If you have ever attempted to write picture books you are faced with a ton of rules. Rules about word count, rhyme, anthropomorphic animals stand out on a long list. But I think the most important rule is to not talk down to children.
The days of moralistic stories that teach a lesson are gone. Today’s kids are smart. And the quickest way to lose them is to treat them like they are not.
Sure. What kid doesn’t love a poop joke or a naked tushie once in a while? But don’t underestimate a child’s ability to grasp more sophisticated humor.
Parody for instance.
Looney Toons – parodies of cartoons.
MAD Magazine – parodies of magazines.
Kids get the joke and love to have their brain bent just like adults.
Enter Jon Scieszka.
He gets it.
“Second grade is a key age, because it’s when they’ve just become readers and feel they’ve figured out the world. They think, Here are all the rules. That’s why second-graders love parody, and why I love writing
for them, taking a form and twisting it or layering in onto a different subject matter. I love the weird collision of form and content, and so do they,” says Sciezka in Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy
compiled and edited by Leonard Marcus (Candlewick, 2009).
Scieszka has proven he gets it with his “jump right off the page and break the fourth wall” picture books like The
True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. And on October 22 he and co-creators Mac Barnett and Matthew Myers will take the picture book world by storm once again with Battle Bunny. Get ready to have yourand your kid’s brains bent!
Now if you have yet to hear about the highly anticipated Battle Bunny, you need to. You can
read Betsy Bird’s fabulous School Library Journal review at http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2013/07/10/review-of-the-day-battle-bunny-by-jon-scieszka-and-mac-barnett/.
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast did a great interview at http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2584.
And the book trailer featuring Barnett and Scieszka is quite hilarious and worth checking out on YouTube.
But I don’t really want to talk about the book today.
What I want to focus on is this brand of humor.
Battle Bunny is essentially three stories in one. You have the super saccharine sweet tale of Birthday
Bunny, the defaced version called Battle Bunny, and the story of Alex who received this book as a gift from his Gran Gran.
Last month I brought you a post about Adam Lehrhaupt and Matthew Forsythe’s
Warning: Do Not Open This Book! Another book that takes the traditional flat pages and invites children into a world beyond its physicalform.
Mac Barnett’s pen and Adam Rex’s brush fought in last year’s Chloe and the Lion, which proved a funny tale about the creative process and collaboration.
While at the SCBWI Summer Conference in LA I heard editors say over and over again that they are looking for books that don’t fit in a box. They want books that surprise them. Editors want voices that they have never heard before. Some have gone even so far as to say they are looking for genre breakers and books
It’s a daunting task. It can seem overwhelming. But getting there can be fun.
Here’s your assignment if you choose to accept it.
1) Watch more cartoons.
2) Play with kids and let them come up with the games. Stop trying to entertain them and let them take the
3) Research and read books that kids love. The ones that they want to read over and over again and spill into
giggles every time.
4) Recall your own childhood and what you found funny. What is the funniest thing you remember from
when you were a kid?
5) Listen. To. Kids.
That’s how these guys did it.
As Betsy Bird writes, “Reading through Battle Bunny, the lesson I took away was that insipid picture books that talk down to their audiences deserve what they get. If a book doesn’t respect the child reader, kids will know and
they’ll resent the book for it. Barnett and Scieszka strike that immensely difficult balance between what kids enjoy and what adults enjoy. They respect their readers’ intelligence and end up with remarkably interesting books as a result.”
In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher and a 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.
She lives with her fiancé and their mischievous sock monkey in Brooklyn, NYC.
9/29/2013 09:26:00 am
Another great post by the blogettes! Thanks, Mira and Marcie.
9/29/2013 10:11:39 am
Thank you for the trip into the funny bone of kids-love it!
9/29/2013 11:16:14 am
Great review - thanks for the links to the trailer (funny!). I hereby give myself permission to scribble on really saccharine books that I find at yard sales.
9/30/2013 07:55:00 am
Great blog Marcie! Thanks.
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