Before I attend a workshop, I like to read the presenter's books. But this time, it wasn't me attending a workshop, but my son. My fourteen-year-old has developed a taste for creative writing lately and likes writing screenplays and poetry. I've been taking him to workshops led by our local SCBWI. Each month a different author tackles an element of writing (plot, dialogue, character development, etc.) for kids. October's topic was humor.
And let me tell you, Janet Sumner Johnson knows her stuff. I dare you to read through a chapter without rolling on the floor laughing. I can also vouch for her book having a similar effect on its target audience.
If you like to laugh, you're in for a treat.
Here’s the synopsis (from Amazon):
When her best friend's house is threatened with foreclosure, young Annie Jenkins is full of ideas to save the home: selling her appendix on eBay, winning the lottery, facing down the bankers . . . anything to keep Jason from moving. But Jason's out-of-work dad blows up at the smallest things, and he’s not very happy with Annie’s interventions, which always seem to get them into more trouble. But when Annie tracks a lost treasure to Jason's backyard, she's sure the booty will be enough to save Jason’s family. Pirate treasure in the Midwest seems far-fetched, even to Annie, but it could be the answer to all their problems. Now all she has to do is convince Jason. As the two hunt for answers and the pressure gets to Jason and his family, Annie discovers that the best-laid plans aren’t always enough and there are worse things than moving away.
What I loved about PB & J:
1. A likeable and hilarious heroine: So much of the humor in this book springs from Annie, self-described as a little impulsive. Often it’s her childlike interpretations of grownup's words. “…even though I had no idea what traffic had to do with it, I was pretty sure she meant my kidney was officially off the market.” Sometimes it’s her crazy ideas to help. (Note to Annie: not all plants with spiky leaves are aloe!)
2. A warm family and community: Although Annie doesn’t get along with her siblings, she has a warm relationship with her dad and mom. I also loved how Annie was able to inspire her community to do a kind thing near the end of the book.
3. A plot obstacle that did not involve a parent dying: This character-driven book tackled a problem that’s far more common than parents dying: unemployment and foreclosure. I also found Annie's feelings about her mom going back to work very realistic. I was about the same age when my mom returned to teaching, so I could relate.
4. Characters learning that who they considered “bad” are not all that they seem: If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know how much I love redemption in children’s books. I enjoyed seeing Annie learn more about people and their real motivations, often becoming friends with former enemies.
5. A realistic ending: I’ll try not to give it away, but though it’s not entirely happy, this was a fitting ending, which always wins points in my book.
At the workshop, Janet shared a list of different types of comedy with the kids. HERE is a link to the Janet Phelp's website where the list originated. If you're a writer and are looking to incorporate more comedy into your writing, this website is a great place to start.
Writers, how do you incorporate humor into your writing?
Readers, have you read any funny books lately?
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To check out more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.