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MOWMT Day #12: Bonnie Kelso Finds What's Funny

Cultivating Humor In Your Informational Fiction Picture Book Manuscript

By Bonnie Kelso

PRO TIP: Humor is a powerful tool. You don’t have to be funny to write humor.

There’s nothing like a well placed joke to keep a child listening to a story. The best part about writing humor for kids is that #1, they are eager to laugh and #2, they are still cultivating their sense of humor, so they find a lot of things funny. Sometimes the humor will come from an obvious place and other times you will have to dig around for it, but either way a well-crafted humorous moment in your story is bound to please your readers. Here are a few ideas to help you perk up your informational fiction picture book with some LOLs.

#1 Discover humor while exaggerating differences.

In Ashley Spires, “Burt The Beetle Doesn’t Bite,” we are introduced to a common June Beetle who’s not measuring up to his exciting bug friends. This unfortunate contrast sparks humor as Burt continuously tries to prove that he is just as special as the rest. With so many delightful jokes, kids don’t even realize they are learning about all kinds of insects. If your manuscript has obvious contrasts, try exploring those in a fun way with humor. Make a list of all the differences, then dive a little deeper into each. When brainstorming, nothing is too wacky. There’s humor to be found in any difference.

#2 Allow the artwork to do the heavy “humor” lifting.

In Ellie Peterson’s “How to Hug a Pufferfish,” we learn that when a pufferfish is frightened, they fill their body with water and pointy spikes protrude from their skin making them unhuggable. Ellie found a way to use this scientific information as a metaphor for a child who does not enjoy being hugged by strangers. The story teaches kids how to handle sensitive friends with patience and understanding. Most of the humor in this story is delivered through the artwork which leaves the text itself grounded in compassion. Even if you are not an illustrator, you can imagine funny visuals for your story. If you have ideas, write them down. They might become humorous art notes.

#3 Lean into your back matter.

In Meredith Crandall Brown’s “Milk and Juice: A RecyclingRomance,” facts about the recycling process are weaved into an adorable love story. Meredith saves the last three pages for more technical recycling information. This part could have felt very separate from the rest of the story, but the author illustrator masterfully weaves facts with jokes to explain the recycling process in the same consistent humor style used throughout the book. If your manuscript has back matter, try brainstorming ways that you can make the material as engaging as the main story. This could be the perfect opportunity to present information with humor and consequently engage more readers past the end of your story.

#4 Choose the quirkiest detail from your research and focus on that. Napoleon Vs. The Bunnies,” written by J.F. Fox and illustrated by Anna Kwan, uses a legendary story about a rabbit hunt to framework historical events and biographical information with humor. The magic in this story is in the narration. You know that an epic battle is coming because of the title, but J.F. Fox builds tension by teasing the reader with lines like, “This book isn’t about any of that,” and “Did we mention how cute they were?” What is the funniest part of your work in progress? What if the entire story revolved around that one part? Try rewriting your story from that angle and don’t forget to stretch out the lead up to that big punchline to incite the loudest laugh possible.

#5 Use page turns to deliver the best punchlines. Humor is all about timing. In my book, “Nudi Gill: Poison Powerhouse of the Sea,” the biggest kid appeal punchline comes when Gill, the nudibranch, explains that he is essentially naked. I knew that if this informational nugget was timed just right, it would get a guaranteed laugh from kids, who naturally find being naked hilarious. Maybe you have a punchline in your story that deserves a little extra space to shine. A page turn leading to a spread with just a few choice words might be worth exploring.

In my humble opinion, nothing keeps a child entertained and engaged with a subject more than a few good laughs. I encourage you as writers and illustrators to try your hand at cultivating humor in your stories. Crafting a good joke can take some effort, but by keeping your mind open to the possibility of writing humor, you might discover a powerful new way to connect with your readers.

Prize! I am offering a custom kid lit portrait to one lucky winner. Like this one:

Bio: Bonnie Kelso is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI Nevada and represented by Liz Nealon of Great Dog Literary. Her informational fiction picture book “Nudi Gill: Poison Powerhouse of the Sea” is about a nudibranch (noo-de-brank) living a fierce and fascinating life in the ocean without a shell and completely . . . NAKED! When not making books or painting murals, Bonnie loves to watch funny videos and explore new places with her family. You can follow her on Twitter @BonnieKelso or Instagram @Bonnie.Kelso.


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