Monday, October 25, 2010

Humour in Children's Books


I am one of those who complain that there isn’t a lot of humour in Caribbean children’s books. I guess we think that children should be preached at and moralized as much as possible to keep them on the right path. 
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In my youth, one of the sayings constantly thrown at me was ‘chicken merry, hawk de near’.  Words like ‘silly’  ‘stupid’  ‘maddy-maddy’ and 'scatter-brain' were often used to describe any child who laughed too easily or too much.  And yet, as a people we like to laugh. ( Ever heard a 'belly laugh' burst forth  from of a true-true Caribbean person?) So, why not put more humour into the children’s books? There are, of course, humourous situations here and there within some of the stories, but few books, that I know of, outrageous enough to cause a child to keep smiling broadly or giggle out loud. (The story-tellers can get that effect - but that's another story)

What makes children laugh?
It is not always easy to know what will make children laugh; so much depends on their individual view of life and their experiences. It is generally accepted that children respond with laughter to the unexpected, as well as the things that subvert order - things that turn the world upside down. 
 
I once attempted to read for a group of small children from one of my books Miss Bettina’s House. In the story, the animals - a dog, a cat and a parrot take over Miss Bettina’s house when circumstances force her to leave it and seemingly abandon them. Older children seem to enjoy the antics of the animals as they try to protect the house from the village ginnal who wants to take over what he regards as an empty house from which he can take things as he pleases. Miss Bettina's House - Book link

Usually, when I read, the children enjoy the session, but on this occasion, a young miss about four years old insisted that the dog should not be in the house. She wouldn’t allow me to continue the story as she kept repeating very loudly “The dog must not be in the house”. Obviously this was the rule in her home. I had to switch to another story.
A book with the title The Dog who shouldn’t be in the House or Do not go into the House! with a clever cover illustration might catch this little one’s interest. She might find it amusing if the story is about how the dog tries several ways of sneaking into the house and gets caught each time. (In another post I will talk about cultural differences and such a subject.

Fractured fairy tales – alternative versions of fairy tales are funny because we already know the story and so the new version, if clever, can be funny. See an example here. http://www.ellenjackson.net/handsome_and_dreadful_61462.htm 
I am not sure, however, if children would find all of this funny – perhaps the older ones might.

Some years ago, LMH Publishing Ltd. in Jamaica put out a series of picture story books for children. The books all contained very good stories. However, feedback suggests that the most popular with the children was one entitled Naughty Eddie LaRue. As you can guess from the title Eddie LaRue got into a lot scrapes, (subverting the natural order of his environment).
Here’s an extract. The author and illustrator have painted damning pictures of the many naughty things Eddie has done, but this one takes the cake:

But the worst thing of all, the worst, by far,
Was the time Eddie painted the Pastor’s new car.
Pastor drove up one day in a car of dark blue,
So shiny and clean it clearly was new.
Mummy said it looked lovely, Sue said it looked great
Eddie wanted a ride, but was told he should wait
For Pastor was busy, he had things to do
The first of which was to see Mrs.LaRue.
He had come to their house to discuss with their mother
Eddie’s constant misdeeds of one kind or another
Mummy said,”Eddie, go do some painting for me.
Pastor, please come inside. Sue, please make us some tea.”
While Pastor is visiting with his Mom, Eddie ends up painting the Pastor’s new car a bright blue and yellow, and pleased with himself, he actually signs his name as the artist. You can guess the rest. (Maybe you can’t. I’ll discuss this also in the post about cultural differences.) When you read this story for children, they eagerly await the next naughty thing that Eddie gets up to, and think it quite funny.

Here’s some more food for thought: an extract from  
Laughing All the Way: Humor in Children's Books

“Thinking is stretched and interest in literature
is extended when children experience comic stories
that present a developmentally appropriate cognitive
challenge (Jalongo, 1985; McGhee, 1979). When a story
line or illustration does not turn out as expected or does
not fit into a standard conception of normality, youngsters
are amused. They may be even more delighted
when they realize where a funny story is taking them:
They love recognizing the "inside joke." With maturity
and experience, young primary-age children gradually
develop an appreciation of verbal humor. Riddles,
rhymes, and silly songs now give them great pleasure.
At the end of the early childhood years, the multiple
meanings of an illustration, a word, or an event become
food for a young child's humorous thought (Honig,
1988)”Pauline Davey Zeece, Department Editory
Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1995
Books for Children

So, Caribbean writers for children, what you think?Do we need more humour in the stories?How about a couple of wild and wacky tales to brighten a day for our children
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