Yesterday @sammyperlmutter asked for funny books and I responded:
Funny is hard to agree on. For example, my 4th grade thinks Tao Nyeu’s Bunny Days is hilarious. Others might be horrified.
Bunny Days came to mind because I’d just read it to my students the day before and they were bugging me to read it again. To say it was a hit is an understatement. While the problems those sweet little bunnies experienced may be standard pre-school fare, how they were resolved is definitely not. And it was those little unexpected resolutions of Nyeu’s that kept my students in stitches. So while the intended audience of little ones will enjoy the stories in a more straightforward way, these older kids with their greater experience enjoyed them in a more ironic way. After all, they grew up with many a book about adorable little bunnies who got into trouble. But books that had their caregivers fixing them this way? Pretty uncommon, I’d say.
But as I tweeted to Sammy, while my students found the book hysterically funny, others might blanched at those bunnies in…rather… uncomfortable and even painful situations. And not find it the slightest bit funny. It is for that reason that I think humor becomes especially challenging to agree upon when it comes to awards. In my experience (on the Newbery and NCTE’s Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committees), it isn’t that the funny books are dismissed as less serious, it is just that it is really, really, really hard for a group of people to find the same thing funny.
Our funny bones seem so personal. There are many books others find very funny that I don’t. Famous books, Newbery 2011 contenders, and crowd-pleasers galore. And then those that crack me up, but leave others cold. Humor — one of the harder things to agree on when it comes to books.