My humor picture book club is one of the highlights of my week. We’re all writers of picture books who want to learn to write funny – we’ve read books on humor writing, but most of the time we all read and discuss a picture book. Our chats are equal parts insightful and hilarious.
I’ll be talking about that more on a panel at the Writing Barn’s Funny Women of Kidlit Confab. (I’m so excited!) But let me share a few takeaways.
1. Everyone Has Different Tastes in Humor
You hear this all the time from agents and editors – usually when they’re rejecting your query. “I’m sorry I didn’t connect with this, but another agent/editor may feel differently.” So you might feel like it’s just a nice thing they say to soften the blow. And, yeah, it probably is. But it’s also true.
Not everyone likes every book. Reading a picture book a week with other authors, all of whom love and write humor, has really driven this home. Sometimes we all agree that a book is fantastic. (Or not so fantastics.) But sometimes, the group feels mixed. And then it’s really helpful to listen to each other’s reasons. This brings me to…
2. Read Widely (And Not Just Jooks You Love)
I’m not saying to go to the library and check out a stack of books you despise. Life is too short to read terrible books. But it’s easier to pump humor into a manuscript if you know what kind of humor works for you (and what doesn’t). Reading both books you love and don’t love can help you zero in on your personal brand of humor.
Doing it in a book group helps even more because people will have different opinions, insights, and tastes than you. My fellow book groupers have pointed out lots of stuff I didn’t notice. For instance……
3. Kids and Adults Find Different Things Funny
If you’ve spent any time with a 6 year old in a knock-knock joke phase, you already know this. (Along with how to fake laugh while backing out of a room.)
Yet it’s still so easy to write things that we writers love, but that don’t work for kids. You can (and should!) have some humor for the adults who will be roped into reading your book aloud. But if the whole book is built on humor that goes over kids heads, it won’t be a successful book.
Several times the book group has loved a book, but someone notes that it feels a bit ”old” for the target audience of 3 to 8 year olds. Usually, that’s when people grab nearby children to read the book and report back. So far our collective intuition is at 100% on this.
Now when I write a book I have an intuition of whether a particular bit of humor will appeal to kids, adults, or both. So I can make sure I’m striking the right balance of engaging kids, but giving adults a few laughs too.
Try It Yourself: Some Funny Picture Books I’ve Loved Recently
My book group is full (sorry) but you can try this out yourself. Or rope in a few writing friends and do it together. Voila! Instant book group!
As You Read, Think About:
- Do you love this book, too?
- What do you like about the book?
- What don’t you like about the book?
- Which parts were funny?
- Which parts were supposed to be funny but…. weren’t?
- Would this work well as a read about? (If you can grab a nearby kid or 10 and test it out!)
- Do kids like the book? What age?
- How do the text and illustrations work together to make the humor?
Books I’ve Loved Recently
You can also find more examples on my Goodreads list of Funny picture books or look through my past book recommendations on my blog.