A guest post by children's book author Andrew Daddo
This was meant to be a blog post along the lines of ‘5 reasons funny books are great for kids'. I think we all know the main reason, and that’s to make kids laugh. There’s a healthy by-product, another compelling reason to write funny books for young people, and that’s to make the writer laugh as well.
As we all know, this is most definitely the season to acknowledge ‘unprecedented’ times. As we lurch from one catastrophic headline to the next, there is a definite need for some respite, especially for our children. If there’s a better sound than a kid cacking themselves, I don’t know what it is, so that’s part of the point of writing humour for them.
There’s all that guff about endorphins and laughing and flexing facial muscles and I believe in every single bit of it.
I also like it when kids laugh – it means they’re not strung out on the harder parts of the world they live in.
It means that writers get to explore some pretty interesting areas on the road to getting a chuckle out of our young people, which is pretty fantastic. Obviously, what blows my hair back (or off) might not work for you, and that’s the way of the world. But I do enjoy giving ideas a chance to work rather than shelving them if they seem a little stupid. Let’s be honest, stupid is often pretty funny. Repeating stupid three times is often funnier.
Take the golf pro in Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore: the one with the wooden hand that keeps breaking…the fistfight with Bob Barker…the homeless caddy…all pretty dumb, and yet together, they tickle me in the right spots.
Is there a secret to writing laughs for kids? I’m not sure there is, but one thing that seems to work is taking a true story and extending it to the almost absurd. Give kids a scenario where they can definitely imagine themselves being involved and take it one or two steps further.
Atticus Van Tasticus, for instance, is about a pretty normal ten year old boy who gets his hands on a sailing ship and decides to become a pirate. Could this happen? No, of course not. Could an eight or nine or ten year old imagine it happening to them, absolutely. ‘No parents, no teachers, no one telling you what to do…you can do whatever yers want.’
By setting an almost boundary-less premise, as writers, we can literally make anything happen. A crew full of other kids with names like Mullet, Stinkeye, Hogbreath, Buttface, Muscles etc…and a First Mate who’s not quite what he seems – if he is a he at all.
Things don’t have to be real, they just have to be ‘believable'.
Kids know instinctively that Captain Trumptee is based on a very famous leader. They know the Trumptee character flaws could belong to another fellow as well – at least, they can see that they might. It’s one of the great things about writing for young people: they kind of know stuff, but they probably don’t as well.
Imagine writing about a first kiss, or being taught how to kiss – it’s horrifying and humiliating and therefore utterly fantastic fodder. How do you kiss? Well, duh! You bite a mouth sized hole in an orange and get to work on it. Or do you believe your mate who tells you to ‘open your mouth about this much, wide enough to fit in a Cherry Ripe, but not a Mars Bar’? Create physical reactions for kids to actually engage with, and the mundane often becomes quite special.
As for funny…if it makes the writer laugh, snigger, smile, guffaw or look sidewards and wonder if they’re on the right track or have gone too far, there’s an excellent chance and kids will get it too. By writing fun and funny scenes for books, kids have to see them in their own heads, in their own way. The imagery is not given to them as it is in a TV show, it’s created by them. The reader decides how big the Viking is, how bad his breath stinks, how thick his accent is and yellow his teeth are, and all of that.
Most importantly: spew it on to the page. All of it. Just get it out there and sort the mess out a little later. That’s life, right? And that’s definitely writing.
Andrew Daddo is the author of the Atticus Van Tasticus series.