“There’s no moral to this story, no lesson to be taken away and pondered. It’s just a blast. . . . And here’s to the books that bring us such laughs right when we need them,” said Julie Danielson recently, in this Kirkus Reviews round-up of funny books for kids.
(Humpty Dumpty laughing while reading a comic — from the cover of our lovely graphic novel Nursery Rhyme Comics)
Here at First Second, we’re big fans of books for kids that are funny.
I personally am a huge fan of Louis Sacher’s Wayside School books — you may remember those, because they had dead rats! and ice cream flavors that tasted like every kid in the classroom! and they threw their computer out of the window! etc. etc. etc.
So, think about those books. And think about Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants. And think about Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. And Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man, and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, and MT Anderson’s Whales on Stilts, and Laurie Keller’s Arnie the Doughnut.
Those are all wonderfully fun books! And they’re full of action and adventure and great characters and very fun art.
But you know what they don’t have? A moral or a lesson.
The books don’t tie up with everyone learning that it’s good to be friends, or that family is the most important thing, or even that you shouldn’t cross the street without looking both ways.
That’s because the point of books — even the point of books for kids — is not that at the end, you come away having actively learned about how to better follow society’s rules and obtained some informational content along with that.
It turns out, the point of books is that they’re really fun to read.
Because, why would people want to read books unless it’s at least a little bit fun?
(That’s not to say that there aren’t lots of books about growing and changing and helping people and learning about the world around us. There are! Many of them are wonderful! Many of them have being educational as the point of their narrative! They are not our topic for today.)
Here at First Second, we love it when kids (or adults) (or anyone) reads books because they’re fun to read! People play board games because they’re fun to play — they watch movies because they’re fun to go to — they play sports because they’re fun to take part in — they eat sweets because they’re fun to consume.
Your reason for reading a book doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that: you’re reading this book because it’s fun. Ditto your reason for giving a book to a kid.
We consider “this is hilarious!” to be some of the highest praise a book can get!
‘The pillow fort was fun while it lasted, but at the end, everyone had to go to bed without dessert as a punishment and was very sad’ is not a good narrative arc for a kids book. When we’re writing and reading and buying books for kids, let’s embrace what makes being a kid awesome — fun! — (also one of the main factors that makes being an adult awesome, if you can admit it) and focus on that — on zaniness, wildness, goofiness, nuttiness, wackiness, screwiness.
Morals are great to have, but doesn’t it make sense to spend at least as much time on making kids happy as on making sure they know the difference between right and wrong?