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The Blood Bay by Annie Proulx

At around the same time this story was written an episode of Six Feet Under saw Claire in big trouble for stealing a severed foot from her family’s funeral business and taking it with her to school. That episode, like this story, was darkly funny and made use of someone’s severed foot.

Six Feet Under, like The Blood Bay, uses a severed foot as prop in a darkly humorous episode.

Scene from Six Feet Under

It was inevitable that a TV series called something about feet would have to at one point make use of an actual foot.

While this is icky, North Americans haven’t been so squeamish about carrying around rabbits’ feet for good luck. Larry McMurtry writes of that practice in his cowboy novels. (Only the left hind foot is lucky.)

Severed human hands have a stronger history in folklore than severed feet. Characters with severed hands tend to be either victims, or monster-like villains. For more on that see Severed Hands as Symbols of Humanity in Legend and Popular Narrative by Scott White. The severed, walking hand also makes for a memorable horror scene.

STORY WORLD

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Picturebook Study: Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (2011)

Stuck cover

According to the Internet:

The name Floyd is a Welsh baby name. In Welsh the meaning of the name Floyd is

  • Grey.
  • One with grey hair.

In common use as both a surname and first name.

I often look up children’s book character names in case they are somehow meaningful. I don’t think this one is. Little Floyd has bright red hair. (I am sure kids with red hair are way more common in books than in real life!)

 

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY

When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he tries to knock it down with increasingly larger and more outrageous things.

STORY STRUCTURE

WEAKNESS/NEED

it all began

Floyd is not a pro exactly with the kite. It has got stuck in a tree.

Floyd is not sensible.

Notice how the phrase “It all began…” puts us in mind of some great event from the past, something legendary and unforgettable.

DESIRE

He wants to remove the kite from the tree so he can have more fun.

OPPONENT

The tree.

PLAN

The plan stage of this book comprises the bulk of the story and is a great source of humour, because everything Floyd throws into the tree gets stuck. His ideas for retrieval get more and more ridiculous. Floyd’s behaviour is funny because he just won’t learn. The young reader learns, though, and there is great dramatic irony when we see what he’s about to do, then he does it and… SURE ENOUGH! It doesn’t work.

STUCK LADDER

bucket got stuck

the family car

lighthouse whale

and they all got stuck

BATTLE

There’s a particular kind of deus ex machina that is fine to use in humorous picture books (we also see this in Walter The Farting Dog) — a police car or a fire brigade just happens to be passing. The fact that they just happen to be passing at the exact right time is funny in its own right. In general, though, it pays not to have adults in authority stepping in to save the day, and here Jeffers subverts that by showing Floyd with the fireman in his arms as if he’s about to heave the fireman into the tree. (And by now we all know how that will turn out…) Turn the page and sure enough, Floyd has got the firemen AND the truck stuck in the tree.

SELF-REVELATION

In picture books, sometimes the self-revelation is signposted with a lightbulb above the head. (Oliver Jeffers likes lightbulbs.)

Then he had an idea, and went to find a saw.

But masterfully, even the self-revelation phase of the story is subverted by this master storyteller. The trick works — the saw indeed gets the kite down — but not in the way we expect.

NEW EQUILIBRIUM

That night Floyd fell asleep exhausted. Though before he did, he could have sworn there was something he was forgetting.

Through the window, we see everything, including the firemen, are still stuck in the tree.

This picturebook is a ‘never-ending story’, because we already know that the firemen are going to go through their own, similar rigmarole trying to get themselves dislodged.

 

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION

There doesn’t seem to be a reason why the character is named Floyd, but can there be a reason why Floyd’s hair is red, however? Or a reason why the kite is red? The kite is important to Floyd and they are linked by the colour red. When the kite gets stuck in the tree, to Floyd the situation is as dire as if he himself were stuck, irretrievably, in the tree.

I feel that Oliver Jeffers’ picture books, even more than other picture books, have been made to be shared with an adult co-reader. The big clue? Jeffers’ handwriting is pretty hard to read. In fact, my eight-year-old has trouble reading it. The ability to read individuals’ handwriting comes quite a long time after learning how to read common typefaces and their teacher’s perfect, slanting script. This book is similar to The Day The Crayons Quit, in that regard. (I like this book a lot less than I like this one.)

MOVEMENT FROM LEFT TO RIGHT

In Western picturebooks, the default movement through a story is from left to right, as the page turns. But illustrators can deliberately invert this convention, causing some sort of obstacle to the progression of story, by depicting the main character facing left, unable to move forward. We see this here, too:

Floyd Fetched Mitch

We see it again when ‘Floyd fetched a ladder,’ and on the following page as well, which is mainly blue (symbolic of Floyd’s general mood). In short, Jeffers has used this trick three time, making use of the rule of threes.

Another interesting trick Jeffers uses is to do with colour. Often in a story like this, when an action is established and supposed to continue on and on, long after it has become interesting, you’ll find a double spread in which the actions are compressed into a series of thumbnail actions.

Here, too, we have the double spread which starts with ‘a duck to knock down the bucket of paint…’ Notice Jeffers has switched to a single dominant hue for each half of the page — a greeny-yellow for the left, orange-sepia for the right. Why did he do this?

monocolor stuck

Picturebook art has been influenced by the age of photography, and this may be a recreation of a page of old-fashioned photographs you might find in an album — photos which have been taken on the day of some important event.

Or, it may simply be because the reader is not meant to linger on this page, enjoying the artwork. Jeffers knows that the child is keen to know the outcome — does Floyd get his kite back? The limited palette means these pictures don’t draw attention to themselves.

COLOUR TO SIGNIFY A TALL TALE

But that’s not the only thing Jeffers did with colour — the tree is a different colour in every picture. We understand that it’s the same tree. Why change its colour?

This is a subtle clue that the story is a tall one, not to be taken seriously. Of course the whole thing is made up. It’s one of those stories that has been told over and over many times. Maybe, in Floyd’s (Oliver’s) youth, a kite did get stuck in a tree and maybe it required several shoes before it came down. Over the years, this story gets embellished and built upon until it reaches a ridiculous level. The tree itself changes colour to suit the mood of the storyteller.

 

The main requirement of a tall tale is exaggeration: There are unbelievable creatures, huge fish, large distances, huge volumes. But hyperbole alone does not mean ‘tallness’. In a tall tale, the listener must both accept and refute. The listener has to know enough of the environment in which the tale is told to realise this can’t be true. The line between fact and fiction is hazy, and the humour derives from pushing that boundary. Which parts of this story are true, and which aren’t?

 

 STORY SPECS

Everything is about 400-500 words these days. This picturebook is no exception, coming in at 493 words.

 

 

Tips and Tricks from Muriel Spark

The Finishing School

In this novel, Muriel Spark takes a swipe at hack writers and aspiring novelists. All of the characters are cliches and stereotypes, working well as a comedic ensemble to convey Spark’s own ideas on writing. We are to read most of this book as irony. Failure to do so would render it dry.

Rowland marvelled as he read her essay. How slick and self-confident these young people were… How they could cover the pages, juggling the paragraphs around on their p.c.s and never for a moment thinking that any word could be spelt other than the way they wanted it to be. Tilly ‘dansed’ with her friend from ‘Nipall’. Why not? Rowland thought. She will always have an editor to put her story straight.

A common but inaccurate perception that editors exist solely to copyedit the genius of writers, who do not need to learn the basic tools of writing, but whose talent is glowing enough to shine through their basic errors.

‘Watch for details,’ Rowland had often said. ‘Observe. Think about your observations. Think hard. They do not need to be literally true. Literal truth is arid. Analyse your subject. Get at the Freudian reality, the inner kernel. Everything means something other than it seems. The cat means the mother.’

A poke at writers who dress plain things up with figurative language which gets in the way of the story.

‘I’ve changed my mind, you know, about the book I’m writing. It won’t be a novel. It will eventually be a life-study of a real person, Chris. At present I am accumulating the notes.’

True writers just get on with finishing what they’ve started. Rowland will never finish his novel because he can’t decide on what he wants to write about.

‘He hasn’t got a publisher yet,’ said Rowland. ‘That’s the sine qua non of a book.’

Characterisation

Rowland’s pompous side is underscored by his use of Latin. He could have said ‘prerequisite’, a perfectly acceptable English term but he must show off his classical education, as many hi-falutin writers tend to do.

Muriel Spark also manages to have a go at publishers who seize the opportunity to publish work by very young authors who have a platform because of their age; talented writers who nevertheless get carried away too soon, wanting their first draft made into a movie; authors who rework the plot of an existing classic; writers who use big words like ‘antiguous’, causing others to look it up; and close-readings of Thomas Hardy.

The Humour

Muriel Spark has a wonderful, acerbic tone and I enjoy her humour because it is not the kind that slaps you in the face.

Nina is conducting her comme il faut class (a class about social etiquette – the French only making it seem more pretentious than it already is). Like Miss Jean Brodie, Nina has firm but very biased ideas about such things, and embarks upon a lecture:

‘Be careful who takes you to Ascot,’ she said, ‘because unless you have married a rich husband, he is probably a crook.’ (As if rich husbands couldn’t possibly be crooks.) … Your man is bound to be a crook, bound to be. It teems with crooks…’

‘My dad doesn’t go to Ascot,’ said Pallas. (Meaning to point out that his father is therefore, proudly NOT a crook)

‘Oh I didn’t say all crooks went to Ascot, only that there are plenty of them at that function.’ (Implying in a most pragmatic way that even though Pallas’ father IS a crook, that doesn’t mean he has to go to Ascot – wonderfully twisted logic.)

But much of the humour comes from the setting – the most pretentious setting anyone could dream up – a finishing school in Switzerland. The formal language echoes the formal, pompous setting. Spark even hyphenates ‘to-day’ in the old-fashioned way.

Narration

The novel begins with Rowland opining about how to set the scene in a novel. The novel is written in omniscient POV, zooming in and out from the mind of Rowland, the 29-year-old principal of the finishing school, and aspiring novelist.

Spark makes good use of free indirect style:

It was early July, but not summery. The sky bulged, pregnant with water.

Here, it is not the narrator speaking, but obviously Rowland. Muriel Spark knows that such an image will provoke laughter and she directs our laughter towards her pompous character. This is exactly how Rowland would see the sky, in his melodramatic, overwritten way.

Picturebook Study: Some Things Are Scary by Florence Parry Heide and Robert Osborn

Some Things Are Scary Original Cover_800x595

This is a favourite from my own childhood, and now that my daughter loves it just as much, I appreciate its timelessness.

I only have the old version, published 1969 by Scholastic. The pictures by satirist Robert Osborn fit the story perfectly. (Osborn was a direct influence on the Dilbert cartoons.) It appears the book has been rewritten and reillustrated, and the later edition seems to include more modern fears. For example, the fear of a friend moving away, in a more mobile, modern world. This page doesn’t exist in the earlier edition:

by Jules Feiffer

illustration by Jules Feiffer

The hamster page doesn’t exist in the original, either:

hamster scary

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Florence Parry Heide (rhyming with tidy) sometimes wrote under the pen name of Alex B. Allen, when she collaborated with other authors. I’d love to sit down and ask her what was behind the choice of a male name — was it a response to industry sexism? (The same kind that made J.K. Rowling publish using initials rather than the ultra-feminine name of ‘Joanne’?)

She lived from 1919 until 2011, which confirms my theory that being a children’s author is almost a recipe for a long life. (Beverly Cleary, for instance, recently turned 100.) Florence started getting published at the age of 48, presumably after her children had become independent. (She had five all up.) I’m not sure how long she had been writing before getting published, but I guess she would have been quite busy running the household, so she may not have picked up the pen until she was in her late forties.

Over the course of her lifetime Florence wrote over 100 works, including poems and songs. She is best known for the Treehorn books, with Edward Gorey.

The Shrinking of Treehorn cover

INSPIRATION FOR THE STORY

Florence Parry Heide wrote SOME THINGS ARE SCARY, a humorous look at childhood bugaboos, more than thirty years ago. “I had finished another book and was in the mood to write something else,” she says. “I decided to get some kindling from the garage, reached into the kindling box and–good grief!–grabbed something soft and mushy. I fled back to the house, scared to death.” A brave return visit to the kindling box revealed the object of terror to be nothing more than a discarded wet sponge, but the thought remained: some things are scary. As she recalls, “What scared me as a child was that I’d never learn how to be a real grownup–and the fact is, I never did find out how it goes.”

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION

Here’s an example of what a great cartoonist can do in just a few lines:

 

some things are scary monster_800x592

In the older picture books colour was limited too, due to cost. The pages which make use of ‘stock scary’ are white crayon on black paper. (Witches,  pirates, skeletons and this scary monster, who bookends the narrative.)

When colour is used it’s loose and sketchy, as if a child has coloured the line drawings themselves. In fact this copy of the book does have some kid’s scribbles in it, but this is the illustrator’s. The unintended benefit of this style of cartooning is that it encourages kids to try drawing and colouring for themselves — art looks doable! (Of course, once you try it, it’s very hard.)

scary hug_800x571

NOTES ON THE WRITING

One way of eliciting a laugh is to juxtapose the ordinary with the ridiculous. This book does that perfectly: Receiving socks as a present does not compare to the level of fear you’d experience when being eaten by a huge reptile.

humour juxtaposition_800x440

The author’s syntax has a distinctively childlike quality to it, and it comes from ditching simple sentences in favour of an extra clause:

Holding onto someone’s hand

that isn’t your mother’s

when you thought it was

is scary [italics from the original]

The following is the page that elicits the biggest laugh from my daughter:

apple with a moustache_800x629

The even more hilarious thing is that after reading this book she did find an apple with a ‘moustache’ — certain imperfections in winter fruit do actually look like moustaches. I’m left with no doubt the author also once ate an apple with a moustache. It takes a genius writer to save these observations and position it in just the right part of the story — after many equally ridiculous scenarios, but which form genuine fears. This one is a scary example the child reader won’t have encountered before (probably).

Keep an eye out for a moustache next time you eat an apple.

 

Girls Like Humour And Slapstick Too

I just watched Yogi Bear, the movie, with our five year old daughter. She loved it. Bears, slapstick, what’s not to love. (I on the other hand have some issues — the same issues I usually have about movies for children: one female character, the love interest, who exists only as  a ‘prize’ for a shafted male character, who is consistently referred to by Boo Boo not by her name but in dismissive fashion, and is actually listed in dialogue at one point as a kind of prize, along with food items. There.)

I have not yet seen Frozen. I’ve listened to Slate Culture Gabfest talk about Frozen and now I’ve listened to NPR: Pop Culture Happy Hour crew talk about Frozen and there are a couple of reasons I don’t want to pay for box office tickets:

  • Frozen is apparently reminiscent of Tangled, of which I am no fan (because it contains the wrong kind of slapstick)
  • The lead animator said something dumb about how hard it is to keep girls looking pretty through a range of emotions (and his fans subsequently said he only said that because he was tired and he’s actually a brilliant genius etc)
  • Slate’s Dan Snyder has two daughters and didn’t think the sister relationship in Frozen was very well done at all
  • Two of the men on NPR’s Pop Cuture Happy Hour said that Frozen just isn’t funny enough.

Which brings me to my main point:

Stories starring girls don’t actually have to be earnest.

Feisty princesses don’t need to improve the world in serious fashion a la Brave. There’s no reason, Pixar et al, why you can’t make a film starring a girl who is genuinely, consistently funny. Where are the stories starring girls in which humour is the main point?

This is not to say that Frozen doesn’t have any funny moments at all. NPR explained that Frozen is a bit different from most similar films in that the jokes are not all jammed into the start — the film does in fact become more funny as the film progresses. However, it’s interesting to note that the men on that podcast didn’t think it was sufficiently funny.

Maybe this is the real reason why boys apparently don’t want to watch films starring girls? (Apparently.)

 

The Disgusting Sandwich by Gareth Edwards and Hannah Shaw

disgusting sandwich cover

My 7-year-old daughter expressed disgust at The Disgusting Sandwich and said she didn’t want to read it again, but she brought it to me again a few days later. This time, she knew what to expect, and managed to enjoy it.

Most kids I know love to be grossed out. There’s a narrow window in childhood in which this is the case. It must come soon after learning that some things are disgusting — that one can’t pick your nose and eat the booger, or taste-test dead flies on the window sill.

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Picturebook Study: Pig The Pug by Aaron Blabey

pig-the-pug

Following on from my lengthy post about screenwriting tips, and how relevant (or not) they may be to writing children’s books, here’s an example of a picture book which fairly closely matches advice from John Truby, author of Anatomy of Story.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IN PIG THE PUG

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Picturebook Study: I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

I Want My Hat Back Jon Klassen Book Cover

Holly Storck-Post at SLJ recommends these Jon Klassen books for use with older students in the classroom.

When I read an opinion piece last week on the decreasing length of picturebooks from Elizabeth Bluemle at Publishers Weekly, the books of Jon Klassen immediately sprang to mind, especially at this paragraph:

Why are we so bent on brief? Is it because children have shorter attention spans? (They do. We all do. Or do we?) Is it because parents are working harder than ever and are too tired to face long reading sessions at bedtime with their kids? Possibly. Or is it because we are currently experiencing a trend of short, meta, funny picture books that don’t unfold a story with characters so much as riff on a clever idea? That’s a teeny piece of it, surely.

Pandering to, or presuming shorter attention spans?

This picture book is also interesting for the variety of reader responses who think that picture books must star morally upright characters; that children are vessels waiting to be filled with good examples, incapable of questioning moral grey areas.

 

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY

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Picturebook Study: Z Is For Moose by Kelly Bingham and Paul O. Zelinsky

Z Is For Moose Cover

Z Is For Moose Back Cover

Kate de Goldi discusses Z Is For Moose on Radio New Zealand and has trouble not laughing. (This is what made me buy the book.)

There is something inherently funny about a moose. Is it the bulbous snout, or the slightly onomatopoeic name? (I’m not sure what real-world sound the word ‘moose’ makes, but it should, shouldn’t it?)

See also: Inherently Funny Animals in which the moose is still the funniest, precisely because there’s no reason for him to be.

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Humour In Children’s Literature

The following are notes from Episode 7 of the Kid You Not podcast about children’s literature.

First, Clem and Lauren read an excerpt from Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging which was a teenage favourite for both of them. [I have an issue with the amount of ‘body critique’ which goes on in books aimed at teenage girls, because I think it not only reflects it but promotes it. Though I don’t doubt the extent to which teenage girls identify with characters who are worried about the size of their breasts etc.]

This book is one of a series, collectively referred to as Confessions of Georgia Nicholson.

Notice the difference in titles in the two versions below. ‘Perfect Snogging’ seemed better for the movie version, apparently.

Geraldine Brennan describes this book as:

Louise Rennison’s Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series – all 10 laugh-out-loud volumes – is firmly in the my-so-called-life tradition of teenage diary fiction. The tales are for and about girls who are trying to beat puberty into submission, and Rennison understands the need for stimulation, fun and comfort in this age group. Georgia is self-obsessed, melodramatic and boy-crazy but also funny, loyal, and deft with language. She has sensible friends who curb her excesses with kindness, like fun teachers or adventurous aunties. The books are much more substantial than the covers make them appear. Above all, they teach non-acceptance of the adults’ design for living, with laughter the best weapon in the battle for teenage identity.

Ten Of The Best Books For Young Feminists

Humorous books do sell well, though it’s not the case that a kids’ book has to be funny in order to sell. Twilight and Harry Potter are not humorous.

From The Guardian:

Louise Rennison’s teen novel Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging was turned into a smash hit film that made everyone in the whole world cry with laughter. Apart from Americans. But why?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a best-selling humorous book for kids. This series contains all the characteristics that make it a good funny book for children:

  1. everyday high school life
  2. cartoons (funny by definition)
  3. language
  4. situational humour
  5. good-natured kids who are not the top-dog

The protagonist of DoaWK is deeply flawed — he tries to humiliate his friends to climb higher up the popularity ladder

There’s a fair bit of femme phobia and other undesirable reflections of school life in these books, which is exactly what makes them funny.

Kinney says that the reason the books are immensely popular is because everyone’s been to high school and felt the peer pressure. These stories manage to dedramatise this misery. He’s picked a time of life in which characters are deeply self-conscious, wondering what their peers are thinking of them.

A common characteristic of humour: About everyday life and what makes human beings appear less than their best.

Twilight/HP/His Dark Materials are all books about heroic characters, but funny books are all about the human faults. Children can relate to this quite easily.

The humour in kidlit is common to sitcoms for adults. The same rules apply. Characters feel awkward or humiliated. It’s difficult to think of comic heroes who don’t have significant flaws. Georgia Nicholson is obsessed about her looks, a little bit selfish, mean to her friends. Greg is that as well. You would think this is a reason not to like these heroes but in fact children relish these portrayals. They like finding their own weaknesses in comic heroes. [Do these flawed heroes really remind adolescents of themselves? I suspect that would feel too cringe-worthy to enjoy. I suspect they see their friends and school enemies in these characters.]

 

Age Sensitivities In Children’s Books

You often hear adults say that the jokes are too ‘old’ or too clever — above the comprehension of children. This says more about adults than children, but when a book appeals to both children and adults, the adults tend to say that ‘it’s more for adults really’. Adults appropriate kids’ stuff if they find it appeals to them. [The same thing happened with Harry Potter and the ‘adult’ book covers.] Lauren says that when her father took her younger sister to see Fantastic Mr Fox he said that it was much more of an adults’ film than a kids’ film. He didn’t understand how she got the jokes even though she was laughing along.

[Regarding Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson), I also think it’s for adults, not kids, but not because the kids won’t enjoy it, but because its ironic sexism is sexism nonetheless, and may be taken literally by people who haven’t yet learned irony — whatever age that is. (Some say that’s around age eight.) I explain in full here.]

 

Types of Humour In Children’s Literature

  1. Verbal Humour is the one that adults generally think children don’t understand.
  2. Children are expected to like Gross-out Humour, but not all children (if many) like this. (Poo, toilet humour, underwear, farting, The Mole Who Knew That It Was None Of His Business). It’s assumed that children will laugh at the most basic functions of the human body, and obviously a lot of children do. These are subjects that make people uncomfortable. They’re a little bit taboo (not like sex or anything) but it does have a bit of a cathartic effect. Children seem to enjoy the transgression of it. This humour performs a very specific function. The transgressive nature of this humour is empowering. [The word ‘subversive’ is used here, but I prefer transgressive. Are poo jokes truly ‘subversive’? If so, what do they subvert?]
  3. Other types of humour can be more problematic in kidlit, from an adult’s point of view. Irony is one example. [I’m one such adult, especially when an unironic interpretation is flatout sexist, or racist (which is far less common these days, though sexism is strangely tolerated.)] One example of a book that plays on irony is Haunted House, which is a very popular pop-up picture book published in the 70s. On every page you find the most terrifying monsters but the verbal text tells a completely different story, about a lovely cozy, safe house. Will young children understand that there can be a gap between the pictures in a book and its text? [No, probably not, though there’s an argument that they’ll need to learn if they’re to become visually literate, which is more and more important in a heavily image based society, full of advertising images everywhere.]
  4. It’s often said that Parody falls flat unless the audience understands what’s being parodied in the first place. This is not limited to children — it’s true for adults as well, who won’t understand parody unless they know the background. The Willoughbys is a parody of earlier children’s literature, making fun of works such as Little Women and the books by Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden, A Little Princess). There is enough humour in the rest of the book for children who haven’t been exposed to this literature. Not everyone gets every joke that a comedian says. It’s never expected that the audience will get every joke.

 

Can Adult Jokes and Children’s Jokes Co-exist In The Same Work?

David Walliam’s books are about 50/50 adult humour/kid jokes. David Walliams is a British comedian — one half of Little Britain [which most people wouldn’t expose their young kids to]. Clemente remembers not understanding all the jokes in Asterix, a childhood favourite, until she was an adult and realised that the Brits are in the habit of starting sentences with ‘I say’ (which was an oddity in the French translation).

 

Humour and Translation

Humour doesn’t always transcend cultures. Humour can be harder to sell the foreign rights to, because humour is often so culturally specific. Angus, Thongs and Full-frontal Snogging is very English. It’s hilarious that the American edition has to have a glossary with it. A ‘fag’ in England is very different from a fag in America, for example. It’s odd to pick up something light and require a glossary. If a joke needs explaining it’s not as funny. This cultural difference explains why many of the titles of this series had to change.

Clemente read ATaFFS in French and points out that it still worked in translation because of imperialism. While everyone understands British and American humour, the Brits and Americans don’t understand the rest of the world’s humour. [Having grown up in NZ and living in Australia I would agree that the Down Under humour is a bit different from the English and sometimes significantly different from the American, but we do generally really enjoy TV shows and humourous movies from both parts of the world. Did the Americans understand the humour behind Kath and Kim when it was redone for the American audience? No. It fell flat and had poor ratings. It’s safe to say they didn’t get it.]

In successful translations of humour, the humour is not really ‘translated’; it is ‘transposed’. It’s particularly difficult to transpose humour for children and requires much skill.

There are probably books which cannot be successfully translated, for example funny books which relies on rhyme. The Gruffalo doesn’t really take off outside its English language version [because what makes it so good is its rhyme and rhythm.]

 

Are Funny Books Taken As Seriously?

In 2008 Michael Rosen set up the Roald Dahl Funny Prize to reward authors and books which otherwise get looked over in the major awards.

Funny books are easier to read, garner a wider audience and by definition are not ‘serious’ books, so not ‘taken seriously’. They don’t challenge readers in the same way. This isn’t true, but a common view. The body of scholarship on Pippi Longstocking (very light and funny) in Scandinavian is astonishing. The body of academic work shows that it is taken seriously. It’s one of the few books that challenges authority. This is an example of a classic which, despite its status as a funny book, garners a lot of respect. So maybe things aren’t as bad as they look, and that after a book has acquired status as a classic makes people wonder what is being said about bigger things.

 

Subversive Humour

As Heather Scutter comments with regard to jokes in children’s fiction, “apparent subversion may prove, on deconstruction, to mask a form of socialization which actually reinforces existing cultural values and beliefs, and encourages the child [reader] to accept the status quo”.

— Voracious Children: Who eats whom in children’s literature by Carolyn Daniel

See also The Carnivalesque In Children’s Literature

RELATED

A list of funny kids’ books suggested by M. Jerry Weiss

 

 

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