I have often been told, “Brian, you’re a numbskull.” Thankfully that has nothing to do with this post, I just wanted to put it out there for discussion. I’ve also been told that there are two types of people, those who laugh at ‘I Love Lucy’ and those who laugh at ‘The Three Stooges’.
I don’t think it’s quite that black and white and read all over, but it gives us a gauge.
What makes an 8-12 year old boy or girl laugh? In my experience… if it’s presented in the proper format, almost anything can make a middle grader crackup. Honestly. Especially when you’re with them in person. But what about in books? That’s where things get like my mom’s liver++… very, very tough.
++ Referring to the liver my mom COOKS, not her ACTUAL liver. Yet I’m craving fava beans and a nice chianti?
Cover and Title:
Probably the hardest part about humor in books is getting the middle grader to actually pick up the book. A good title or cover can make that happen. For example, Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants by Dav Pilkey, that’s a book I gotta… um, I mean a middle grader has got to have. Of course, it doesn’t have to be bathroom humor. It could be as simple as Hoot by Carl Hiaasan or as extreme as The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.
Once you have the book in the hands of the questionable reader in question, the author must come through with something funny to read about. The entire book doesn’t have to be humorous, mind you, but slanted in that direction. For example, how about having two kids sneak in and spend the night at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as in The Mixed-Up Files of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Or how about the Nightmare Academy: Books 1, 2 and the soon to be released Book 3: Monster Wars by Dean Lorey . The premise: When Charlie Benjamin sleeps, monsters wake up. And sleepovers just aren’t as fun when these horrible creatures try to eat the other children. These books are hysterical. And just wait until you learn about the Trout of Truth.
Words, Puns and Analogies:
Certain words will always crack a smile on the face of a middle grader. (As mature adults, we certainly don’t find these funny anymore.) The obvious being ‘poop’ *snickering* and *still giggling* ‘fart’. *laughing* *coughing* Er… ahem. Sorry about that. But even words like ‘fanorkle’ and ‘gloop’ can be funny when used properly. Still better, twist words into puns or analogies and you have yourself a laugh riot that may need defused by teargas totting Tommies. Take the book HECK – Where the Bad Kids Go by Dale Basye , these pages are just full of it+++.
+++ Referring to puns and analogies, not *snickering again* poop
Just like Adult and Young Adult books, humorous Middle Grade books use characters to tell the story.
The voice of the author can imbue (how about that for word usage) humor from the get go. The Fudge books written by Judy Blume are perfect examples. (Not to mention ‘fudge’ can be a funny word – see the movie ‘A Christmas Story’.) But voice can go beyond the pages. I read the book Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman and was entertained by the tale. When I had the chance to LISTEN to Neil read from the book, it was hilarious. The crowd roared as he became the characters, mimicking their voices as he imagined them.
To help take humor to the next level, more and more books are including illustrations with the prose. And we’re not talking about picture books, people. We’re talking stick figures! Books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney may one day be a bestseller. What? Oh… it is? Um, I meant to say IS a bestseller.
How about You?
I’ve mentioned a few of my favorite humorous MG books in this post, but what about you? What books, growing up or just recently, made you laugh? Or giggle? Or at the very least, give up a crooked smile?
To entice you to reply, I’m going to give away a SIGNED copy of Rapacia by Dale Basye (Book 2 of Where The Bad Kids Go) to a randomly drawn winner.