Humor in Children's Literature

The renowned children’s author E. B. White once quipped, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but few people are interested and the thing dies in the process.” While we agree with his sentiment, we also suggest a brief exploration of the roles of humor in children’s picturebooks may be a worthy endeavor.

            Children’s picturebooks and humor have had a close association since Randolph Caldecott enticed young children to read his picturebooks by poking fun at everyday events and illuminating the humorous aspects of the human condition.

Theories of humor fall into three primary categories; functional or relief theories offer explanations of why we laugh and the value of laughter, stimuli or cognitive theories look at surprise and incongruities to understand what makes things funny, and superiority theories look at people’s responses to humorous events and phenomenon and why people find things funny. Whatever theories help us explain why we find things funny, it might be better to take White’s advice and not dissect things too far or we might kill the funny.


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