Monday, March 7, 2011

Playing to a Tough Crowd

This afternoon I shared my “Wind Song” story with one of my second grade classes.  They listened intently.  I asked them what they thought.  They were so polite, they told me lines that they liked. 

I asked one young girl if she thought the story was funny.  She looked at me and smiled, then nodded her head yes. 

“You didn’t laugh.”

Dakota with eyes twinkling responded, “I laughed in my head.”

Yes this was a challenging audience, and I felt devastated when my story didn’t even elicit a chuckle.

So what did I learn?  Audience - this was a story about young children, but it didn’t play to their humor.  It played to adult humor.  I have read other books for children that just didn’t work.  Good story lines just missing elements like timing and a bit of magic - the laughter of children.

So what makes children laugh?  Funny words – dialogue – playful sounds – clear pictures in the mind.  Humor that is up front and lots of pictures.

The kids were checking out books today and I discourage my kindergarten kids from checking out chapter books.  I focus them on picture books and true books written at their interest level.

One boy asked could they check out from the black cart (cart where the fiction books are waiting to be shelved).  I explained they were for the older kids.  He was not buying what I was selling.

 Another student offered – “Books with difficult words. “

 I said, “yes”. 

Another added, “Too many words.”

I agreed.

My young student reflected, “Just lots of words?”

I nodded, “Yes” and added, “not very many pictures.”

His nose wrinkled up,  “Just words?” 

I then asked him if he was still interested in checking one of those books out.  He looked at me with such disdain, and repeated “No pictures.”

It made me remember how disillusioned I was when I started reading chapter books and they didn’t have many pictures.  I remember asking my mother why they left the pictures out.

Her answer was, “They expect you to make movies in your mind.  You have to do the work instead of relying on an artist.”

Want to know a secret?  I still like books with lots of pictures even though I have learned to make movies in my mind.


  1. Cute post. So true. I blog with pictures....yikes, I'm laughing out loud and in my head right now!
    I'd act my age, but I don't want to...haha!
    Wyatt's Mom

  2. I love your pictures they tell such stories. It makes me want to learn more about photography. I always enjoy your comments.

  3. So many times I too have shared a funny story only to have my kids just stare at me. You are so right about audience. Funny is very different for kids. I have noticed that the authors who capture funny the best for most of my kids are all men. Why do you think that is? David Shannon and Mo Willems are their favorites. It is almost like those men have never grown up!

  4. I for one loved your story and laughed! But audience, I agree you can't predict what will happen.
    There's so much here in this post...
    Selecting books...without pictures. I remember moving too fast to the next stage of reading and then turning back to where I was more comfortable...and I too love to create posts with photos...maybe what I love now comes from my book roots...this post is making me think...

  5. Audience...isn't that the truth. It's something that I tend to forget to teach my children right away but it is so important.

    I have to confess that I'm a picture book fan too...especially when the artist is extremely talented. I enjoy chapter books and making the movie in my mind...however, I really don't like when the real movies don't match mine. :)

  6. I rarely go to movies of books I have read - They just aren't as good.

    What I was reminded of yesterday is that my humor is dry, adults get it more than kids. My kids tell me I'm funny (strange). It was a really good lesson for me. Knowing your audience was the lesson I re-learned yesterday.

  7. i feel cheated with a good read but no pictures. keri

  8. I too love picture books too. My daughter and I read books together every night. I love what your mom said about making movies in your head.

  9. Kids are a tough audience - but so I am I! One of my pet peeves is that publishers seem to mismatch stories and illustrators. With a chapter book, there is no mismatching, the picture maker is all me.

  10. I'm still a fan of picture books as well - thank you graphic novels. The audience thing is tough too, hopefully I can brave that one day with my future classes!


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