Humor in nonfiction books for kids

Some peo­ple think non­fic­tion is dry and bor­ing. How can facts be fun, right? WRONG! Humor in non­fic­tion not only gets and keeps read­ers engaged, it can also help them retain the infor­ma­tion longer. My fel­low writ­ers of non­fic­tion for kids (on the NFforKids Yahoo group and on Twit­ter) and I have put togeth­er a list of our favorite FUNNY non­fic­tion titles for kids. Here’s what we came up with, in no par­tic­u­lar order:

This is just a sam­pling of our favorites. Do you have any to add? Please let us know in the comments!
I found it inter­est­ing that often the humor is pri­mar­i­ly in the illus­tra­tions, with the text play­ing it fair­ly straight. In fact, in many cas­es it’s only the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two that tick­les your fun­ny bone. In oth­ers, the humor is mild (a smile rather than a bel­ly laugh) or is just hint­ed at rather than being an explic­it joke. Some­times, the top­ic itself is pret­ty fun­ny, but the text is fair­ly seri­ous. Giv­en how much kids love to read humor, I won­der if that’s all just coin­ci­dence, or if humor just isn’t as tol­er­at­ed in non­fic­tion texts, or maybe non­fic­tion writ­ers just don’t have a sense of humor (I’m sure not buy­ing that last one!). Thoughts? 

6 thoughts on “Humor in nonfiction books for kids”

  1. Thank you for includ­ing my series on this great list! I love when non­fic­tion incor­po­rates humor. A cou­ple more titles that come to mind are: Ground­hog Gets a Say and Diary of a Wom­bat (and the sequel Diary of a Baby Wombat.)
    My thought on why non­fic­tion isn’t always off the chain fun­ny is that to write a joke you have to take a leap from obser­va­tion to fun­ny. In the case of non­fic­tion, you then have to fact check that leap to make sure it’s fac­tu­al, and if it’s not, you have to rewrite the joke and fact check the new joke. In the end, your alle­giance is to accu­ra­cy. The humor is sec­ondary. Illus­tra­tions, on the oth­er hand, are often the voice of imag­i­na­tion sparked by fact. So they can be more whim­si­cal and fun­ny. That’s my super-seri­ous opin­ion, any­way. (I do some­times have a sense of humor, I swear!)

    • Thanks, Brid­get! I’ve actu­al­ly been think­ing all of the “Diary of a…” books (except for Wimpy Kid) prob­a­bly belong on the list, too.
      Yes, I think you’re right on about illus­tra­tions hav­ing a bit more room for humor in non­fic­tion than the text. I also think if we writ­ers try to get fun­ny with the facts, read­ers start to won­der if we got too fun­ny with the facts, you know? ::winks::

      • Geor­gia Brag­g’s books–“Caught” and “How They Croaked” have some VERY fun­ny lines.…though maybe old­er kids (as well as adult read­ers) “get” the ref­er­ences. I’ve been try­ing to see if there are oth­er online lists of best humor­ous non­fic­tion (pic­ture books, mid­dle grade, and old­er) or even writ­ing class­es for chil­dren’s writ­ers who want to explore this. So far…not too much. I do agree that the illus­tra­tions (like those in Kid Pres­i­dents by David Sta­bler) are also so fun­ny and are a stretch of the imag­i­na­tion that works.

        • Thanks, Tru­di! If I were writ­ing this post today, I’d include all of Sarah Albee’s titles (I espe­cial­ly loved POISON). I also real­ly enjoyed the Secrets of the Ancient Gods series by Vicky Alvear Shecter (Anu­bis Speaks, Hades Speaks, Thor Speaks).

  2. My kids love lis­ten­ing to The Moth Radio Hour with me, all non­fic­tion sto­ries that usu­al­ly incor­po­rate humor. I always have to lis­ten to the sto­ries first by myself to check for con­tent and lan­guage, though. Do you know of any non­fic­tion books of short sto­ries like that geared toward children?

    • Hi Jaymie,
      Thanks for your ques­tion! Yes, my Two Truths and a Lie series (co-authored with Ammi-Joan Paque­tte) sounds per­fect! Cryp­tid Crea­tures: A Field Guide by Kel­ly Mil­ner Halls also seems like it might hit the mark, as well as many of the books by Sarah Albee (Poop Hap­pened, Bugged, Poi­son, Dog Days of His­to­ry, Why’d They Wear That, and Acci­den­tal Arche­ol­o­gists. You could also try Heather L. Mont­gomery’s Some­thing Rot­ten and Who Gives a Poop. I’d love to hear if any of these work out!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.