Why I Write “Funny”
Dear Annabelle Fisher,Like many writers for children, I might not remember what I had for dinner last night, but I can remember my ten year old self in great detail. Though I cherish that age, I don’t idealize it. Two memories from then capture my life at that time.
My class has been reading your book The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper. We love it! It’s hilarious… The last book we read was kind of sad, so this is letting all the laughs out!”
-- Emily, fourth-grader
• A sunny summer day, walking the two blocks to my best friend’s house, feeling one of those little bursts of happiness particular to childhood that seemed to come out of nowhere. I was thinking ten was the perfect age and I wished I could stay there forever.I doubt the child I was then is much different from a 10-year-old today – at least on the inside. Children have a great capacity for joy, but they also have lots of worries. And no matter how wonderful their relationship is with parents or other caregivers, some of that anxiety stays inside.
• Being handed a pamphlet by the same friend’s mother, who told me to read it but not to show it to my mom. It was about how I needed to accept Jesus or spend eternity crawling through a burning desert without a drop of water to drink. As a Jewish child, I felt shame and worry. But I was sure if I told my mom, I’d never see my friend again -- and so, I lived with that secret.
Reading a scary or sad book can help a child prepare for the difficult challenges of real life experience. Such books show kids ways to handle serious problems or even overcome them. But the same can also be true for the stories that make young readers laugh. A humorous book doesn’t pretend that danger, anxiety, or trauma doesn’t exist. But it gives readers a safe distance to laugh at life’s difficulties – and in that way to take the monster down a peg or two. Both types of books can help young readers develop resilience, which child psychologists believe is essential in coping with the hardships and adversities life brings.
My new book, The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper, is a humorous fantasy. Ten-year-old Pixie just wants to be a normal fifth-grader (not some poetry whiz kid), live in a normal house (not a cottage shaped like an acorn), with a normal family (not hers!) But then her mom reveals that Pixie has some unusual secrets in her past – she turns out to be a descendant of Mother Goose – and that this heritage will change the course of her future, too. Pixie will need to accept who she is, in order to face what’s coming.
The story takes a darker turn when the evil Raveneece Greed, a sinister relative of Mother Goose, arrives. Pixie has something that Raveneece wants, but neither readers nor Pixie know what it is until Pix is lured down to her creepy “aunt’s” underground lair.
(Check out Annabelle's fave writing spot - her Acorn Cottage.)
Now the reason Pixie goes down there is important. Raveneece has Pixie’s beloved gosling, Destiny trapped in a cage. It’s the kind of situation that has kids shouting, “Don’t go down there!” even though they know she will – and they sort of want her to.
As the author, it was my job to provide a satisfying chill without scaring the pants off my 8-12 year old readers. After all, the thought of a lone kid out in the woods, climbing down a dark hole in the middle of the night might keep a young reader up for years -- which was why I turned to humor for the solution.
(Okay, this is her real studio, with her book.)
In one of the book’s scariest and funniest scenes, Pixie must teach Raveneece to rhyme if she ever wants to get out of that hole. But in spite of Pixie’s earnest efforts, Raveneece is a terrible student. She’s so bad at rhyming that readers can’t help but laugh at her cluelessness.
Here’s where the scene begins. Pixie is the narrator:
“Okay, I think we should start with word families. This one is called AT.”As Pixie attempts to take Raveneece further through the rhyming word families, Raveneece’s choices get even wackier. Using humor reduces the fear factor and yet, I don’t think the scene loses impact. The reader gets to giggle, at least for a while. I did, too.
“Never heard of them,” grumbled Raveneece. “Are they part of the secret of rhyming?”
“Oh, yes,” I said, as I wrote a list. AT: cat, bat, pat, mat, rat, hat, sat. “These words sound alike,” I explained. “You can use them to make a simple rhyme. Try this one: “The cat sat on the…?”
“Couch,” said Raveneece.
“No, you have to pick a word from the list. Try again.”
“Cat.” Raveneece crossed her arms over her chest.
“The cat sat on the cat?”
“Sometimes they do!” she snapped.
The Secret Destiny of Pixie Piper
by Annabelle Fisher
Greenwillow Books, An imprint of HarperCollins Publishers