Funny is such a great tool when writing for kids. And the format of picture books is a natural fit for short form comedy.
BUT (you knew that was coming)…
Many funny picture book manuscripts come across more like a sketch in a comedy show. That is to say, they have a beginning, middle, climax, and (in the place of a satisfying resolution reflecting some sort of growth) they have a punchline.
I love a solid punchline. When they land just right, they can elicit snorts and guffaws and chortles and who doesn’t love that? It’s why we all hope for a Kate McKinnon cold open on SNL, and why we still go to see our friends’ improv shows.
Picture books are much more than a series of jokes. Without an emotional undercurrent, they lack that connectability that makes kids say, “gurl, I feel you”…a punchline is funny once or twice (or, ok, 35 times if you’re 4), but even the most unexpected punchline doesn’t have that emotional heft to keep readers coming back again and again.
It’s true that in most cases we like that emotional growth to be pretty invisible, but it should still be there. Even in the funniest books, readers and characters should come away a little bit different than they were at page one. Comedy in 32 art-filled pages can subvert expectations, use word play or page turns, or just be wicked-wacky. It’s easy to think of picture books as long form jokes, but I think of them more as an episode of a sitcom. (Thinking of setups and characters in Act III who go, “Oh, crap. Maybe we were wrong about that thing we thought in Act I.”)
Here are some that get it right. Give yourself a treat.
Want more about writing funny picture books? Tune in to my KidLit College webinar (posting soon!) on April 8th. I’ll be talking with Mary-Kate Gaudet of Little, Brown, and she, my friends, is hilarious.