We’ve all heard the groans when yet another celebrity announces that they are writing a kids a book. After all, kids books are easy and simple that anyone can write one,right?
I have no problem with celebrity picture book authors. In fact, I am really looking forward to Keith Richards’ GUS & ME: THE STORY OF MY GRANDAD AND MY FIRST GUITAR, illustrated by his daughter (Little, Brown September 2014). And I loved FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY by Julianne Moore (Bloomsbury 2007) and NEVER PLAY MUSIC RIGHT NEXT TO THE ZOO by John Lithgow (S&S 2013). But the key is to really
understand children as the intended audience.
The one kind of celebrity that makes me cringe when they write a picture book is comedians. I’m talking true disdain here. I think celebrity comedians who decide to write a picture book run a risk when they just adapt their original set dealing with their own childhood memories to the 32 page format and expect it to work. Two such examples are Jerry Seinfeld’s HALLOWEEN (Little, Brown 2002) and IF ROAST BEEF COULD FLY by Jay Leno (S&S 2004). Sure, the stories are funny…but will a kid laugh?
One excellent exception to my disdain is Michael Ian Black. Not only is Black extremely funny with a skewed worldview (necessities in both the comedy and children’s worlds), but he is also very skilled in translating his humor to kids. Bottom line, Black didn’t just take his established comedy set and smack it down in a 32 page format and call it a day. No. He uses his talents to create some really fun, silly and engaging books that are suited to a kid’s sensibilities.
It comes down to knowing the humor and how it is developed within a child. It’s not merely enough to
be silly, it’s about truly knowing what children find funny. If you have ever read a “funny” picture book to a kid before to only have them sit quietly throughout the entire book you know what I mean.
Next week Simon & Schuster releases NAKED! by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. This is the second book the two have teamed up on, last year’s I’M BORED being the first. And no one can accuse Black of NOT knowing children and how their humor works.
Silly sounds, tickling and peek-a-boo are wonderful ways to introduce humor and laughter to the youngest of children. But as the child ages what makes them laugh changes.
NAKED! expertly touches on three very important aspects of toddler humor:
Increased Awareness of Self
As children grow they become more aware of their bodies. Suddenly, body parts and their functions become very interesting and hysterical. A 2-year-old might put his foot into the sleeve of his jacket saying, "Look! My shoe!" This behavior is funny because the 2-year-old now knows what a shoe really is. In addition, naked bodies and tushies (especially) can evoke fits of giggles. Obviously, NAKED! will definitely tickle the funny bone for this reason.
Children love to be in control. This is one reason why toddlers love to play chase. The little boy in NAKED! leads his tired mother throughout the house as he engages in post-bathtime, pre-bedtime shananigans. He also takes ownership in what he will wear to bed--a combination dinosaur/superhero/pajama costume.
Most children thrive in a routine and the bathtime/bedtime routine will not be anything new to them. So, a story about a crazy naked kid engaging in this routine will be something that other kids will be able to relate to and see themselves in. This is why Leno and Seinfeld's stories, although about children, are hard to relate to. Children sometimes need familiarity to find the humor. And don't be surprised if they re-enact NAKED!
"Bottom"line, Black is one celebrity author who knows how to precisely target his pint-sized audience. NAKED! is a story that will have kids rolling on the floor--with or without clothes on! Get your copy in stores April 29th!
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and theatre educator, but now she splits her days between chasing the Picture Book Writer dream and chasing toddlers on the playground as a nanny. Both are equally glamorous!
Her blog, The Write Routine and her Teacher’s Guides, can be found at www.thisismarciecolleen.com. You can also follow her on Twitter. Additionally, Marcie is the Education Consultant for Picture Book Month.
She contributes the 4th Friday of the month, as a Blogette, right here,
posting on humor in picture books.
Marcie lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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