In Search of the Elusive Funny Female Character
Here’s an idea. I’ll throw out a sentence and then you can jump on my head with the reasons why this sentence is wrong. Here’s goes nothing:
Why do some writers (sometimes women and more often men) have such a hard time writing funny females?
Okay. Hold off for a second until I back this up a bit.
What do I mean by “funny”? Well, I mean female characters that a kid would read about and find hilarious. The female Captain Underpants. The female Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Not potty humor necessarily but someone who has funny observations or does funny things. A gal that makes the reader laugh out loud. Now if funny things happen to a female character, is she a “funny” person? Not necessarily. Humorless characters can be placed in funny situations but that doesn’t make the characters themselves funny. No, I mean characters that are humorous in and of themselves.
Now a lot of male writers, particularly in the children’s book world, do fabulous kick-ass females or smart females or stand-up/notable/model citizens of their community females. They are brave and strong and true. Phooey. I also want someone funny. I am demanding in this way. After reading books like Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol, Kid Vs. Squid, Archvillain, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, A Whole Nother Story, Guinea Dog, Cosmic, and other fantastic funny books, I feel the lack. Now mind you, in 2010 I’ve seen a fair amount of funny gals but then I started noticing the gender of the writers:
The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow – I admit it. I found this book hilarious. These may be the funniest girl characters of 2010. More of this, please.
The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt – She may be porcine, but Nanny Piggins is also very funny indeed. Far funnier than most nanny type characters out there too.
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm – Turtle is VERY funny. And the narrator. So you get the extra “first person narrator” points on this one.
Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable – Funny female guinea pig detective (and note the conspicuous lack of eyelashes, big pouty lips, bows, frills, or bazoongas).
Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror by Jennifer Finney Boylan – Jenny went so far as to create a funny female chupacabra. Funny fantasy girls? Woah. I might be cheating with this one, though.
The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood – You could argue whether or not Miss Penelope Lumley is actually funny. You know who really is, though? Cassiopeia. That little gal is full o’ the funny.
There are many others, but those are just the first few to come to mind. Humor is always difficult, no matter what your gender. So is the problem not that men write funny girls less than women do but that there are just fewer funny books out there at all? Or is it a gender thing? Is it just difficult to make the opposite gender amusing?* Chewing on that, I would now like to take a little time out to give full praise to the men who really have taken the time to include at least one (sometimes many more) funny girls in their books. This is a trend I would like to see continue. Well done, gentlemen of 2010. Well done:
Adam Rex: You can make a case as to whether or not Gratuity was funny in The True Meaning of Smekday but her mom sort of was. More to the point, this year’s Fat Vampire has a funny lady in it. Give it up for the man.
Jon Scieszka: His Spaceheadz has a girl in a tutu who chews on pencils and looks ready to rip someone’s head off at a moment’s notice. Generally speaking, Scieszka doesn’t do many females, but when he does (think The Little Red Hen from Stinky Cheese Man) he can get it right.
Barry Deutsch: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword – VERY funny. Also a great example of how a girl can be kick-butt and not 100% humorless. Actually, this book is chock full of gals who know how to tell a joke. There’s our main character Mirka, her stepmother Fruma, Rochel her stepsister . . . the list goes on.
Alan Silberberg: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze – Hillary, the strange girl that collects broken dolls, is kinda funny. We’ll give her a pass, though she tends to fall more into the “meaningful friend” category.
Stephen Swinburne: Wiff and Dirty George: The Z.E.B.R.A. Incident – Ah ha! The rare Luna Lovegood award of funny dotty gals. Daphne is very amusing in this book, and I appreciate that. I really do.
Jimmy Gownley: Any of the Amelia books – Funny girls outweigh funny guys in Gownley’s books. On top of that, he creates the rare comic relief girl character. I’m looking at you, Violet. You’re a rare flower.
Help me celebrate some others from 2010. Laugh out loud XX chromosomes. Remember, it’s gotta be a book that contains a funny girl written by a male author. Middle grade, preferably. I’ll tell you right now that you get the most points if you can find a girl who is the comic relief. You also get quite a lot of points if you can find a book starring a girl, written in the first person, with a funny, wry voice. For 2010 I couldn’t think of any, though I’m sure there must be at least one out there. Men write first person middle grade girls sometimes, right? Or is that a rarity as well?
Now pounce, my pretties! Pounce!
* We could do a similar debate about whether or not women write funny guys as well as guys do funny guys too, if you like. That would make up a different post, though. I’m mostly just intrigued by the nature of humor itself, and the difficulties that exist in giving it enough praise. I could propose another ALSC award, this time for humor, but something tells me I’d just be flogging an already very dead horse.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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