Those of you who follow me on social media know that I like to make humorous responses to other people’s posts. Wisecracking comes to me spontaneously. But to draft this post, I had to use the analytical side of my brain. So, fair warning: I’m setting your expectations right now. This post about humor will not be funny at all — barren of banter, a wilderness of wisecrackery, and a desert of drollitude. If you want to get up and leave now, no one will think less of you.
There are many different ways to achieve humor. But there is no specific formula for humor, particularly given how context-sensitive it is. This is by no means a comprehensive list of techniques. But these examples from picture books are intended to light a fire of farce, provide a comic catalyst, and spark some silliness.
1. Thwarting Expectations — Give the readers something they weren’t expecting. Jean Reagan’s HOW TO BABYSIT A GRANDMA offers a good example of the humor of role reversal. Ditto CHILDREN MAKE TERRIBLE PETS by Peter Brown. The following image from my MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES shows a Muffet who, unlike the original, is not at all afraid of spiders.
2. Bodily Functions — Sigh. It may be low brow, but you can always rely on the Three-B’s of bodily functions (burps, barf, and boogers) to deliver disgusting delight. Consider the anatomical appeal of Taro Gomi’s EVERYONE POOPS or Kotzwinkle and Murray’s WALTER THE FARTING DOG.
3. Wordplay — English is a complex and nuanced language, providing fertile ground for authors to plant puns and sow idioms. While Dad jokes can sometimes be too subtle for younger readers, they also create language learning opportunities. Examples of this include Tara Lazar’s 7 ATE 9 and my GOOD EGG & BAD APPLE.
4. Made-up Words — In the tradition of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock poem, authors can create their own words. Just take care to provide sufficient context that young readers can figure out what you intend. Examples of this include Antoinette Portis’s BEST FRINTS IN THE WHOLE UNIVERSE and Carson Ellis’s DU IZ TAK?