Friday, June 22, 2007

More Books For The Younger Ones

Or Subtlety Can Be Funny. The Word Poo Repeated Over And Over Again? Not So Much.

Back when the Gauthier children were wee ones, story tellers were popular in these parts. The kiddies and I would see them at the library, at the school, at YMCA Indian Guide family picnics. A lot of these people seemed to think telling stories to children was all about funny faces and funny voices. Funny words and sounds. Funny costumes and gestures. I remember one guy turning around and waving his ass at his audience.

I particularly hated him.

I think there is a literary equivalent of story tellers who rely on superficial gimmicks or what they believe to be kid-friendly tricks, such as funny names. Otto Undercover: Toxic Taffy Takeover by Rhea Perlman comes close to falling into that category.

Toxic Taffy Takeover is one in a series about a child undercover agent. In this volume, he has to overcome a Coney Island bad guy who is using tainted candy to control the minds of her customers. There are lots of silly James Bond-type gadgets. There are lots of silly words because just as Stink and the Incredible Super-galactic Jawbreaker was intent on teaching children idioms, Toxic Taffy Takeover pulls in plenty of palindromes and anagrams.

I got the feeling with both books that the people behind them think children like wordplay, so they're going to give them wordplay.

Otto also gives them lots of snot because the bad guy is missing her nose and without a nose where does snot have to go except all over your face? She's also missing most of her teeth, which makes her lisp. I'm not going to get all high and mighty about how little humor there is in a permanent lisp. I will say, though, that extended dialogue written in lithp is difficult to read. For new readers who don't have a lot of experience sounding out words, it must be torture.

And then there is the baby who is always using the word poo.

Toilet humor can be funny. But the toilet part, all by itself, isn't what's funny. It's the humorous situation built around it that creates the humor.

Compare Toxic Taffy Takeover with Diary of a Monster's Son (an out-of-print book I stumbled upon at the library) by Ellen Conford.

Bradley, the monster's son, shares with us accounts of his trips with his father to buy new school clothes, Dad's visit to school for parent/teacher night, and Dad's attempt to fix a hole in the ceiling. As he's telling us all this stuff, Bradley's pretty much oblivious to the fact that his father is a monster. We understand that the people around them are reacting to the fact that dad's a great big hairy beast, but Bradley doesn't get it. His father does all kinds of normal dad stuff, he just does it while covered with a great deal of body hair and fangs protruding out over his bottom lip.

The humor is subtle and wry and comes about because of incongruity, not strange sounding words or random toilet talk. It's funny because it shouldn't be happening.

What's more, Bradley's dad is a prince of a guy. While Bradley, himself, is described by his teacher as sometimes being "a perfect little monster." We've got a little irony going here, too.

While I've made it clear here that I have a preference for one of these books over the other, in fairness I should say that as far as the types of humor displayed in these works is concerned, they probably are examples of two extremes in humor.



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