Like every other genre or trend in children's picture books, toilet humour has it's place and often, quite a commercially successful one. Recently, three author-related experiences have resonated with me:
* I took my 'Poo Book' on the road to an author visit at an elementary school. My 1-minute introductory spiel to all the children (ages 5 - 12), finished by squeezing a Poo Emoji soft toy that makes a fart sound. The room erupted into laughter. Adult eyes rolled and kids guffawed. Mission accomplished!
* I attended a brilliant Kids & YA Festival at Writing NSW and the writing humour panel for children was the most entertaining I have ever seen. Four leading Australian humour writers for kids were asked about using fart jokes and all admitted they had gone there, even if sparingly.
* A children's book Editor at a big publishing house in Oz, shared on the festival panel, that at one time, all she seemed to be publishing were poo and fart books. Not as highbrow as she would have liked, but she knew they would sell, and sales returns are a crucial consideration for the international publishing houses when acquiring manuscripts.
So, what exactly am I suggesting? Certainly not that all toilet humour is created equal or even necessary but there are some notable examples of children's books out there that excel in humour based on the universal taboo.
Here are some of my favourites...
Old MacDonald Heard a Parp (or Fart, depending on what market you are reading in), by Sweden's eighth funniest comedian, Olaf Falafel. Believe it or not, there are quite a few ways to create an authentic farting sound by moving your lips in diverse ways. This is a fantastic read / sing-along book for bedtime, subverting the Old MacDonald tale with new and inventive sounds for passing wind. Throw in a random unicorn and a farting Farmer's wife and you have a very clever and fun picture book. No wonder it has spawned others in a series.
The Story of the Little Mole Who Went in Search of Whodunit by Werner Holzwarth & Wolf Erlbruch. This one also goes by different names in different regions (like most books that deal with scatological subjects). And though it's revenge narrative is often questioned as morally dubious, it is still read and enjoyed all over the world, for its universal ability to poke fun of the 'poo taboo' and employ the visuals of a poo, landed on an animal's head. This was first published in 1993 but fast forward 25 years and recognise the Poo Emoji anyone? I could just see that smartphone character sitting atop the poor mole...
Unlike the fictionally titled Olaf above, one of Australia's genuinely greatest comedians Ahn Do, is also a prolific author of children's books - commercially successful, with authorial talent to boot. What Do They Do with All the Poo from All the Animals at The Zoo (Illustrated by Laura Wood), is a favourite with Australian elementary school book clubs. The lyrical text has been transformed into a song, which accompanies the book on CD, and it is utterly fun and extremely catchy. I really love Do's rhyme and comic metaphors for poo. Looking at its success, and place in book club catalogues, I would hazard a guess that this has been deemed a 'socially acceptable poo book'; one that adults and children can enjoy, without the stigma attached.
Have I convinced you? Whatever your thoughts on toilet humour in picture books, I hope I've made a good case for the genre. It may be just a 'flavour of the month' in the commercial world of publishing, but does it really ever go out of style... completely?
With so much to weigh on young minds these days, is a little light humour, focussed on bodily functions, really the worst thing? I suggest we let our kids be the judge.
Brydie Wright Bio
Graduate, Craft & Business of Children’s Picture Book Writing Course
Chief Editor, Sydney Mums Group and Reviewer, WeekendNotes
Author of Daddy and the World's Longest Poo, IAN Awards 2017 Finalist, & Magic Beans from the Creative Kids Tales Story Collection
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