Those of you who follow my blog or engage with me on Twitter will know that I am passionate about children’s books, all children’s books, and the power they have to transform a child’s life. There are few more powerful things parents can do for their children as babies which will significantly increase their vocabulary and life chances than read to them every single night. There are few more powerful things a teacher can do for their pupils than nurture a lifelong love of reading. This is why I am constantly bemused and infuriated by the distinct lack of respect displayed by the media for children’s books, particularly funny ones.
On the 14th February, Scholastic held the award ceremony for the 2018 Laugh Out Loud Book Awards (The Lollies), with Michael Rosen as head judge and driving force for the awards which were created to fill the void left when the Roald Dahl Funny Book Prize ended. Hosted by Park Primary School in Stratford, the cream of current humorous children’s literature, children and book-lovers gathered to celebrate all things funny and find out who had won the coveted awards. With a picture book category, 6-8-year-olds category, and a 9-13-year-old category, children, teachers and librarians had all been voting for their favourite titles from the twelve short-listed by the judging panel (of which, I was lucky enough to be a member this year.) The event was live-streamed across the country and the excitement levels were high. The children were star-struck by some of their favourite authors and illustrators and were hypnotised by Michael Rosen’s awe-inspiring performance.
When the winners were announced, the children went crazy. These were their winners, whom they had voted for, whose books they loved (Elys Dolan, Emer Stamp and Liz Pichon). What could be a more powerful tool for inspiring a love of reading than that? The Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report 2014 found that, of the group of children aged 6-17-years-old who were surveyed, 63% said that a book which would make them laugh was the top thing they looked for when picking a new book. For both genders, in all age categories. Humour was also the top-rated characteristic looked for by parents when picking books for their children, with 55% stating that as their top priority. And yet no national news outlets outside of children’s media or book-related publications reported on The Lollies. Newsround, The Bookseller and The Book Trust all reported on them and The Week Junior is also planning to but where is the coverage in the national press? Children want them, parents want to buy them and yet there are very limited ways for their audience to discover them. Other book awards are reported upon, so I can only presume it’s due to a disregard for children’s literature unless it is seemed to be more ‘serious.’ But at what cost? Shouldn’t we be celebrating and encouraging a child’s love of reading? Books, comics, graphic novels and audiobooks are all vital inroads into the world of reading and encourage critical thinking skills, compassion, empathy, provide an escape….. the list of benefits goes on.
I would also suggest that those adults who turn their noses up at funny children’s books or merely consider them a starting point which will lead to more ‘difficult’ or ‘worthy’ reading later in life have obviously not read much current funny literature. During my time as a blogger, I have been fortunate to read a lot of very good children’s books, funny or otherwise, and I truly do believe that now is a golden time for children’s literature.
There are funny books of all types for all ages and all tastes: some will make you gag, some will make you laugh out loud in a public place, and some will make you cry, not just with laughter but because of the very sensitive issues they can sometimes address in a very accessible way. I’ve read funny children’s books which have made me laugh, then cry within the space of a sentence, tackling issues such as mental health, divorce, absent parents and many more. They are accessible ways of opening up conversations with children about things which may be bothering them, they can allow children to see that other people have been in the same situations as them, and, they can make them laugh. Nothing beats the power of laughter!
I am appealing to anyone who reads this to spread the word about funny books. Write about them, read them, review them, share your recommendations and make a noise about them. I started #FunnyBookChat to help raise their profile, review them on my blog and talk to their creators on my podcast. What could you do to help? If the national papers aren’t currently publicising them, it’s down to us bloggers, publishers and creators to do it. Funny books are no laughing matter!
Jo Cummins (aka Library Girl and Book Boy)
For my blog post about the nominees, click HERE
To listen to my pre-Lollies podcast, click HERE