Tuesday, September 28, 2010

This post is such a joke

[This article is adapted from one originally posted on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) on October 15, 2008. At the time, I was doing research for what became this year’s Fall book, My Teacher is a Dinosaur. Only one of these jokes ended up in the book as it turned out. Maybe there needs to be a sequel...!]

For some odd reason I recently began writing riddles and jokes about invertebrates, among other creatures:

Q. Why are anemones so popular?
A. The anemone of my anemone is my friend.

Q. Why are tubeworms so shy?
A. They‘re introvertebrates.

Time travel came up... temporally, at least:
Q. What’s the most common way to time travel?
A. Throwing the alarm clock at the wall!

Q. Why is time travel so confusing?
A. I already told you that next week!

Astronomy tried to take on a starring role:

Q. What do you call a mean meteor?
A. A nasteroid!

Q. How does the Earth say good-bye to the Moon?
A. Later, crater!

If there‘s an award for awful jokes, I hope to win it. It’s been about twenty years since I last grappled with similar material, and then to do just the illustrations for David Adler’s The Dinosaur Princess. So, how do you write a riddle or joke, anyway? Here's one method:

1. Choose a subject, let‘s say mammoths. List words that describe how they looked, their behavior, their habitat, and so on.
trunk trumpet tusk snow ice huge big bones big teeth, etc.

2. Think of rhymes, similar-sounding words, and/or words that contain the word:
scary contrary fairy canary very necessary Larry
go know no slow slowpoke snowflake
junk chunk clunk skunk truncated

3. Use these ideas to write a rhyming, nonsensical, or goofy possible answer:a scary
hairy fairy
a snowpoke

4. Make up a question that gives a hint of the answer:

Q. Why were baby mammoths afraid of losing a tusk?
A. Because of their hairy scary tooth fairy!

Q. How fast did mammoths walk in winter?
A. They were snowpokes!

5. Try variations on classic joke formulas:

Q. How many mammoths did it take to change a light bulb?
A. None because there were no lamps in the Ice Age!

Wording the question and answer carefully will maximize the effect. For a real challenge, once you get good at writing regular riddles, try incorporating one into a poem or limerick. (I’d show a sample, but have to save them for the book.)

One book for kids about how they can write their own jokes is
Funny You Should Ask: How to Make Up Jokes and Riddles with Wordplay by Marvin Terban. He has written over thirty books for kids about various types of wordplay.
I ran across This Book is a Joke by Holly Kowitt in a used book store, and find it especially funny for some reason. It covers a ton of topics from pets to school lunches to the eight types of classmates. Mostly text, it does contain a few delightfully goofy cartoons. Note the award seal on the cover which proudly proclaims: This Book Won Nothing.

The world of nonfiction has a lot of potential gold for the enterprising humor prospector... because you have know some facts about a topic in order to be able to make fun of it. And that’s no joke!

Disclaimer: It’s possible somebody has already thought of some of these jokes/riddles... I came up with them on my own, but people have been kidding around for a long time!
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