By Jen Seggio
“My newest book from Scholastic Book Clubs has four of my favorite words in the title: laugh, funny, kids, and jokes!” says Marvin Terban.
Dubbed Scholastic’s “Professor Grammar” and the ALA Booklist’s “Master of Wordplay,” Terban says humor is prevalent in five major aspects in our lives – education, advertising, the workplace, medicine, and entertainment and most importantly, it improves them all.
A long-time teacher, Terban incorporates humor into his classes to provide memorable lessons. Student polls reveal that the most preferred quality in a teacher is humor because it can offset boredom.
Terban cited how the most popular Super Bowl ads are always the funniest ones. Studies and surveys show that humor in the workplace is a great stimulus and has long-term health benefits. In entertainment, comedy shows have been consistently among the highest-rated television programs for the past seventy years. For an author, a great sense of humor can give a manuscript a better chance of being noticed by an agent or an editor.
Why is humor so important to a story? Terban referenced writers William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens to answer that question. He highlighted the drunken porter monologue in Macbeth, set between the offstage murder of King Duncan and the discovery of that murder. The porter scene draws out the tension while also injecting some much-needed levity.
Comedy and tragedy have always coexisted. Mature themes about life and death make for phenomenal stories both for children and adults when handled with a light touch. Humor can be used to teach children how to cope with fear and sadness. Terban also talked about adding humorous characters with funny names to provide comical antics and light dialogue to an otherwise serious plot.
Terban spoke from experience when he said you don’t have to be a naturally funny person to write comedy. His uncle-in-law, Henny Youngman, coined the famous one-liner “Take my wife, please!” Youngman did standup comedy into his nineties. His onstage persona was that of an affable jokester, but offstage he was quite the opposite.
Terban went into great detail about what kids from each age group find humorous.
- Preschoolers crack up at funny-sounding words.
- Slightly older children can find the humorous side in an exaggerated catastrophe.
- Six and seven-year-olds discover that words with the same sound but different meanings can be used to trick people, and that’s funny!
- Mean-spirited humor, however, does not have a place in children’s literature. If a character is a bully, make sure there’s a lesson to be taught or have a good comeuppance planned!
Most importantly, kids want books that make them laugh and books they can pick out for themselves. If it has a funny word in the title, younger readers are more likely to give it a look. Based on his own unscientific observations, Terban revealed the three words that kids find the funniest and gave some examples.
- Fart (Do Fish Fart? by Keltie Thomas)
- Poop (Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi)
- Underpants (Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey)
Terban closed out the night with the perfect observation from Dr. Seuss, “From there to here and here to there, funny things are everywhere!”
Check out his website: http://www.marvinterban.com/
You can see ten of Marvin’s videos on Kidlit.TV
Jen Seggio is a pre-published author and illustrator from Staten Island, New York.
You can visit her at www.jenseggio.com