Dad Jokes, Puns and Related Words

PUNS

Puns are often simple wordplay for comedic or rhetorical effect.

DAD JOKES

Puns are at the heart of “Dad Jokes”, though in Dad Jokes, the “dad” generally pretends he doesn’t understand the speaker’s intended meaning. The Dad feigns stupidity, the Victim knows he’s only playing stupid, and the joke succeeds if it elicits a groan from the Victim.

The Victim: “I’m hungry.”
The Dad: “Hello, Hungry. Pleased to meet you.”

Both Victim and Dad understand that the victim needs to eat; the Dad pretends to believe the Victim’s name happens to be homophonous with the common adjective ‘hungry’.

Continue reading “Dad Jokes, Puns and Related Words”

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss

Green Eggs And Ham
This month I’m blogging a series aimed at teaching kids how to structure a story. This seven-step structure works for all forms of narrative. It works for picture books, songs, commercials, films and novels. Today I take a close look at another Dr Seuss early reader, Green Eggs and Ham.

Green Eggs and Ham is buddy comedy from the late 1950s with aspects of the carnivalesque. It also makes use of a mythic journey to beef up the word count and ends in a clear character arc.

Hard to believe, but this book was banned in China, for promoting Marxism. (They lifted the ban after Dr Seuss died.)

STORY STRUCTURE OF GREEN EGGS AND HAM

If Green Eggs and Ham were a movie and not an early reader, it would be called an ‘odd couple’ or ‘buddy comedy’ film.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is an odd couple film. So is Baby Mama, in which two very different women are thrown together. In both of these films, the very-different characters end up friends. That’s the case with Green Eggs and Ham, too. This is why odd-couple stories are emotionally satisfying.

Sometimes the odd couple never get to be good friends, but by any measure they are best friends anyway. In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg and Rowley are very different and Greg doesn’t even really like Rowley that much, but they spend a lot of time together. The cynical main guy with the optimistic and babyish best friend is also seen in Monster House.  Go back to the late eighties, early nineties and we saw this dynamic in The Wonder Years. The late nineties gave us Freaks and Geeks, in which Sam seems very different from his geeky friends. He’s thrown in with them because he’s so small for his age.

These are also called ‘buddy comedies’. The guys are buddies, but the difference between them leads to lots of humour. I say ‘guys’, because there are fewer stories about female friendships in general, unless they’re of the Mean Girls variety. (This is why the film Baby Mama stands out as unusual.) That said, the female buddy story is becoming more popular.

In Green Eggs and Ham we have a cranky, pessimistic guy juxtaposed against an enthusiastic guy. This might as well be Greg Heffley and Rowley, where Rowley is all over something, singing its praises. (But Wimpy Kid is an ongoing series, so Greg Heffley’s character never changes.)

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

In a buddy comedy/odd-couple comedy, both characters change. Usually. They take a little bit from each other and become more rounded individuals. In a typical buddy comedy, it’s ‘the relationship’ that changes.

Typical Characters In A Buddy Comedy

A Buddy Love story consists of an “incomplete hero,” who does not know what or who he is missing to make his life whole. The contrast between the two main characters promises entertaining sparks and is therefore appealing.

Usually you fill out the character web with at least one outside, dangerous, ongoing opponent. And because most buddy stories use a mythic journey, the buddies encounter a number of secondary opponents on the road. These characters are usually strangers to the buddies, and they are dispatched in quick succession. Each of these opponents should represent a negative aspect of the society that hates the buddies or wants to break them up.

There will be a snag in the relationship that keeps interfering. This allows an ongoing opposition between the two leads in a traveling story where most of the other opponents are strangers who quickly come and go. In any Buddy Picture Comedy, the buddy is the first opponent.

As in the love story, one of the buddies should be more central than the other. Usually it’s the thinker, the schemer, or the strategist of the two, because this character comes up with the plan and starts them off on the desire line.

Often one’s a cop, the other’s a fed, or one’s a cop the other’s a crook, or one’s a by-the-book detective and the other’s the precinct’s resident loose cannon. They have to work together to get something done (like solve a crime). Buddy cop movies are a slightly different genre mashup: Action+Love+Crime (without the comedy).

In Green Eggs and Ham, Sam-I-Am is a green eggs and ham enthusiast at the beginning and remains the same throughout. There’s no character arc for Sam-I-Am. It is Joey (the cat thing in the hat) who changes. If you’re ever wondering who the main character is in a story, the best question to ask is, ‘Who changes the most?’ That doesn’t mean ‘Who changes in circumstance’. It means ‘Who learns something about themselves’.

Joey is therefore the main character.

What’s wrong with Joey?

Once you’ve created a main character, always ask this question.

He won’t try new foods. This is a recognisable problem for the target audience, who are learning to read.

Stock Yuck

Five-year-olds are usually pretty fussy about green foods. In a clever twist, Dr Seuss avoids the stock yuck of green vegetables (broccoli is the usual stand-in for ‘horrible foods’ in the West), and turns an unlikely thing green. This makes it even more disgusting. In real life you wouldn’t touch green eggs and ham, because it would be rotten and mouldy. When writing our own stories, we can use this trick too: Take a common item and change its attributes.

WHAT DOES JOEY WANT?

Sometimes a story is about what a character does not want.

Joey wants Sam-I-Am to leave him alone. He does not want to eat the green eggs and ham.

When your main character is on the defensive, and the plot is about what they don’t want, the opponent needs to have a strong desire to compensate. (In a story, if no one really wants anything, you don’t have a story.)

OPPONENT/MONSTER/BADDIE/ENEMY/FRENEMY

Sam-I-Am is the opponent, not because he wants to kill Joey or anything like that, but because he wants something different from what Joey wants.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Joey’s plan is to run away from Joey so Joey will quit bugging him.

Expressed entirely in the pictures, the pair end up going on a mythic journey which involves hills, the tops of trees, trains, a tunnel and eventually a boat.

BIG BIG STRUGGLE

They end up under the sea. In a mythic structure, the big struggles increase in intensity, leading to a life-or-death situation.

The big struggle of words does not increase in intensity — it remains the same. What happens in this picture book is that the situations get increasingly ridiculous. The ultimate in ridiculous is arguing under water.

WHAT DOES THE CHARACTER LEARN?

We see from Joey’s face when he pops up from the sea that he is defeated.

dr seuss green eggs and ham

This marks a change in his attitude. He realises Sam-I-Am won’t leave him alone until he tries the green eggs and ham. So he tries it. And he learns that he loves it.

Notice how this part of the story connects directly to the ‘What’s wrong with Joey’ part of the story? Dr Seuss set up Joey’s great shortcoming right at the beginning and if you’ve read plenty of stories, it’s inevitable that Joey changes his mind about the green eggs and ham.

HOW WILL LIFE BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON?

We might assume Joey will be less frightened of new foods in future. But this is a comedy, so it’s just as likely Joey does not apply his newfound love of green eggs and ham to the next unfamiliar thing. He’s just as likely to hate that, too. In comedy, characters never really change. Or if they do change, the change is not applied generally.

 

COMPARE AND CONTRAST GREEN EGGS AND HAM

I Really Like Slop Elephant and Piggie

Green Eggs and Ham was first published in 1957. A much newer (2015) early reader with an almost identical odd couple and character arc is I Really Like Slop, an Elephant and Piggy story from the Mo Willems franchise.

Green Eggs and Ham is longer, at 225 words. I Really Like Slop is only 182 words. This reflects a modern trend in picture books — new stories are shorter than retro classics. (Notably, Green Eggs and Ham contains only 50 different words.)

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you

Both Green Eggs and Ham and I Really Like Slop are 100 per cent dialogue.

Unlike Mo Willems, Dr Seuss rhymed his stories, using the classic nursery rhyme rhyming scheme, otherwise known as trochaic tetrameter. Dr Seuss was such a cultural influencer that any writer making use of this rhyming scheme ends up compared to Dr Seuss.

Elephant and Piggy stories rely entirely on comedic structure (rather than mythic structure). Comedic structure can only be sustained over a short length of time before spilling the gag at the end. So unless Mo Willems were to take Elephant and Piggie somewhere, placing them in a particular setting (they’re always suspended in space, against a blank background), he wouldn’t be able to sustain more words. Dr Seuss was able to sustain a longer gag by taking his characters on that road trip/mythic journey.

I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew

solla solew
This month I’m blogging a series aimed at teaching kids how to structure a story. This seven-step structure works for all forms of narrative. It works for picture books, songs, commercials, films and novels. Today I take a close look at I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew by Dr Seuss.

Solla Sollew is plotted using classic mythic structure. A character goes on a journey, changes a little along the way, meets a variety of friends and foes (and some who are both), ends up in a big big struggle and then either returns home or finds a new one. Yesterday I looked closely at The Gruffalo, which is also mythic structure but less obviously so. The day before I looked closely at The Gingerbread Man, which is pretty classic mythic structure except Gingerbread Man never meets any helpers along the way (and spoiler alert, he doesn’t live to learn anything from his journey). I figure it’s time to present a solid, classical mythic structure picture book with all of the most basic elements.

STORY STRUCTURE OF I HAD TROUBLE IN GETTING TO SOLLA SOLLEW

WHO IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?

Our first person narrator is also the main character, because he’s telling a story about his own journey. This is an old creature looking back on a time when he was young. We know this from the first sentence, ‘I was once carefree and happy and young’. That makes the little brown guy an extradiegetic narrator. He’s ‘outside the universe’ of the story, because he’s looking back on a time long since passed. (‘Extra’ means ‘outside’.)

What even is that creature? Dr Seuss’s creatures are deliberately ambiguous, part human, part animal. Why so many animals in picture books? Well, there are a bunch of reasons.

What’s wrong with Little Brown Guy?

Main characters have something wrong with them which the author shows right at the start. (Perfect characters have no growing to do, which means no character arc and no story.)

Brown Guy is dissatisfied with his lot. This is understandable in a way. I felt sorry for him when his backside suffers not one but two injuries. The bigger problem is his ‘grass is greener on the other side’ attitude. He thinks Solla Sollew is going to be sooo much better than his home.

WHAT DOES THE LITTLE BROWN GUY WANT?

He wants to get away from the annoyances of his home, specifically the Quilligan Quail, the Skritz and the Skrink. He has heard there’s a place where there are very few troubles. That place is known as Solla Sollew.

OPPONENT/MONSTER/BADDIE/ENEMY/FRENEMY

One Wheeler Wubble

Brown guy meets a variety of characters along his journey:

  • The One-Wheeler Wubble: At first he seems to be a friend, but he turns out to be a bit of a frenemy when he persuades Brown Guy to do all the work of pulling himself and his camel along.
  • Dr Sam Snell: Tries to be genuinely helpful by telling Brown Guy about the bus, but the bus has had four punctures and isn’t coming.
  • Horace P. Sweet: The manager of the bus company isn’t in the story, but because his note advises walking, he’s a foe.
  • The Midwinter Jicker: Dr Seuss doesn’t tell the reader what’s so bad about the Midwinter Jicker, but we’re told he ‘came early this year’ (like cold and flu season), and that ‘it’s not going to be very comfortable around here’. This is a great example of an author withholding information to create brief intrigue. You don’t need to tell the reader absolutely everything.
  • The family of owls and mice: An unlikely, and therefore funny, combo. (Owls eat mice, don’t they?) This is where Brown Guy takes refuge for the night in bad weather, but Brown guy finds it difficult to get any sleep with them around. (The next morning the mice do get eaten and there happens to be a flood, foreshadowing the Brown Guys’ big struggle to come.)
  • General Genghis Khan Schmitz: At first he seems like a friend, coming to Brown Guy’s rescue, but it turns out the General wants to use Brown Guy as a foot soldier in a big struggle, furnishing him with only one bean as bullet. This makes him most definitely a foe.

Note that the big struggles escalate in intensity, and that Brown Guy meets a variety of outright enemies versus helpers (who are sometimes helpful but there’s always a catch). This is what classic mythic structure looks like.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

In a mythic structure plot, the plan is ‘Go from point A to point B for some specific purpose’.

But even before he leaves, he’s come up with a plan which doesn’t work:

Solla Sollew plan changes

It’s very common in stories for characters to change their original plans. This picture book is longer than most modern ones, which tend to clock in about 300-400 words. In those newer, shorter picture books there is often no time to change plans, but Solla Sollew is 2,130 words. (And was published in 1965, for the record.)

BIG BIG STRUGGLE

The big struggle in this story is a literal big struggle, which is what makes it classic mythic structure.

He narrowly escapes down a hole.

WHAT DOES THE CHARACTER LEARN?

When he gets to Solla Sollew he learns that this is not a magical, mythical place with very few problems — it’s a massive problem just getting in the door!

He changes plans at this point. He hears about a place with NO problems. He is tempted to go with the fed-up doorman to Boola Boo Ball. But this is the part where we see he has learnt his lesson: He knows from experience that Boola Boo Ball won’t be all it’s cracked up to be. So he decides to return home — better the devil you know.

HOW WILL LIFE BE DIFFERENT FROM NOW ON?

He’s now got a club to fight off those annoying creatures at home. This is symbolic: Rather than running from his problems he’ll stay and fight them, because no matter where he went, he would always have problems to deal with.

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr Seuss

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street was Ted Geisel’s first book. Well, he’d written an abecedary but failed to interest publishers in it. It took a while to find a publisher for this one, too, but compared to what author/illustrators are up against today, I’m guessing 20 rejections is actually pretty good.

Dr Seuss may never have moved into picture book world if Geisel had not ran into an old college classmate, who had just become juvenile editor at Vanguard Press. When I hear stories like this I wonder how many other wonderful writers and illustrators never see widespread success due to plain old lack of luck, and I feel the self-publishing movement is therefore a great thing.

RHYTHM AND PICTURES IN “AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET”

Legend has it that Geisel came up with this story on a ship. To ward off sea sickness he concocted a story. The rhythm is inspired by the ship’s engine. Of course, Geisel continued to write his picture books in that signature rhythm — a rhythm many writers have subsequently tried to pull off — perhaps more young rhymsters should take a cruise on a clunky old-timey steam ship??

(Why did we not see a movement of poetry inspired by a dial-up modem in the late 90s? Haha.)

Perry Nodelman has this to say about the rhythm and ‘curious reversal’ of Mulberry Street:

The regular rhythms […] have the strong beats and obvious patterns we usually expect of pictures in sequence; and as usual in a Dr. Seuss book, the action-filled cartooning does much to break up the regular rhythms inevitable in a pictorial sequence. But as the boy, Marco, adds details to his complex story of what he saw on Mulberry Street, the pictures become more and more complex, more and more filled with detail — but always in terms of the same basic compositional patterns: the elephant is always in the same place on each spread, and so on. So the pictures both build in intensity and maintain their narrative connection with each other, as the words in a story usually do; in each picture we look for new information to add to old, rather than having to start from scratch about what we are seeing each time, as usually happens in picture books. At the same time, the segments of text get shorter and tend to be interrupted by more periods. The result is a curious reversal, in which the text adds the strong regular beat and the pictures provide a surprisingly inter-connected narrative intensity. Indeed, many fine picture books create the rich tensions of successful narrative in pictures that strain toward the narrative qualities of text and in texts that strain toward the narrative qualities of pictures: they have repetitive rhythmic texts, and pictures with accelerating intensity.

Words About Pictures, Perry Nodelman

The details in this story plant it firmly in the First Golden Age Of Children’s Literature.

Modern stories of the imagination don’t tend to include Rajahs riding elephants and ‘Chinamen’.

seuss-mulberry-street-image

STORY STRUCTURE OF “AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET”

A boy imagines a series of incredible sights on his way home from school so that he will have an interesting report to give his father.

PARATEXT

It’s interesting to see that the front cover has been published in varying shades of blue:

SHORTCOMING

Marco is fanciful. He’ll lie about something in order to make his life more interesting. Some may see this as a shortcoming; the shortcomings of picturebook characters often have very benign psychological shortcomings — a big imagination is more properly considered a strength.

DESIRE

He wants to impress his father.

Throughout his work, Geisel seemed more at home writing about the typically male experience and it’s true here, too, with an understanding of how sons naturally want to impress their dads.

This book, of the Tall Tale type, is an historically masculine form.

OPPONENT

The father is a kind of opponent in that he has no time for Marco’s fanciful stories.

PLAN

He decides to make up a story that’s far more interesting than reality.

BIG STRUGGLE

In a cumulative, imaginative, carnivalesque story such as this, there may not be any big struggle between the child and the other characters. Instead, the ‘big struggle scene’ will be ‘the moment of extreme chaos’.

This is the illustration with everything in it.

ANAGNORISIS

In a chaotic, carnivalesque plot, ideally there will be a ‘breather’. Here, the anagnorisis comes with the image of the crossroad.

mulberry-and-bliss

Note all the white space — the picturebook equivalent of a musical sequence with no dialogue in film.

Humans have been fascinated by crossroads since crossroads existed. In each case there is a spiritual significance. Something about crossroads has made earlier cultures superstitious:

  • Ghosts/apparitions appear at crossroads
  • Crossroads mark hallowed ground
  • Witches secretly meet at crossroads to conduct their nasty witchy stuff
  • Zeus hung out at crossroads
  • etc

None of this is going on here, exactly. In modern stories (like this) crossroads have lost their spiritual meaning but remain a psychological metaphor. Marco must make a decision very soon: Will he lie to his father or tell him the truth? In other words, crossroads in modern stories mean choice.

The anagnorisis is that Marco has the power to make his own choice.

NEW SITUATION

In order to keep his father happy, the boy makes the decision to keep these fanciful imaginings to himself. He tells his father what he really saw.

Extrapolating somewhat, this boy seems embarrassed about his imagination running away on him, so I expect he’ll hit adolescence soon and leave his imagination behind.

STORY SPECS OF “AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET”

811 words

Between 30 and 40 pages long, depending on the edition

And then it came out in yellow, and the recognisable red and white spine, along with the rest of the Dr Seuss collection.

COMPARE “AND TO THINK I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET” WITH

Marco appears again, ten years later, in McElligot’s Pool.

Thidwick The Big-Hearted Moose by Dr Seuss

Thidwick Big Hearted Moose
Theo Geisel had a thing for antlers.

In the mid-nineteen thirties, Theodor Geisel was a fledgling author and artist, operating as an illustrator for New York advertisement agencies. His father, superintendent of parks in Springfield, Mass., from time to time sent him antlers, expenditures and horns from deceased zoo animals. Geisel stored them in a box below his bed and used them to generate whimsical sculptures. Above, a replica of Flaming Herring.

Union Beatz

“Extra moose moss” for Helen, the dedication page reads, because Theodor and Helen were still married in 1948 when this was published.

I always like (dislike) to remember that Helen Palmer Geisel ended her own life in 1967 after some serious illnesses and also because her marriage with Ted (Dr Seuss) was falling apart. He had moved on to another woman.

I also like to remember the fact that Helen was a great first editor for Seuss, and encouraged him in his art.

STORY STRUCTURE OF THIDWICK THE BIG-HEARTED MOOSE

As is common in many picturebooks, the author starts in the iterative, telling us how life is. Then one day… (switches to the singular).

thidwick-iterative-singular

These moose are more personified than the moose in, say, This Moose Belongs To Me, which is about a very human boy and a very moose-like moose.

The story structure is partly of the There Was An Old Lady type, in which a small thing happens then the situation gets worse and worse. These are known as ‘cumulative tales’. This tale isn’t as repetitive as There Was An Old Lady, which is actually a song.

cumulative-tales
from A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books By Denise I. Matulka

SHORTCOMING

Thidwick the bull moose is a pushover, which is antithetical to our idea of a bull moose — huge, dangerous creatures who fight each other for their place in the moose hierarchy.

thidwickthebigheartedmoose_ipad2_screen1large-642x481

Even the name Thidwick sounds like the name of a loser — perhaps because characters with low social capital are quite often depicted with a lisp in pop culture. Actors with lisps will never be the leading man, though as Sean Connery proved, other kinds of speech differences can work to your advantage.

princessbride-actor-lisp

He needs to figure out a way to deal with others taking advantage of him.

DESIRE

He wants to go on doing moose things, which means leaving with the other moose when the moose moss runs out. The part of the story where the moose friends dump him is important to the desire line of the story.

thidwickguests-540x405

OPPONENT

All the little creatures who decide to move in and make his antlers their home.

Another more deadly form of opponents appear with the start of hunting season, and the men with their guns.

PLAN

Finally, looking down the barrel of a shotgun, Thidwick makes a plan.

He’ll ditch his antlers.

If you’d like to see footage of a bull moose losing an antler, see here.

BIG STRUGGLE

Although the animals in his antlers are annoying and not good for his social life, they are too comical to make a worthy opponent in and of themselves. It was a great choice to bring in the human hunters. In this picturebook we get a classic big struggle scene (with guns).

ANAGNORISIS

I’m not sure Thidwick really learned anything. If he had it wouldn’t have been pretty: “Your friends are quick to ditch you.”

In picture books the anagnorisis is often had on the part of the young reader, who realises what the moral is. Here we are invited to judge Thidwick for being a pushover. Perhaps the young reader takes the side of the friends, who walk off when Thidwick puts up with an infestation on his antlers.

The lesson is that there are limits to your kindness. This makes a nice change from all the picturebooks out there teaching children to be kind.

NEW SITUATION

Reminiscent of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, this moose is now happy eating the moose equivalent of grass with his own kind.

seuss-and-his-antlers