Guest post: Alan Dapre on what makes a funny book
What makes a funny book? Making a book laugh-out-loud (or even just quietly-giggling) funny is a huge challenge. But it’s something that Alan Dapré does PURR-fectly in his Porridge the Tartan Cat series.
In this guest post, Alan tells us how he doesn’t set out to BE FUNNY!, and gives us some top tips for amazingly a-MEOW-sing stories.
What makes a funny book
These two ominous words were written in large letters at the top of one of my TV scripts. Two words guaranteed to make me freeze. My writing usually incorporates some humour but I never set out to BE FUNNY! I simply write and see what happens.
If you want a masterclass in comic writing, why not read Winnie the Pooh? First published in 1926, each story features outstandingly inventive wordplay and dry humour from A. A. Milne. Sometimes he takes the commonplace and riffs on it:
“There’s a South Pole,” said Christopher Robin, “and I expect there’s an East Pole and a West Pole, though people don’t like talking about them.”
Other times, A. A. Milne has fun with repetition and reduces things down to an absurd yet logical point:
“Two days later, there was Pooh, sitting on his branch, dangling his legs, and there, beside him, were four pots of honey….Three days later, there was Pooh, sitting on his branch, dangling his legs, and there beside him, was one pot of honey. Four days later, there was Pooh…”
Children love following an idea to its absurdly comic conclusion. That’s why I’ve used exaggeration in my books, at least a million and seven times. (Top tip: apparently odd numbers are funnier than even ones.)
In my own writing, the comedy comes from my quirky characters and the surprising situations that they find themselves in:
Ross sprouted a snout and whiskers too. His teeth became fangs and big paws grew. His eyes became orange, no longer blue. He howled at the moon like scary wolves do. “Graagghh!”
“Aarggghh!” I roared back, reusing the same letters because it’s good to recycle.
When Ross is turned into a hairy Scarewolf at the Unfair Funfair, his sister Isla has to courageously find a way to change him back. Children can learn valuable life lessons reading about the comically unpredictable predicaments of characters.
I love to use puns. Many authors tend to shy away from them but puns appear fresh and funny to young children – mainly because they have never heard them before. In Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Bash-Crash-Ding, the characters go to the Crystal Cave ‘at the foot of Ben Tankle’. Me-groan.
Children also enjoy reading made-up words, and they’re fun to write too:
“Rossssssssss! Don’t touch that lever or I’ll tell Dad!” Isla shouted. But the beastly boy-wolf couldn’t hear. His eyes were glazed (like the yucky cherries that children pick off cakes, so they can just eat the icing and the sponge bit). He walked like a mummy and a zombie mixed together – a mumbie! Or was it a zommy?’
If authors are going to BE FUNNY it’s best to draw on tried and tested comic techniques. My favourite one is a type of misdirection where a sentence is given a quirky twist: “Windy Wendy spent all morning feeding the animals. She was feeding the grasshoppers to the lizards and the lizards to the buzzards when something unexpected happened…”
Humorous books are invariably full of surprises, inventiveness and fun. They reflect a child’s natural energy and playfulness. A funny book can make kids feel better. Comedy is the flipside of sorrow and sadness. It’s a brilliant thing to share. When I was a teacher, I’d stand in the school playground and listen to pupils telling jokes. I’d hear old jokes that I’d told when I was their age! They loved to make themselves laugh – and adults too. Comedy bridges generations. We all benefit from a good giggle.
Making children laugh isn’t easy… So, play with quirky characters, zany situations, unusual words and off-beat timing. Don’t strive to BE FUNNY!, just play with the words until things feel right. If you’re struggling, try thinking outside the box – and the book. Perhaps go for surprising meta-humour that never fails to capture children’s attention and make them laugh:
“It was Windy Wendy the pet shop owner! Who is she? Tell us more, I hear you whisper because it’s probably late at night & you’re meant to be asleep, but you like this book so much you can’t put it down, so you’re reading it under the covers & turning the pages very quietly.
When children experience the ‘I get it!’ moment – you’ll know the penny has dropped.
Or the Porridge…
More about Alan Dapré
Alan Dapré is the author of the Porridge the Tartan Cat series. In this zany new series for young readers, Porridge purrfectly CAT-a-logs the McFun family’s hilarious adventures from a cat’s-eye perspective. Meow-some illustrations are provided by Yuliya Somina.
Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Unfair Funfair, the latest book in the series, is available now! Other Porridge adventures include …the Brawsome Bagpipes, …the Bash-Crash-Ding, …the Kittycat Kidnap, and …the Loch Ness Mess.
Grand finale to the series, Porridge the Tartan Cat and the Pet Show Show-Off, is coming soon!
Creating Characters in Illustrated Children’s Books – #FlorisDesign
With wacky expressions, silly quirks and heartfelt encounters, we know that characterisation brings personality to the page. At Floris, we think that it is one of the most important features in any illustrated book. We want to share a few examples of how illustrators can make characters’ personality shine.
Illustrators use facial expressions, fashion, body language, and actions to create vibrant and memorable characters. This is equally important for chapter novels in our Young Kelpies range and picture books. We’ve picked some of our favourite examples from our latest Young Kelpies series, Scotland Stars F.C. to demonstrate some great illustrations of big personalities!
Danny Scott’s protagonist, Calum Ferguson, dreams of being a star footballer and the illustrator, Alice A. Morentorn, shows off Calum’s big dreams of being a star striker for Scotland in the very first illustration:
Calum might only be day-dreaming in his back garden but Alice introduces the main character with real impact; it’s clear that he’s enthusiastic and football mad! Look at these other moments from Scotland Stars, what can you tell from the actions and behaviour of these characters?
The illustration on the left clearly shows characters who are confident. When the child reader sees the boy leaning back with his collar popped up and fist-bumping his friend – they know instantly that this is definitely one of the popular kids in class. Meanwhile in the illustration on the right, Alice makes sure the reader knows how excited Calum and his best friend, Leo, are as they celebrate some great football!
But that’s not all, there are many different, individual techniques that illustrators use to make characters’ personality stand out. We’d love for you to share your favourite characters and their big personalities! Tweet using #FlorisDesign and share with us!
Scotland Stars F.C.
Guest Blog: Reading makes you better at football!
Danny Scott, author of the Scotland Stars F.C. series and goalie for Scotland Writers F.C. tells us why reading is important for football and other sports.
5 ways that reading books will make you a better footballer
They might not be but often, to sport-mad kids, reading can be a chore. What’s sitting down and quietly leafing through a book compared to twisting and turning on the turf, scoring goals and sliding on your knees to celebrate. Who wants to read when the roar of 65,000 fans is belting out the TV’s speakers?
Against playing or watching sport, reading can seem a little less glamorous. Growing up, I would have played sport or watched it all day if I could. My dad, however, was an English teacher so I had no choice but to read books, too.
I would go on to play for district teams at football and rugby, and captain my school’s basketball team. Asked back then whether I thought being a keen reader had helped me get better at sport, I would have laughed. But now, thinking back, I firmly believe that it did.
So try this line out on your sport-mad reluctant reader: reading books will make you better at football (or any sport). If they laugh, then float these arguments their way.
1. Reading gives your brain a good workout
Reading actively increases your brain power. Just like jogging will improve your ability to run for longer in matches, reading will give your brain a good workout. The brain is a muscle. It needs exercise too! If you want to make better decisions on the pitch, and digest your coach’s instructions, then do regular brain workouts with books. As the late, great Johan Cruyff said: “You play football with your head, and your legs are just there to help you.”
2. Reading makes you a better problem solver
Why can’t we get past our opponent’s defence? What’s stopping us from scoring? Individual and team sports involve a constant stream of problem solving. It’s been proven that reading books helps our brain to make associations that we might have otherwise never seen – like the other team playing a right footer at left back.
Watch Andy Murray’s face when he’s waiting for his opponent to serve and you’ll see how hard he is concentrating. Sports stars work hard to develop the ability to block everything else out and focus on the ball in front of them. The easiest way to practice this at home is to switch off your TV or console, and read a book.
4. It will help you to understand your teammates
Empathy is a tricky one to explain to youngsters but your ability to understand others is vital to team sports. In my Scotland Stars books, Calum and his friend Leo are constantly faced with challenging behaviour from teammates and opponents. Often, their success or failure relies on figuring out what they need to do to overcome those challenges. And, of course, one of the best ways to develop your ability to know what it’s like to stand in another person’s shoes is reading.
When you spend time reading interviews with sports stars it quickly becomes clear that they share one trait, incredible self-belief. Confidence isn’t a trait readily associated with kids from these isles and yet young hopefuls will need it to rise to the top of any game. Luckily, we have books and reading to help us develop our self-esteem and confidence. How does it do this? Well, for all the reasons above, when you feel smarter and make good decisions you feel more confident. You feel better able to overcome the challenges sport, and life, throw at you.
Suggested activities for the classroom or rainy day at home
Invent your own sport
J.K. Rowling famously invented Quidditch for her Harry Potter books. It became so popular that people now play a version of it in city parks around the world.
Getting your kids or pupils to create their own sport is a fantastic opportunity for literacy. They can write out their own rules, create a match report, teams and stadiums, or make a presentation to the class to recruit players. You could even go one further and ask your kids to play the sport for you, or practice it in PE.
Questions to work on:
- Is it a team sport or will it be played individually?
- What are the rules?
- Is it athletic or a game, like darts or snooker?
- Is there a time limit?
- How do you decide the winner?
- What equipment do you need?
- What do the outfits look like?
Practice basic numeracy or just give your kids something to do on a rainy day with a tournament schedule (from a newspaper or downloaded online) and some dice.
For each match, roll a number of dice for each team and add up the values to determine the winner. You can use more dice for children who are more confident with numeracy skills.
Keep rolling through the “tournament” until you get to the final!
You can add a layer by creating a sudden death penalty shoot out in the event of a draw. Roll the dice until you get a clear winner, or roll each dice five timeswith the winner of each roll scoring one penalty (best of five).
Scotland Stars F.C.
Wrestling with a reluctant reader?
I’m Suzanne, I work at Floris Books, and I have a reluctant reader. There. Now you know. I’ve said it. Until recently my 7 year old would read . . . if pushed, and harrangued and nagged. It was exhausting and upsetting for both of us. He stubbornly remained a classic ‘reluctant reader’ until one day I came home with Thorfinn and the Awful Invasion and flicked through the pages under his nose. He couldn’t resist.
Of course it’s obvious that funny books, books with illustrations, books with stories he wants to immerse himself in and join the fun, series where he can relate to the main character (‘What’s going to happen to me next?’) make it easier but what about a sense of place? That’s immeasurably important too. Those pesky vikings invading ‘Scotland’ (‘That’s where I live’).
Early readers, 6 to 8 year olds and reluctant readers need stories that speak to them, rooted in places they recognise as belonging to them as well as tales that excite them, humour they recognise and heroes and heroines they want to be. The Floris Young Kelpies list may have come from an earnest desire to fill this gap for parents but the books themselves are truly for the children. Many of the staff here at Floris Books have 6-8 year olds so these books are robustly test driven and we are well aware that children can sniff earnest and teacherly 10 paces from a book cover!
Each of the new Young Kelpies series comprises six books, with Scotland at their heart, encouraging children to really get to know the worlds they are exploring. Vikings, football, mystery-solving . . . and a tartan cat encompass the first four in the list.
Our inaugural series Thorfinn the Nicest Viking by David MacPhail is the Bloodaxe Challenge book for the 2016 Jorvik Viking Festival and is already gaining young fans far and wide.
The second series (May 2016) by Danny Scott is for the football mad youngsters in your life. Calum Ferguson, the hero of Scotland Stars F.C. has to find his place as the new boy at school and battle to gain a place in the football team. Scottish triumph over adversity, resilience and sporting prowess, what’s not to love?
So I’ve got him going with the right books but there’s another problem now. He keeps sneakily switching the light back on . . . ‘Just one more page then I’ll turn it off, I promise!’
If you are a teacher and you think your students would be interested to see our authors in action please get in touch! All our authors run inspirational, high energy events and enjoy sharing their writing with their readers.