Marvin Terban, master of children’s wordplay and author of over 35 humorous books for young readers, explained the science of reading fun to a packed house at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Summer Conference in Los Angeles earlier this month.
“It’s no laughing matter if there’s no laughing matter.”
When children were asked what books they liked to read, this is what they said:
- My favorite books are the ones I pick myself.
- I like books make me laugh.
Recipes for laughter
“That’s great,” you say, “but what’s the secret to making children laugh?” You’re in luck! Terban shared a few of the ingredients from his recipe for humor:
- Use funny names, like Ralph Puken or Bob Booggensnot.
- Use funny words. Apparently the funniest words for young readers are: fart, poop, and underpants. In that order.
- Kids (and adults) laugh the hardest at the unexpected.
- The funniest scenes contain an element of sorrow.
Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler are also masters of writing comedy for young readers. Kids of all ages love their Hank Zipzer: World’s Greatest Underachiever series and Ghost Buddy series. At a past SCBWI conference, this awesome writing team shared a few of their secrets for writing comedy:
- Write what makes you laugh. If you think something is funny, someone else will think so too. Young readers know when humor is not authentic.
- Write from your own “most embarrassing” moments.
- You have to love the character you’re putting in comedic jeopardy, or else it comes off as being mean. You want your audience to laugh with the character, not at him.
- Specific details are almost always funnier than generalizations. For example: Principal Zumba has a mole. Or… Principal Zumba has a mole shaped like the statue of liberty that looks like it’s doing the hula whenever he talks.