Occasionally I feel like the books I am reading with the kids are a bit bleak. Some bleak things need to be learned about, but occasionally, the curriculum conspires to make their lives morbid.
Consider a theoretical week in the life of a Year 5 child. They’ll learn how climate change is raising the sea level and flooding the places their families live. They’ll learn the joys of embalming the dead in Ancient Egypt. In RE, we might look at religious intolerance as a topic. In PSHCE, maybe we’ll talk about how to cope with feeling sad.
You can picture their faces when, as reading time arrives, rather than a bit of uplift, I am holding The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (John Boyne) or The City (Armin Greder). Sometimes, in the spirit of showbizniss, I want only to ‘make em laff’.
But you know what, my kids are quite savvy and refined and I am pleased to report that poo, bogey and fart humour is not so funny for them any more. A bit funny, but not funny enough to sustain 100 pages.
Sadly, this excludes a massive bulk of the kids storybook market. Thank god for Andy Stanton – he really gets that children’s humour can process irreverence, irony, satire, comedic repetition and a clever strain of stupidity. Mr Gum books make me laugh as much as they make the kids laugh, and that is a great litmus test because I am hilarious and can detect hilarity in others.
A plea to those writing humour for kids – spend time in a classroom, even as an observer. Hone in on the fact that even in a room filled with one adult and thirty eight year olds (as in 30×8), you will find an interplay of wit, sarcasm and wordplay.
We are stagnating the development of the kids comic intelligence if the punchline to every sentence we give them, when seeking to elicit chuckles, is along the lines of then he did a fart and it went on people.
For examples of real humour see Andy Stanton, Spike Milligan, David Walliams and – I humbly suggest – my own stories with my Stalybridge character.