Laughing Matters Are No Laughing Matters
(wait . . . what?)
by Betsy Bird
If you were to ask me what best prepared me for the path to publication I would have to say being a children’s librarian. Not because I know the material (I do, and it’s nice, but it’s not necessarily required) but because it taught me how to talk to large groups. You have to do that a lot when you’re an author or illustrator of books for kids. When I wrote my picture book GIANT DANCE PARTY I had to know how to do a dancey, jumpy, bumpy storytime. When I co-wrote WILD THINGS: ACTS OF MISCHIEF IN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta I had to know how to talk on a more academic level to a variety of different adults. FUNNY GIRL, my latest anthology of stories, comics, quizzes, poems, etc. written by some of the most hilarious women writing for kids today, is different. The readership for the book is 9-12 year-olds but my audiences, when I present it in bookstores and libraries, can contain anyone from 6 to 60. The other day I was doing my schtick and it went very well. Yet afterwards something occurred to me. I talk a lot about how I made the book. I don’t talk quite as much about why I made the book. And the why is very interesting indeed.
When I was a children’s librarian the one thing boys AND girls asked for repeatedly was “funny books”. The gender didn’t matter. I got sort of sick and tired trying (and failing) to seek out an easy go-to way of handing these kids (boys AND girls, remember) a bunch of funny women all at once. But it wasn’t just about wanting some equal representation. It was important to me to show kids that hilarious writing doesn’t all begin and end with DIARY OF A WIMPY KID. I sort of became a one-woman promoter of Amy Ignatow’s THE POPULARITY PAPERS. Of Shannon Hale’s RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE. Even of the DORK DIARIES series (doesn’t do it for me, but some kids swear by it). And it became clear to me that I wanted these kids to really understand that women can be funny beyond belief. The world might not make it easy for you to find them (to my mind no one ever praises Beverly Cleary or Judy Blume enough for their hilarity) but they’re out there, by gum. They’re out there. And FUNNY GIRL will make them easier to find.
So in my future presentations you can bet that I’ll be drilling home the importance of celebrating funny women and growing funny girls from scratch. I’ve been pretty pleased with the book’s results as well. Since I’ve been presenting FUNNY GIRL I’ve started talking to girls who’ve read the book and loved it. Funny, hilarious girls. Sometimes they’ll tell me jokes, like the girl who specialized entirely in ones involving Batman which she made up herself (you’d be surprised how many puns you can make from the name “Bruce Wayne”). Or the six-year-old that told me a killer “Why Did the Interrupting Pig Cross the Road” knee-slapper (admittedly you can sort of figure out the answer from the title). But more than anything else they like to talk to me about their favorite stories. And one even mentioned how inspired she was by the opening instructional part of the book written by former Daily Show writer Delaney Yaeger and her sister (who wrote for Girl Meets World) on how to tell a joke.
This is book is put together with pre and early adolescents in mind. They’re living in crazy times in a crazy world and they’re facing middle school and high school in their future. If teaching them how to laugh at themselves and not take it too much to heart helps them even a little, then this book will have done its job.
Betsy's fave writing spot is on her couch, where she can often be caught multi-tasking.