Thursday, May 12, 2016

Picture Book Research

I'm making an attempt to write a picture book manuscript, something I've tried before without success. While at the NESCBWI Conference at the end of April I came up with an idea with something else to do with my material. Nonetheless, I'm going to slog through trying to complete a draft.

I decided to do a little picture book research while working on this project. I'm particularly looking for humorous picture books. I'm finding them harder to find than I expected. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be a spot in the library for "Gut Busting Picture Books." Also, I may not understand picture book humor. One of the local librarians picked out some picture books for me that she found funny. Er...ah...uh.

Keep in mind, just because we were looking for humorous picture books, it doesn't necessarily follow that these books are meant to be funny. That may very well have not been the authors' intent.

I'm finding picture books to be a bit of a mystery.

Grumpy Bird Jeremy Tankard. This has a subtle story. The humor is also subtle. Kids who understand grumpiness will enjoy this more than kids who haven't had their own or others' grumpiness pointed out to them yet. The book also has an intriguing ending that I didn't notice the first time I read it. Overall, a nice work.

Little Owl Lost Chris Haughton. Love the artwork here. This is the story of an owl who falls out of his nest and is helped to get back to his mom by a squirrel. The squirrel keeps finding the wrong mom. Child readers might find the mistakes humorous and enjoy taking Little Owl's part and setting squirrel straight over and over again. That's an interesting idea. The reader brings the humor to the story. Again, a nice work overall, but this one I didn't find that funny. I think the librarian gave it to me.

Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy Jan Thomas. I'm really liking bold, not particularly representational, art in these books. This is another one. This is a bedtime book, and as bedtime books go, this one is probably pretty funny. The humor here is around the fact that the cowboy isn't brave. I definitely find incongruity humorous. I wonder at what point kids get that?

Bug in a Vacuum  Melanie Watt. Okay, this definitely isn't meant to be funny. A fly experiences a crisis and then goes through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief. It was published as a children's book, aimed toward the lower grades of elementary school. Perhaps as instructional? If you are an adult with a dark sense of humor, you'll find a lot of jokes here. I don't think it's going to help me as a model/mentor text for preschool picture book humor.

There Are Monsters Everywhere Mercer Mayer. Don't know why I thought this would be funny. Good story about a kid overcoming monsters that may or may not be everywhere. But not much in the way of humor.

The Pout-Pout Fish Deborah Diesen. This is another book that I think readers bring the humor to. The pout-pout fish's face lends itself to spreading the dreary-wearies. That is, until someone changes his mind by.... I don't want to spoil the story. I can imagine a child listener and adult reader having a good time with "glub-glubs" and kisses. But this isn't the kind of humor I'm thinking of.

Twelve Terrible Things Marty Kelley. This isn't actually a story. It's more like the picture book equivalent of a listicle. Very realistic art illustrates twelve terrible things that happen to many kids: gravy day at the school cafeteria and elderly ladies looming in for a cheek pinch. This is clever and witty and probably for grade school age readers who will have experienced these "terrible things" and recognize that "terrible" is being used loosely here.

Monster Trouble Lane Fredrickson with art by Michael Robertson. Okay. This one has both the story and humor I'm interested in, for the age group I'm interested in.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons Eric Litwin with art by James Dean. I am sure I picked this book up because it had "groovy" in the title. It is a groovy book about...math! Again, it has the story and humor I'm looking for. Also, I know someone who would love this.

The Hueys in the New Sweater and The Hueys in It Wasn't Me Oliver Jeffers. The thing about the Hueys is they're thumb people. Come on. No one notices that? Or maybe they're bean people. But for such unsophisticated bodies, they have sophisticated issues related to uniformity and getting along. There is some humor here, but the books are also thinkers. I like It Wasn't Me because of the randomness of the climax.



Karin Fisher-Golton said...

This is such a great topic. Children love to laugh! Sometimes we adults get all solemn about children's books.

I looked through my own shelves for books that my son and I have found funny. The ones that stood out to me were: Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller (I also think of her book The Scrambled States of America), Peggy Rathaman's Goodnight Gorilla and Ten Minutes Until Bedtime, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, Oh Ducky: A Chocolate Calamity by David Slonim, and Oy Feh, So? by Cary Fagan.

One thing I notice when I consider these books, is that a lot of them lend themselves to humorous dramatic reading.

Good wishes completing your own funny picture book manuscript!

Gail Gauthier said...

Thank you so much. I haven't heard of any of those and will check them out.

Becky said...

I find the Minerva Louise books to be funny. I also really loved Barnacle is Bored by Jonathan Fenske. You can read it dramatically--adding some jaws music--and it's very funny indeed as a read aloud.