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Humor in children’s literature is Shakespeare Club topic

Joan Larson

The Fredonia Shakespeare Club conducted its seventh meeting of the 2020-21 year on Nov. 19, attended by 13 club members.

President Mary Croxton introduced Mrs. Joan Larson, presenting her paper on “Humor in Children’s Literature,” with a focus on children’s author Beverly Cleary.

Writers throughout the history of children’s literature, have used their wit to entertain, heal with laughter, educate, and turn young people into lifelong readers.

A major study in the U.S recently proved that when reading for pleasure, kids mostly wanted books that made them laugh.

Humorous literature for children has been around since Randolph Caldecott first started writing & illustrating picture books.

Here are 5 reasons children should read humor:

1. Humor engages young people, (particularly reluctant readers) as they are naturally playful & generally laugh far more than adults do.

2. Young people interact with their peers and foster friendships through humorous literature as they enjoy sharing the laughs with their peers.

3. Humorous literature harnesses the exuberance and wonder of youth with words and ideas.

4. Humorous books reflect reality: a mixture of sad & funny, joy & pain, highs & lows.

5. Far from being an easy option, humorous literature encourages critical reading as young people learn to read between the lines & develop an awareness of subtlety and sarcasm, right & wrong.

There are five categories that have been recognized by researcher as influential in the types of humor found in children’s literature: humorous characters; poking fun at authority; physical humor; nonsense; and humorous discourse.

Children are happy to laugh at mistakes made by other children, provided they no longer make the same mistakes themselves. Renowned children’s author Beverly Cleary acknowledged this idea that humor can relieve anxiety in children as well as make them feel superior to their young selves, knowing they’re grown. By overcoming obstacles in their own lives, children can laugh at those who now experience the same events that troubled them earlier.

Physical humor includes size differences & transformations. A classic example of this is Alice from her adventure in wonderland. Alice not only meets many humorous characters, but she undergoes various transformations of size from large too small.

A daily dose of laughter from reading funny books is good for the soul and great for growing readers. Naturally, most children enjoy reading & listening to humorous stories. This interest in silly books can be used to boost literary skills, such as the motivation to read. Laughing, enjoying silly happenings makes children anxious to find out what will happen next. (Amelia Bedelia books).

Comprehension can also improve through humor. When kinds read funny stories, they relate to the events of the book and that helps them remember more of what happened in the story. Funny books generally contain a lot of dialogue too, which helps kids connect with the characters in the story.

Obstacles in life and challenging situations can often be lightened with humor. It helps break the tension and creates a dialogue to tackle the problem.

Laughter is also a bonding activity that aids in developing trust so that open communication can take place regarding a difficult situation.

The laughter can come from funny books where characters grapple with the same tough topics the reader is facing. Those life events and curveballs might include divorce, death, or peer issues. All of us can often see the lighter side of our problems through humor.

Beverly Cleary is only one example of an author of humorous children’s books. Her books mainly focus on children 8-10 years of age or 3rd to 5th graders. A best-selling children’s book author, she celebrated her 104th birthday at the annual Drop Everything and Read-(DEAR) initiative. This initiative encourages children to read for a half an hour each day.

Cleary discovered her love for books at a young age, fueling her decision to become an author and a bestselling one at that.

She spent her childhood years on a Yamhill, Oregon farm with no library around. Her mother took the initiative to have books from the state library sent to their small town for children and adults to read. Interestingly, Beverly didn’t learn to read until the second grade and was put in her school’s “low reading circle” called the “Blackbirds”.

As time passed, Cleary grew more in love with books so much that the local library recognized her and suggested she write stories of her own. The idea sparked a light in her, inspiring her to pen books that were not available in the library: stories based on her own experiences and those she encountered.

Cleary made sure that her stories included humor after her mother advised: Keep it funny, people always like to read something funny.

The famous author became one step closer to her dreams by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Berkeley.

She furthered her passion by taking further studies of librarianship at the University of Washington in Seattle, before working in a children’s library.

During her time in the library, a student asked her “Where are the books about little kids like us?” This inspired the author to make famous characters like Ramona Quimby & Henry Huggins.

Cleary had her first book’s manuscript in 1949, “Henry Huggins” which was purchased for $500. Publisher William Morrow saw a lot of potential in the book becoming a hit.

She later began the Ramona Quimby series with the book: “Beezus & Ramona,” which centered on sisterhood & adventures. The saga was followed by “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” which eventually became a crowd favorite; hence, the children’s series turned into a TV show on PBS, which ran for 10 episodes.

She also came up with 3 books in the ’60’s based on the famous sitcom “Leave it to Beaver,” which she admitted was not that exciting to write.

Her work did not go without recognition. In 1975, she won the American Library Association’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, followed by the Catholic Library Association’s 1980 Regina Medal and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Silver Medallion in 1982.

Ms. Cleary’s books, “Ramona and Her Father”, and “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” were named Newbery Honor Books in 1978 & 1982, respectively. In 1984 Cleary was nominated for the Hans Christian Anderson Award, and received the 1984 John Newbery Medal. Cleary also received the National Medal of Art from the National Endowment of the Arts in 2003, among many other awards.

Cleary never planned to live to be 100, thinking that 80 years old was already a good number to reach. She did however live to be 104 years old.

Following her paper on Ms. Cleary’s books, Mrs. Larson showed a book she herself had the privilege of reviewing, with a critique that was published. The book is entitled “Milo the Meanderer,” by J. Philip Miller with illustrations by Stephanie Brash.

The next meeting of the Fredonia Shakespeare Club will be when Dr. Leanna McMahon will present her paper on humorist David Sedaris.

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