For Example, Take These Joke Books . . . Please!
Sympathy for the gatekeeper. It’s not easy thinking you know what’s best for kids. The darn little rapscallions always seem to have a different opinion about what’s good for them. Hey! Kids! Come over here at read this searing novel that will really speak to your generation about the challenges you’re facing today! What’s that? You just want to know where the joke books are?
Look in 808 section then. Man, two years in library school and who knew I’d be spending so much of my time just pointing to the 808s? But kids and joke books are inseparable. Children cannot get enough of them. This, in spite of the fact that as a whole, joke books for children suffer from some pretty huge problems.
I’ll back up a little. I don’t exactly remember how it happened but at some point in the last two years my daughter convinced me that it would be a good idea if I put a little joke in her lunch every day. I think it was another kid in her class who was getting these from their parents, so she wondered if I could do the same. I was in a strangely good position to say yes. Because of this blog I get sent joke books on a fairly regular basis. They all follow the same basic format with very little deviation. It later turned out that the kid in her class was getting jokes that were pre-printed. Some sneaky parent had just gone online, found a place where you could print out a slew, and then just cut one out a day to put in the lunch. Smart, right? And surely, as a time saver, I should have done the same. There was just one problem with that.
I wanted the jokes to actually be funny.
I know, I know. . . why? What does it matter? A lame joke and a superb joke are all one and the same in the eyes of a 2nd grader, right? Call it misguided professionalism, but I simply could NOT stomach the idea of filling my child’s lunch box with bad jokes. NOT THIS MAMA, MISTER! That is NOT how I play!
Okay, so what’s the best joke book? Here are some recent publications vying for that prize:
So the first thing I learned after reading these books is that no publisher actually cares about joke books. Not really. The one that comes the closest is National Geographic. When it comes to quality, they actually attempt to put some work into the design, layout, paper quality, and images. Little wonder that their “Just Joking” series has been going on as long as it has. But even NG suffers from some of the classic pitfalls these other books face. I’ll get into those in a second, but without fully invoking Rodney Dangerfield, can jokes books please get a little respect? Kids want them desperately but nine times out of ten they feel like the assignment children’s book publishers give to the editors lowest in rank and file. They’re not attractive (NG aside), printed on cheap paper with even cheaper bindings and haphazard art. And all that would be fine if the jokes were any good, but there’s the rub. Often they’re not. And how can you tell? Easy. I’ll sum it up in six little words:
Do the kids get the jokes?
Let’s take LOL: A Load of Laughs and Jokes for Kids by Craig Yoe as our first example. Here’s a game I like to play. Flip randomly through a joke book and attempt to find one that contains references or elements that are outdated or require knowledge from a previous century. You needn’t go far. Here’s a good example on page 102:
Q: What kind of people does the school librarian dislike?
What kid knows what a bookkeeper is or, if they do, will think that this joke is funny? The fact of the matter is, the thicker the joke book the more filler they have to plug it up with. And clocking in at 288 pages, LOL has to find a lot of filler. Here’s another one:
Q: What did the mommy credit card say to the kid credit card?
A: “Swipe your nose!”
I’m picking on LOL, but, in truth, in its girth I was able to find enough decent jokes to sustain my daughter’s lunches for at least half a year. Then I had to move on, so I tried out one of Rob Elliott’s “Laugh-Out-Loud” books. They clock in much shorter that LOL, with a mere 117 pages of text. Nonetheless, what they lack in size they make up for in ancient ancient jokes.
Q: What kind of snack did they serve in computer class?
A: Computer chips.
Now because National Geographic is so beautiful with their joke books, I figured the quality of the jokes themselves would also be higher. The news on that count is both good and bad. The good news is that jokes containing outdated technology are few and far between. Unfortunately, so are laughs. That said, they at least attempt to make new jokes on occasion. Here’s one I just found:
Q: What weighs a ton and is really trendy?
A: A hipsterpotamus.
I mean, it’s not perfect but at least they’re trying, right?
A week or two ago I received in the mail The World’s Best Jokes for Kids: Vol. 1 by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar and published by Andrews McMeel. Each joke is illustrated, which is an interesting twist, but it makes sense since Andrews McMeel specializes in comics. I’m game (slash desperate). I open it up and this is the first thing I see:
Look, I’m not going to tell you that all the jokes land as well as that one does, but its simple inclusion should tell you that this is one joke book that’s on the right track.
Anywho, if all of this has convinced me of anything it’s that I’m just going to have to make my own joke book someday. I’m going to call it The Joke Book That’s Actually Funny (No, Really, It Is) and I’m going to take the best jokes out there and cram ’em in. There will be a collection of the best knock knock jokes (who, interrupting cow, interrupting starfish, etc.) and the occasional chicken crossing the road, because no matter how lame the set-up, somebody somewhere has figured out a funny take. But until that day arrives, I’m going to rely on books like these.
Hey. Want to hear a joke?
What do you call a fish with ten eyes?
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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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