Our society loves to laugh.
People flock to comedic movies.
Many schedule time to watch their weekly sit-com (sometimes even petitioning the “powers to be” if the show gets canceled).
Some stay up way past my bedtime to watch Saturday Night Live each weekend.
And the number one answer when asking what people look for in a lover: “someone who makes me laugh.”
So, I wonder, with all of this love for and value placed on laughter, why don’t we teach humor to our kids?
We focus on teaching our children to be good citizens, to read, write, perform math, be physically active and to have manners. Why don’t we also teach them how to have a sense of humor? Clowning classes for kiddies as part of the Core Curriculum?
I know it sounds silly. But I am actually not trying to be funny. I’m dead serious.
5 Benefits of Laughter and Humor
1. Laughter is definitely good medicine. It has been proven scientifically that a multitude of illnesses and disease, including high blood pressure and depression, can be combatted through laughing. But don’t just take my word for it, check out http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter. Have that daily dose of funny to keep mentally, physically and emotionally healthy.
2. Laughter brings people together. It’s a connecter. Share a laugh with someone and friendships are created, family bonds are strengthened.
3. Laughter levels the playing field. When you share a laugh with a child, you are both on the same level. You have a joke, sometimes an inside-joke. And kids love to be treated like an equal. Of course, jokes must not be at another’s expense. But telling stories of your own embarrassing moments can also help dissolve shame and embarrassment in others.
4. Laughter reduces stress. Think kids don’t have stress? Think again! Many of us cannot remember what it was like to have absolutely NO SAY in what you do, where you do it and when. Imagine constantly being told what to do while also developing your own personality. Yeah….stress.
5. Laughter diffuses anger. In a world that talks too much with hostile words and fists, teaching our kids to “find the funny” and lighten up a bit is invaluable.
I just love silly, wacky, and quirky picture books. I love to read them to myself, share them with others and even write my own.
I am done feeling inadequate because there is no “higher agenda” in my stories. Silly picture books that make kids and adults laugh-out-loud create bonds, instill a love of reading and share the gift of entertainment.
My picture books don’t set out to teach a lesson. My books, and the books I tend to enjoy the most, put FUN FIRST. And you know, perhaps that is more than enough.
Quick, find a kid. Grab a funny, laugh-out-loud picture book. And have a blast! You will be teaching a world of good.
Learning about different developmental stages can be very helpful for authors and illustrators to know about age appropriate subject matter and styles that what might appeal to kids at different ages. These notes are primarily from my twin sister Leonie Reisberg who is a children’s development expert and an art therapist. I’ve dragged her into the 21st century with her Facebook page, so if you’re feeling generous, please “like” her page here https://www.facebook.com/pages/KidsLink/318898001530875?fref=ts. Also, if you want to run a child development question by her on the page, I’m sure she’d be happy to answer it for you.
Now before we start, just a quick disclaimer, developmental stages are different for all kids. Albert Einstein didn’t start talking until he was 3, so please take these as general benchmarks. Also kids are developing at a much faster rate these days so that is another factor to consider. But here they are:
Latency Phase 5-11 years
Writers are no strangers to droughts. There are droughts when good ideas don’t come. Droughts when the right words won’t come. And there are droughts when no one wants your stories.
All those droughts are painful, but that last type of drought can break your heart and your spirit. It almost broke mine. But fear not, dear readers/writers, this story has a happy ending.
My blog for the Picture Book Academy is supposed to be about character-driven stories. I’m going off-course a bit to share some news and encourage all of us to persevere. If there’s a character here, it’s me; I’m not as interesting or determined or spunky as my book characters, but I hope you’ll stay tuned for a bit of drama and that happy ending.
The years passed. It didn’t feel like 5 or 6 or 7. It felt like I’d been wandering in the wilderness for forty years, like the Israelites. Like them, I’d be there, “until the whole generation that had done what was evil in the Lord’s sight was gone.” Except I was the whole generation and the Lord was the Big Six (soon to be the Big Five).
I had sold my first 11 books on my own, with no agent. But with drastic changes happening in publishing and more and more houses closing their doors to unsolicited manuscripts, even from published authors, it was time for an agent. Luckily, I found the wonderful Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. She loved my stories. She was heaven sent.
But something was wrong. My manuscripts were still getting “close;” an editor would love my story, then acquisitions would turn it down. ETC. I’d been down this road alone, in misery. Now, I was just sharing the misery with someone else.
Then suddenly and unexpectedly, as happens in a drought, it began to sprinkle. In early April, Karen emailed there was interest in one of my manuscripts. (Blah. Blah. Fine. This had happened before. No reason to get overexcited.) But it didn’t take long for the sprinkle to turn into a shower. There was lots of interest in my manuscript.
And in the end, it was a downpour. The drought had ended. The offer that could not be refused came from the man who emailed: “It’s utterly simple….and simply brilliant.” My story was bought in a pre-empt, in a two-book deal from the exceptional Neal Porter of Neal Porter Books. There is simply no better way in the children’s publishing world to end a 7-year drought.
I cannot tell you what the “simply brilliant” story is, but I will tell you it is minimal text. Really minimal text. It’s a story that came to me in images, in the early morning hours. My art notes show the way to a character-driven story. Indeed, there are many characters driving the story, into oblivion and back again. I cannot wait to see how the illustrator paints them.
So now I am rejuvenated, regenerated. I feel a bit like a phoenix rising, like a cicada chirping my song after being underground, unseen, for 13 or 17…or 7 years. Detours, bumps, and droughts come to us all. But, writers, if we persevere, if we have faith, if we keep “showing up,” we can survive the drought and rise like a phoenix.
After a 7-year drought, my story is now…to be continued.
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning children’s book author with a heart of gold. Besides writing, she enjoys visiting schools internationally, nationally, and through Skype, sharing her love of books and writing through presentations and writing “funshops”. In 2008 Marsha was honored as one of seven artists invited to be part of Sequoia National Parks Foundation’s Artists in the Back Country, the only children’s author ever invited. The program’s goal is to rekindle the American tradition of enhancing public appreciation of our natural world through the arts. She shares her adventures in the high Sierras at www.earthsvoices.com
It’s the “fell in love” part that surprised me. I never put it like that before, but it’s true. I have a deep heart feeling about creating children’s books. It’s a feeling so large it takes me just beyond my ability to verbalize. It has a lot in common with falling madly in love and staying there. That’s how I know making children’s books is one of my favorite mediums.
I have worked with children’s book publishers for many years, and for the time being, still do, but I do not personally consider myself a children’s book illustrator/author. I am and always have been an artist. So that’s how I relate to book making.
I am deep into process. After many years of creating art, design and words for books with fantastic editors Dana Goldberg and engaging publishers like Harriet Rohmer, my partner and I suddenly decided to open our own press—basically because we realized we could. We saw the immense potential present in creating books by and for the people with technology close at hand. Using relatively, easily accessible platforms, like Print-on-Demand, together with the abilities we each had, we understood that we could affordably create kickass books.
Much like art, we didn’t really have a choice. We began making books. We just had to. Claiming Face, Gender Now, I See Peace.
Being publishers gave us total creative power. Sometimes as artists and authors, our vision is more far reaching than traditional publishing and current trends allow. But with this kind of independent publishing muscle, we have the freedom to dream as big as we want! We can revision, switch up, freee the whole game; publishing-wise, social-wise, political-wise, spiritual-wise, you name it! We can literally change the face of history through books like never before!
So that’s exactly what we decided to do. We decided to change history. OK, well, not technically, but sort of.
Maya Gonzalez is largely self-taught. She has illustrated over 20 award-winning multicultural children’s books and written 3 with, not an end in sight! Her fine art has shown internationally and appears in numerous books about the contemporary Chicano Art Movement including on the cover of Living Chicana Theory and Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art: Artists, Works, Culture and Education considered to be "the Bible of Chicano/a art." Ridiculously creative, she’s probably making art as you read this or thinking about making art if she’s driving a car or using the stove. And one of her ultimate passions is inspiring others to create books, because she believes that creating children's books has the potential to be one of the most radical things you can do!
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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