Guest Post: Joke Books in the Classroom and Library by Kevin Purdy
Been a while since we had one of these! It is my very great pleasure to introduce a guest post today. An honest-to-goodness guest post! Kevin Purdy is a retired reading instructor with an MA in reading instruction and National Board Certification (NBPTS) in reading & writing instruction. He’s taught remedial & developmental reading in grades 1 – 12 (mostly at the middle school level) for over 25 years in Montana, Oregon & Colorado. Not long ago, he found an old blog post I wrote about books for kids that include jokes and he was inspired to write me. “I often used joke books & comic books in my classroom, especially as a way to motivate reluctant readers.”
Today, Kevin has agreed to write a post about those much maligned but always popular books of jokes. To put it plainly, we’re getting serious about the silly.
Take it away, Kevin!!
I was inspired to write a post about joke books after reading Betsy Bird’s excellent post, For Example, Take These Joke Books… Please!, published in February of 2019. From the first paragraph of her post, it was clear that Betsy and I had the same experience with children and joke books: They absolutely love them and can’t seem to get enough of the timeless, humorous vignettes.
As a middle school reading teacher (both developmental and remedial), I was always on the lookout for books that would ignite a spark of interest in my reluctant readers. For my avid readers, I was more concerned with helping them move from one level to the next. But for my remedial readers, the main goal was to help them discover the joy of reading. Over the years, I wrote numerous grants in order to provide a wide variety of reading material in my classroom, from comic books to popular contemporary series. But nothing was ever more popular than joke books.
Why were joke books such a big hit with readers of all levels and interests? As I searched for the answer to this question, I discovered that there were many answers. As it turns out, joke books may be the perfect reading material for students at all grade levels and especially for those in the middle grades. First of all, joke books are like anthologies of extremely short stories… and yes, each joke tells a brief and basic story. But the operative word here is SHORT. With so many competing interests and obligations, students enjoy the opportunity of flitting from one joke to the next with the option of reading as many or as few of them as suits their current time frame and concentration level.
During our daily silent reading time, I noticed that some students always had two books at their desks. One was their self-chosen novel du jour, and the other was a joke book. They knew that reading time was finite, so whenever they completed a chapter in their novel, they would set it down and utilize the remainder of their reading time with the joke book. That way, they could start fresh with a new chapter when they resumed their reading journey at home or the next day in the classroom.
But of course, the humor was an important part of their infatuation with joke books. At a period in their lives that is so filled with stress and uncertainty, joke books offered a brief but welcome relief from strife, stress and turmoil. The jokes could be hilarious, corny or somewhere in between; it didn’t really matter. They were quick little escapes from an otherwise stressful day.
Unbeknownst to the students, joke books were also providing them with valuable reading skills. It’s almost as if each joke provided a mini-lesson in the art of reading comprehension. In order to get the jokes, students had to practice all those important reading skills such as active reading, making inferences, using context clues, connecting background knowledge and so much more. After all, a joke doesn’t really make sense unless the reader engages each of the reading skills that are necessary to understand both fiction and non-fiction novels and texts.
What to Look for in Joke Books
Whether you are a teacher stocking your classroom library or a librarian replenishing your bookshelves, it is a good idea to keep collections of joke books on hand. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot of time finding books for a certain gender, age group or ethnic background. Joke books are universally beloved. Instead, you just need to keep in mind such considerations as timeliness, aesthetics and topics.
Timeliness refers to how recently the joke book was written/published. Although there is definitely something to be said about the “oldies but goldies,” students tend to prefer joke books that are more contemporary. Sometimes that translates to current topics, and other times it just means that the books have a bit more of a modern look to them. Either way, it’s a good idea to continue updating your joke book collection. By no means should you dispose of your older books, unless they are getting tattered and unsightly. But try to upgrade your joke books at least once per year and always keep some newer books on your shelves.
When it comes to aesthetics, you should continually be on the lookout for illustrated joke books. Obviously, illustrated joke books are appealing to students just by nature of the added visual element. But for reluctant readers and remedial reading students, the illustrations also serve as added context clues to help them negotiate words, concepts and humor that they might not otherwise fully appreciate. In addition to illustrations, you should also look for a front cover that immediately attracts student attention. It helps if the cover is colorful and not too cluttered. When it comes to the inside of the book, color is less important, but it’s best if the inside pages are also uncluttered. Some joke books are just lists of jokes with no illustrations and very little white space. Think of a joke book as being somewhere between a comic book and a non-fiction book. It should have a certain amount of visual appeal to go along with interesting text. If the author just crammed as many jokes as possible onto the pages, students may soon lose interest in the book.
And finally, it’s important to find topics that are of interest to students. Fortunately, joke books cover an incredible array of topics, so this shouldn’t be much of a problem. Just keep in mind that students’ interests vary from year to year, season to season and even day to day. Some topics that seem to be universally appreciated by students include: holiday joke books, dad joke books and sports joke books. You can even find joke books by school subject area such as math joke books or science joke books.
Where to Find Good Joke Book Ideas
You probably won’t be surprised to discover that Goodreads is a great source when it comes to finding just the right joke books for your library collection. Here are a few booklist sources that are either focused on joke books or contain joke books as part of their topic:
- The Goodreads Best Joke Books List (559 books & counting)
- Joke Books for Kids on Pinterest
- Booklists for Teachers on PurdyBooks
- Joke Books for All Ages on Goodreads
Fun Reading Equals Lifelong Reading
As a veteran of over 25 years in the classroom, I grew to appreciate joke books more and more each year. Although I added new and improved reading lessons each year, I was always a firm believer in the simple concept of practice makes perfect. So, one of my main goals was to instill a love of reading in my students. First and foremost, I wanted them to see reading as something they did for pleasure, not as a chore. As a result, I was always on the lookout for different ways of sparking student interest in reading. Although many of my students already came to me with a love of reading, instilled in them by loving parents, incredible teachers and awesome librarians, I always had my fair share of reluctant readers each year, especially in remedial reading classes. As a result, I got pretty good at finding ways to spark their interest. Without hesitation, I can say one of the most useful tools in my toolkit was the good old joke book. Even the most hesitant reader was able to find joy in a book filled with witty words and silly illustrations. If you haven’t already stocked up on a variety of joke books, I hope you consider adding them to your bookshelves as soon as you get the chance.
This blog post was written by Kevin Purdy. Kevin is retired Reading, Writing and Physical Education teacher based out of Boulder County Colorado.Kevin has an MA degree in Reading Instruction and received his National Board Certification (NBPTS) in 2008. He has published over a dozen books including The Legend of Decimus Croome: A Halloween Carol. A big thank you to Kevin for this post today!
Filed under: Guest Posts
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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