “The Bear Who Wasn’t There,” by LeUyen Pham
• “Betty’s Burgled Bakery,” by Travis Nichols
• “The Book With No Pictures,” by B.J. Novak
• “Disgusting Critters” series, by Elise Grave
• “Fowl Play,” by Travis Nichols
• “Guess Again!” by Mac Barnett
• “Niño Wrestles the World,” by Yuyi Morales
• “The Bad Guys,” by Aaron Blabey
• “Bad Kitty Gets a Bath,” by Nick Bruel
• “Dory Fantasmagory,” by Abby Hanlon
• “Charlie & Mouse,” by Laurel Snyder
• “Judy Moody Was in a Mood,” by Megan McDonald
• “Princess in Black,” by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham
• “Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid,” by Megan McDonald
• “Unicorn Rescue Society,” by Adam Gidwitz
• “Astronaut Academy,” by Dave Roman
• “Babymouse,” by Jennifer Holm
• “Bird & Squirrel,” by James Burks
• “Dog Man,” by Dav Pilkey
• “Dragon Beware!” by Jorge Aguirre
• “Hilo,” by Judd Winick
• “Phoebe & Her Unicorn,” by Dana Simpson
• “Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.