One of the chief objections a young reader had to the first version of my middle grade manuscript was that it wasn’t funny. She said she likes funny books.

In the comments about genre-identity yesterday, Erik (about the same age as the reader mentioned above) said that he liked writing funny stuff.

There’s a message there, and it’s the message I got from the title that suggested today’s post (a rather unlikely source, I must admit…)

The title that inspired this look at using humor in writing for kids is A Splurch in the Kisser by Sam Wasson, a book that looks at the movies of Blake Edwards, who was a master of slapstick comedy. (I don’t generally like slapstick, but any comedic turn of Blake’s can dissolve me into giggles and have me exclaiming out loud to the screen, “Blake, I love this!”)

Kids, like Blake Edwards and me, love humor, the broader and less nuanced, the better. In fact, it’s very important when injecting humor into one’s writing for kids to remember that their idea of what’s funny doesn’t always mesh with an adult’s idea of what’s funny.

Little ones, especially, are still developing an understanding of why things are funny – witness a little boy of my acquaintance who knew that there was a reason the grown-ups laughed when his daddy asked a riddle about “How many British Telecom men does it take to change a light bulb?” but he just didn’t get the format, nor the point of the riddle, so it became, “Daddy, I tell you a joke.” “All right, Matt, what is it?” “Three British Telecom men!” And the little boy would go into gales of laughter.

I’m sure we can all name authors who know how to write humor for kids. Susanna Leonard Hill is one. Her Can’t Sleep Without Sheep is genuinely funny, without overtly trying to “be a funny book”. Her text, combined with Mike Wohnoutka’s illustrations, makes giggles rise up as the reader sees the various animals attempting (without success) to replace the sheep that are tired of being counted.

There are resources to help us understand how children’s sense of humor develop – from relatively scholarly articles to suggestions of how to help one’s child develop a sense of humor. These can help a writer, too.

Best idea of all is to get together with some kids and GIGGLE! Remember what made you laugh as a kid, see what makes your own (or someone else’s) kids laugh. Watch a Blake Edwards movie (likely not with your kids) and see what ideas crop up. Relax and have fun!

Do you inject humor into your writing? What makes the kids around you laugh? What books make them laugh?

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