8 Ways to Introduce Humor into Children's Books

Humor is an essential in almost any book. It keeps the audience entertained, and can also be used to break up the more serious parts of the story. In a children's book, the humor is all that much more important, since children tend to appreciate humor more than most grown-ups do.

Of course, there are many different comic devices you could use in a book. In this post I am going to list some (but by no means all) of the different ways you could introduce humor into a children's book, and talk a little bit about each of them. You might find some of these devices in an adult book, too, but you will find all of them in children's books.

1. Slapstick Violence

We've all seen the cartoons. The ones like Tom and Jerry, or Scooby Doo, where the characters get smashed, bashed and dashed to pieces, much to our amusement (and then, of course, emerge unharmed a few seconds later). Slapstick violence is exaggerated physical violence, which is both funny and fine for kids, because it is so exaggerated that we cannot possibly conceive of it being real. This kind of violence is very useful, because it means that you can have violence in children's books a) without being unsuitable for the child, and b) while being funny. Win-win!
This would be very serious if it wasn't so exaggerated

2. Toilet Humor

This one is a major cause for contention between children and their parents. As you probably already know, toilet humor is the use of faeces, urine, farts, bottoms, and (sometimes) vomit in a (supposedly) funny way (e.g. a character falling in a cowpat). I know, because I was a kid once, that children find these kinds of things extremely funny, though their parents do not always.

Personally, I try to refrain from using toilet humor in my books, partly because I find it rather crude, and partly because I don't want to offend parents. However, there are many authors who use toilet humor to entertain children with great success. There is a place for toilet humor in literature -- it's just not a very tasteful place.

3. False Assumptions

"There's gotta be something we can do!" said Harley, sitting down next to Sporty with a loaded tray. "We can't just give up!"

"I agree," said Sporty. "We need to find out what made Trixie disappear."

Harley stared at her. "What? I was talking about the fact that they still haven't put creamed turnips on the menu."
Ellie Firestone, Super Sporty 6: The Day of the Doom Phantom

This comic device is one of my personal favorites. It's a little harder to describe than the other kinds, so I've included the quote above from my book Super Sporty 6: The Day of the Doom Phantom. In the quote, Sporty thinks that Harley is talking about the case they're working on, when Harley is actually talking about lunch. The contrast between the two options (the very serious mission and lunch) further amplifies the humor.

This is a higher type of humor than the two devices we have seen so far. Slapstick violence and toilet humor are almost exclusively used in children's books and TV, because they are generally seen as quite immature. False assumptions, however, are much more widespread, and you will see them in many adult books and films, as well as in children's books.

4. Stupidity

False assumptions are usually just a result of a character not paying attention, but there are some characters who are just flat-out stupid. They can show this stupidity in different ways, but they all usually provide humor by giving people an opportunity to poke fun at them.

Stupidity is a comic device which I am guilty of using several times in my books. I have an 'evil' alien who is so stupid that he mixed a deadly serum with its antidote (thereby rendering it useless), in the hopes that it would last longer that way. I also have a character who only ever says the word 'Yeah' (all of his conversations are rather short). Needless to say, young readers often find these characters hilarious.

5. Practical Jokes

This is unlike most other comic devices, in that the characters themselves are fully aware of the humor. When we read about characters playing practical jokes on each other, it has much the same effect as if we had played the jokes ourselves. We laugh at the pranked, and cheer for the victorious prankster.

There is one situation when practical jokes are not funny -- that is, if it's a 'good' character who has been pranked, and a 'bad' character was the one who pranked them. If this happens, we don't laugh. Instead, we hate the evil prankster who dared to make fun of our hero.

6. Irony

There is much confusion over what 'irony' actually means. However, since this post is concerned with types of humor, not the real definition of 'irony', let's just roll with it.

There are actually two types of irony; dramatic irony and situational irony.

Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something that not all the characters do. For example, suppose that Anna has put confetti in Bob's umbrella. You, the reader, know about the confetti, and Anna knows about the confetti, but Bob doesn't. Later, Bob will open his umbrella and find out about the confetti, much to the amusement of the reader.

Situational irony is when something happens which was not the expected outcome of a situation. For example, let's say that Anna decides to bake some cookies. To make then taste extra-good, she adds some special powder marked 'Cookie Yummyiser' which she found in the cupboard. As it turns out, the Yummyiser just makes the cookies taste horrible, and this unexpected development guarantees some laughs (so why did the cookies taste horrible? Well, Bob was mad about the confetti prank, so he mixed up a really gross-tasting powder, and put it in a jar and wrote 'Cookie Yummyiser' on it, in the hopes that Anna would use it in her cookies and make them really bad. Hey, that's also dramatic irony! I think...).

7. Sarcasm

Sarcasm is sometimes classed as irony, though I'm putting it by itself because it's important.

Kids love it when characters in the book they are reading use sarcasm. Actually, everybody loves it! Sarcasm is when a character says one thing, while meaning the opposite. For example:

"Oh, yeah, I totally loved it when you put confetti in my umbrella..."

8. Comebacks

Everyone loves a good comeback. In books, comebacks can be a great source of humor. We laugh at the clever ones, and at the not-so-clever ones. Here's an example of a good comeback:

"You're an invertebrate!"
"Well, at least I'm not a microscopic single-celled organism, like you."

Now, an example of a bad comeback:

"You're an invertebrate!"
"Well, you're ... an even bigger invertebrate!"

As you can see, even though the two comebacks were completely different, they were both funny (in the first instance, we're laughing at the first person. In the second instance, we're laughing at the second person)

There are many more ways to introduce humor into children's books than just the ones we have outlined here. Can you think of another way to introduce humor into a children's book? If so, please share in the comments!


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