Why is humour in kids’ books important? Best selling author Andy Griffiths spills his secrets

Andy Griffiths
Andy Griffiths

International best-selling author Andy Griffiths is visiting South Africa!

If you haven’t yet heard of him, it’s probably because you don’t have a tween at home. Griffiths is the author of the extremely popular Treehouse series aimed at 9 – 12 year-olds.

He’s visiting various schools in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg and doing public events with Exclusive Books this September: if you'd like to meet him, find his schedule below. 

Parent24 got a chance to ask him some questions and learn more about him and his process:

What inspired you to write for children?

I’ve always loved reading and writing, ever since I was young, and I’ve always enjoyed making up outlandish stories and trying to get people to believe them.

I was inspired to become a children’s author, because in the 1990s I was an English high school teacher and I was shocked to find that my students did not like reading (or writing).

I wanted them to see how much fun both these things could be so I started writing little stories to amuse them, and encouraged them to write their own stories to amuse one another.

Where/how do you find your stories?

I’ve never had trouble coming up with ideas for stories. I find I get ideas all the time, from all over the place—from books or newspaper articles I read, TV shows and movies I watch, conversations I have.

I tend to get ideas as I am writing as well, so while I’m working on one story this can trigger an idea about something that could happen in the next story.

I think Ray Bradbury expresses how the creative process works in this quote: "If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape."

Find beautiful local bedtime stories for children in Parent24's Storytime hub 

Why is it so important for children to choose what they want to read?

This just seems like common sense to me. If children choose what to read then presumably they will want to read it.

My daughter was not particularly interested in reading fiction when she was young and you could see it was just an unpleasant chore for her to read for 30 minutes a day, which was her prescribed homework. So we took her to the library and let her choose her own books.

She mostly chose non-fiction books on animals and then she would discover so many interesting and amazing facts that she would spontaneously read them aloud to the rest of the family.

One tip for parents to encourage a love of reading in their kids?

Read to them — and with them — a lot! Many parents have told me how much they enjoy reading, laughing and talking about the Treehouse books as a family.

Sometimes this experience is achieved by listening to the audio books on long car drives. The children not only learn to associate books with the fun of a shared imaginative adventure but also with the closeness and warmth of family.

I have heard, however, that sometimes the parents get upset when their children read ahead of them … but that is a GREAT problem to have!

Learn amazing facts about our world with Parent24's Curious Minds story hub

Why is humour in kids’ books important?

Kids respond to humour. They are naturally playful with words and ideas. If you want a sure way to engage children, especially reluctant readers, then humour is necessary.

Humour fosters friendship and social interaction between readers. For example, if a reader tells another person about something funny that happened in a book and this makes the person laugh, then the reader sort of gets the credit for causing the laughter (not the author) and this shared laughter creates a bond between the reader and the person they have made laugh.

Studies show that when kids tell each other about funny books they tend to give specific examples of humorous events rather than describe the plot or say what the book is about, which is what they do when describing a serious book to someone else.

This is a quote from a letter I received last week from a reader: “At the beginning of the year I didn’t really like to read chapter books. My friend, Harry, was reading your book, The 39-Storey Treehouse and was laughing while he was reading it. Then Harry suggested I might like to read it too. So I did. I am now hooked on your Treehouse books.”

And humour helps children to cope when life is not fun. I also receive letters in which readers (or their parents) tell me how the books provide a safe space, a refuge from bullying, social isolation and sadness.

What do kids find funny, in books?

Word play, silliness, over-the-top violence and fighting, stupidity, underpants, nonsense, illogicality and surprising things that could never happen in real life but which you, nevertheless, kinda sorta believe actually do.

  If you’d like to meet Andy in person, you can find him here in South Africa this month:

·       Saturday 14 September, 11 am at Exclusive Books Tygervally, Cape Town

·       Sunday 15 September, 11 am at Exclusive Books Cavendish, Cape Town

·       Saturday 21 September, 11 am at Exclusive Books Sandton, Johannesburg  

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