Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just for the Fun of It

Funny. It seems like that’s all I’ve been hearing lately. When it comes to the world of kid’s lit, I think the emphasis on funny can be dangerously overrated.

I was at a writer’s conference last weekend. Guess what the vast majority of the editors and agents there said they were interested in? Funny. Apparently there’s nothing better than funny. And that’s what’s bothering me. Of course kids like funny—who doesn’t? But they also like creative, clever, meaningful, thought provoking and totally cool. And if you’re just focusing on funny, well, you could be missing or passing up on a lot of good stuff.

Two of my favorite new history books for kids don’t really fit the funny category. TAKE ME BACK. A TRIP THROUGH HISTORY FROM THE STONE AGE TO THE DIGITAL AGE(DK, 2008) is like the Guinness Book of World Records for history geeks. It’s the perfect book to peruse over a bowl of cereal. Much of the appeal comes from the unique layout of each double page spread. It makes you want to flip through the pages randomly, stopping just to see what the next page is about. Lots of cleverly presented information here. Not really funny. THE RAUCOUS ROYALS (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)by Carlyn Beccia ,which Kathleen reviewed in her last post, is full of mystery and logical deduction and rumor debunking. Sure there are some laughs (especially in the illustrations), but the heart of the book is how we analyze information. Not the usual hot topic but a wonderful, well-written book. I don’t know how these two books managed to squeeze their way into a fun loving editor’s heart, but it does give the non-fun among us hope.

Another problem with pushing fun, fun, fun is it can backfire. At a public library in a suburban NJ town I found a pamphlet in the children’s department entitled “Nonfiction for fun.” The list was compiled from nominations for the Garden State Teen Book Awards. Among the weighty titles listed were HITLER YOUTH, THE 9/11 REPORT: A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION, 5,000 MILES TO FREEDOM, and OUR STORIES, OUR SONGS: AFRICAN CHILDREN TALK ABOUT AIDS. Intriguing, compelling, thought provoking, books. But fun? There would surely be a lot of disappointed readers.

We already have enough problems with the misnomer “nonfiction”. We need to celebrate the diversity of nonfiction and the variety of ways it can be appealing. Lets try not to overuse the F word.


jama said...

Good point, Linda. I do think with nonfiction, though, people use the term, "fun," very liberally -- to define anything that isn't on the opposite side of the spectrum, i.e., "boring."

There is a problem with editors all asking for "funny." It's so subjective, and what they really mean is "funny to them." So, how are we supposed to guess that?

Anna M. Lewis said...

Hmmm... funny.
Great post.
Now, you've got me thinking about this.