What makes a children's book funny?

The Laugh Out Loud Awards (LOLLIES) celebrate the funniest children's books of the year, and your class can get involved by reading and voting for their favourite.

As always, the shortlist is in three age categories, and has been hand picked by a panel of teachers and book bloggers, as well as former children's Laureate Michael Rosen. In this blog post we caught up with some of the shortlisted authors to find out what they think makes for a funny book.

LOLLIES 2018 Picture books shortlist
Rachel Bright (shortlisted for The Squirrels Who Squabbled)

The amazing thing about children is that they laugh at so MANY things! They seem much more in touch with their funny bone than us grown-ups. That’s one of the things that makes writing for kids an absolute privilege and pleasure. I think a lot of humour comes from the gaps you leave and the connections you let the reader make themselves... and of course, a good sprinkling of comic timing. Anything a bit rude and silly is a sure-fire winner too. Most problems can be made smaller by a good laugh or a long sleep – so perhaps a funny bedtime story is the perfect combination!

Elys Dolan (shortlisted for Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory)

What makes a book funny?

Farts, farts and more farts. On a more serious note, I think funny is one of those things you just know it when you see it. I find it rather dangerous to try to over explain what makes a funny book. As soon as I start trying to figure out the mechanics of why something’s amusing it automatically gets much less funny. To paraphrase a brilliant quote from K.S and E.B White, analysing humour is rather like dissecting a frog, nobody laughs and the frog dies. 

Anything and everything can make children laugh. Their sense of humour is as varied as anyone else’s. One child will be cordially amused by witty wordplay and another will laugh so much over a fart that a little bit of wee comes out. In my experience, it’s a matter of that person’s frame of reference, background and personal taste. I myself tend to lean towards the fart end of the scale. 

LOLLIES 2018 6-8 books shortlist
Jim Smith (shortlisted for Barry Loser and the Birthday Billions

What makes a story funny to me is the way a character reacts to the situation they're in and the people around them. One person might panic, while another will stay extra-cool, which in turn will make the panicking person angry that that character can be so relaxed. Hopefully that’ll remind the reader of something that’s happened to them - even if it’s not exactly a great memory - and make them chuckle.

Joe Berger (shortlisted for Lyttle Lies: The Pudding Problem)

Something that's always funny in stories is misunderstandings. If a character believes something to be true, but the reader (or even another character) knows better, it is often completely hilarious. Why is that? 

Is it because the character is blissfully unaware of the turmoil about to ensue? Do we enjoy laughing at other people's misfortunes? Perhaps it's the laughter of relief, that at least it's not happening to us. It's a mystery - but if you start looking, you'll see examples of it everywhere.

Pamela Butchart (shortlisted for There's a Werewolf in my Tent!)

I think telling the truth (no matter how embarrassing) can make a story really funny. Basing stories on real events and experiences then adding arms and legs on to them works well. That’s what I do - There's a Werewolf in my Tent and The Spy Who Loved School Dinners are both based on true events!

Writing about real life and all the funny things we notice about people and at home or school can make children relate better to a story and feel more involved in the fun and (hopefully) think, “Yes! My teacher does that too! HA HA HA!”

LOLLIES 2018 9-13 books shortlist
AL Kennedy (shortlisted for Uncle Shawn and Bill and the Almost Entirely Unplanned Adventure

I think children laugh at much the same things adults do: foolishness in people who think they’re important, foolishness in people who are nice but flawed, the undermining of ridiculous regulations and restrictions, outrageous and doomed nastiness, defeated pomposity, visible and ill-fitting underwear, silly words, bizarre descriptions, bodily malfunctions, vanity, wild confusions and – although it is hard to render in words – slapstick. All the poor writer can do is try to keep up.

Laura Dockrill (shortlisted for My Mum’s Growing Down)

I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously, even when exploring a topic that is sensitive or sad, always try and find the lightness in that work, see the funny side. And write nonsense too! The most magic thing about words is that we can make up our own ones! A little bit of silliness and play is a must.

Voting in the 2018 LOLLIES is open to teachers and their pupils as well as parents and children The Lollies website is open for voting from 4th June till 14th December 2018.

Looking for more funny reads for all ages? Check out our book lists!