Posts Tagged ‘Humor in picture books’

kid-lit writing wisdom

Today’s wisdom comes to you by Shanna Silva. In addition to sharing her wisdom, Shanna is offering a copy of her latest book A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, illustrated by Agnès Ernoult. You can find how to enter for the drawing at the end of this post. Here’s Shanna. . . .

Thanks to Alayne Christian for inviting me to be a guest blogger on Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom! Alayne asked me to write about the fusion of humor and heartwarming, which I explored in my new picture book, A Dog’s Guide to Being Human (Yeehoo Press).

A Dog's Guide to being Human

Just between us, I’m not an expert on humor. It’s subjective. If you look at how many different forms of comedy exist, there’s a full spectrum ranging from knock-knock to bawdy. Everyone gravitates to their own idea of funny.

But it’s hard to write funny if you’re not funny yourself. My adult sense of humor leans acerbic and sarcastic – not appropriate for Kid-Lit. So, I started to think about humor in children’s literature. What do kids find funny? So much! The ridiculous/improbable, bathroom/body humor (I have 3 sons, enough said), silly rhymes, messes, irreverent and the unexpected, and many more. Humor can be subtle or obvious, visual or spoken, or even implied.

To write humor for kids, I try to put myself in their mindset. We were all kids once! What books made us chuckle and why? It’s good to revisit these books and deconstruct the ha-has. My kids loved the “No, David” book by David Shannon. Mostly because there was a bare tushie picture, which they found endlessly hilarious. It was also about a kid doing all the wrong things and having no impulse control. The protagonist does all the things kids might want to try, but can’t. It’s vicarious misbehaving, and that’s why it’s funny.

I didn’t necessarily set out to write a funny story with A Dog’s Guide to Being Human but the material lent itself to humor. It’s a high concept story about a dog teaching a new baby how to be a human being. The book is from the dog’s POV, which is in itself, funny. How many times have I wondered what my dog was thinking? Sometimes I can almost see a thought bubble over his head because he’s so expressive. The takeaway is writing from an unexpected or unconventional POV can be funny.

When writing the book, I thought about the intersection between canine and human behavior. Why would a kid find these words/concepts funny? Can I picture an illustration that will further extend the joke?  Would an adult also find this funny or at least smile? There are certain universal funny things, and animal behavior can appeal to anyone.

Yehoo Press, my publisher, was wonderful in letting me be involved in the illustrator choice. My criteria were clear to me – the person has to “get” funny and be able to draw humor, which is a very specific skill set. I wanted nuanced art that showed the mutual love between a child and her pet, but that also portrayed some of the incorrigible traits of dogs.

Agnès Ernoult the illustrator, understood my words beautifully. She did an amazing job of bringing my story to life and capturing the very essence of what the book needed. And yes, she can draw funny (see below).

Human's Guide Alayne Christian blog image 1 v2

Now onto the heartwarming recipe. What makes something heartwarming? The key, for me, is relatability. What does the language/picture/thought evoke? Is it nostalgia? A memory? Recognition of a common human condition? There are certain universal feelings/experiences that should get a response from any human with a beating heart. It might be the preciousness of a child, the internal nod of “been there, done that,” knowing what will likely happen next, or even wishful thinking. For a child, this may happen on a different level than an adult reader, but the common thread is that it’s an emotional response.

Below is the opening spread from A Dog’s Guide to Being Human that reflects heartwarming.

[Note from Alayne: The text says, “My name is Smudge. I am a good boy who like treats, chasing squirrels, and playing fetch. My humans brought home a tiny baby. She has no fur. As she gets bigger, I will teach her all the things I have learned about being human.”]

Human's guide Alayne Christian blog image 2

This art has multiple layers of heartwarming for me: a new baby, an excited/welcoming dog with his tongue hanging out, a grandpa, birds in the trees, kids playing, a balloon released by a little girl, diversity of characters, a vibrant neighborhood, and pleasing colors. It looks like a pretty cool place to be, full of happy creatures and family warmth.

What do humor and heartwarming have in common? I think they’re both connective devices for people to find common ground in their experiences and feelings/thoughts. There are certain universal truths that even two people who disagree on everything can have in common. The combination of all these ingredients is a story that can temporarily take you out of your own troubles, refocus, and put a smile on your face. And isn’t that one of the things that books are for? An escape, which is very often critical to kids, and to show them how the world can be (even if it’s not their personal experience). But, that’s a whole different blog post for another time.

Human's Guide Alayne Christian blog image 3

I hope that readers of all ages enjoy A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, and find both humorous and heartwarming co-existing in the text and art. Smudge is a character born from my heart and I hope he will continue his mischief and tutorials in future books.

Thanks for reading my thoughts. I hope they’re helpful in some way to creators and readers.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from The Boss:

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

Bruce Springsteen

About Shanna

head shot shanna silva copyShanna Silva is an author and Broadway Producer. She’s written three children’s books: A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, Passover Scavenger Hunt and Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups. In addition, she’s the author of over 45 hi/lo books for emerging readers. Sometimes, she writes for grown-ups, too. To learn more about Shanna and her books, click here.

To purchase A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, click here!

To enter the drawing for a chance to win a copy of A Dog’s Guide to Being Human, all you have to do is leave a comment. The deadline to enter is October 10, 2022.



Adding Humor to Children’s Stories. A presentation by John Bladek-PHD

Writing for Kids: How to Write Funny Stories by Allison Tate

Writing Humorous Picture Books by Laurie J. Edwards

Funny Books for Kids by Babies to Bookworms Blog

ReFoReMo Day 20: Author Cindy Williams Schrauben Packs a Punch with Humorous Picture Books

ReFoReMo Day 12: Author Todd Tarpley Explores Humor

Funny AND Female: A Research Project by a Hoity-Toity Otter (and not Abi Cushman)

Layers in Humorous Picture Books by Laura Lavoie

Writing Funny Picture Books by Darcy Pattison

The following is for chapter books, but some of it can be applied to picture books.

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