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? 

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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!


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