Why children need funny books

Tom Nicoll's books about a mini dragon causing havoc (There's a Dragon in my Dinner, There's a Dragon in my Backpack from Stripes) are waving the flag for funny books. We asked him, why do children need books that make them laugh? This is Tom's response:

'Last year the Roald Dahl Funny prize for Children's writing was closed down. This was terrible news because it meant that I would never be able to win it. In fact, news of the award closing broke only a few months after I had signed my first book deal to write funny books. It was basically as if you had told Leonardo Di Caprio that the Oscars had been cancelled right after he ate that raw fish in The Revenant. Not quite the same thing of course, I am much more handsome and talented than Di Caprio, obviously, but the general point remains: the one award we both longed to hold in our beautiful, manicured hands gone for ever. It was a tragedy.

Of course the more I thought about it, the more I realised that there were worse things about the award being cancelled than the shattering of my own arrogant, narcissistic dreams. Where the award succeeded the most was in recognising the importance of funny books in children's literature, reflected in the fact that it was named after arguably the funniest children's writer of all time.

With the award gone and other book awards rarely bothering themselves with funny books, the concern amongst many was that this sent a clear message - that funny books just aren't as good or important as other books.

Whenever I speak to adults who don't read for pleasure, there often seems to be a common theme. They loved books like the Twits and Matilda when they were little, but were turned off reading by always having to read 'serious' books at school. If a comedy was studied, it would inevitably be Shakespeare rather than Dahl.

I was obsessed with funny books growing up, an obsession that eventually led to me writing them myself, but there was always the sense that these were trivial things. Fun yes, important no. By all means, enjoy your chuckles, but the 'real' books will be waiting for you when you're ready.

Getting kids to read is a challenge that is only going to get more difficult with each library closure. We encourage them to pick up books while making it harder for them to actually do so. We need to be mindful of not making the situation even worse by reinforcing the idea that the books children love are somehow 'lesser' because they have the audacity to make their readers laugh. Because of course they're not. Comedy has always been a valuable tool to tackle big issues and the writers of funny books do just that all the time.

Not me though. I'd much rather write about Mini-Dragons setting fire to their own farts and getting flushed down the toilet thank you very much.

The good news is that with campaigns like This Book Is Funny!, the emergence of the Lollie awards from the ashes of the Roald Dahl prize and even the very funny My Brother Is A Superhero by David Solomons winning the Waterstones book prize this year, the fight for funny is most definitely on.

Now if you excuse me I have to go practice my acceptance speech for when I win the Lollies. What? What do you mean I'm not nominated? Outrageous! Get my agent on the phone right now!'

05/05/2016Why children need funny books
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