CCBC May 2015 Newsletter: Humour


News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre
News from our Friends
May Book List: Funny Books
Author Corner: Mélanie Watt
Amy’s Travels in YA
Illustrator’s Studio: Dave Whamond
Out Soon: Spring 2015 of Best Books for Kids & Teens
Next Month…

News from the Canadian Children’s Book Centre

TD Canadian Children’s Book Week starts tomorrow! From May 2 to May 9, 29 authors, illustrators and storytellers will tour the country and bring the magic of stories directly to Canadian children. If you don’t have a reading planned at your school, check out our public readings. We also have a free downloadable theme guide available here!

News from our Friends

Young People’s Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Season (2015/16) is now on sale for school groups! Until May 12 you can save 20% off tickets for any production in the new season. (Tickets are $12 including HST, regularly $15.) And, there’s no payment due until September 23! There are 8 amazing productions in the season including: Hana’s Suitcase, Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang, Goodnight Moon and The Wizard of Oz. For more information, click here. To book, call 416.862.2222.

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May Book List: Funny Books

by Emma Sakamoto

This month we compiled a list of books to make you laugh. From joke compilations and comic strips to funny stories about surviving middle school, these are titles that showcase humour in Canadian children’s books.

Picture Books

I Wish I Could Draw
Written and illustrated by Cary Fagan
Groundwood Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-55498-318-6
IL: Ages 5-8  RL: Grades 2-3
When the narrator of this sneakily clever book decides he will try to draw, even though he believes he isn’t very good at it, a world of silly possibilities opens for him. The result is a book that delivers plenty of excitement, silly jokes and fun—and also an important message about self-confidence and perseverance. Designed to look like a child’s notebook, this book will inspire readers to pick up a pencil and let their imagination do the rest.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
If You Happen to Have a Dinosaur
Written by Linda Bailey
Illustrated by Colin Jack
Tundra Books, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-77049-568-5
IL: Ages 3-8  RL: Grades 2-3
If you happen to have a dinosaur lying around your living room, and you don’t know what to do with it… why don’t you use it as a can opener? It will make a terrific nutcracker, too! There are oodles of uses for a dinosaur—and some things dinos aren’t good for! This delightfully absurd exploration of the domestic uses of dinosaurs is guaranteed to tickle funny bones and spark imaginations.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Written by Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4424-6738-5
IL: Ages 3-8  RL: Grades 2-3
A hilarious new book from comedian Michael Ian Black and illustrator Debbi Ohi about a boy who refuses to wear clothes, of course! After his bath, the little boy begins his hilarious dash around the house… in the buff! Being naked is great. Running around, sliding down the stairs, eating cookies—nothing could be better. Unless he had a cape…
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
The Vole Brothers
Written and illustrated by Roslyn Schwartz
Owlkids Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-926818-83-2
IL: Ages 2-5  RL: Grades 1-2
This is an irresistible tale about two ravenous rodents who are so hungry they could eat a cat. The cat leads them to a piece of pizza, which they manage to steal away from him, but their victory does not last long. A crow and some ants outsmart the voles, and they’re left empty-handed. Children will chuckle at the crazy antics of the brothers and delight in the dialogue chock full of onomatopoeia.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Junior & Intermediate Fiction

28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6
Written by Catherine Austen
James Lorimer, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4594-0617-9
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 4-6
Dave Davidson believes it is his mission to cure his friends of their fears. And there are lots of fears to be slayed! Eric is afraid of dancing, Andrew dreads public speaking, Vanessa is scared of dogs, and Claire fears the future. But Dave’s hare-brained, fear-slaying solutions come with unintended and hilarious consequences, often more fearsome than the original phobias! This is the companion novel to 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom
Written by Susin Nielsen
Tundra Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-88776-977-1
IL: Ages 11-14  RL: Grades 5-6
Violet’s TV-director dad has traded a job in Vancouver for one in Los Angeles, their run-down house for a sleek ranch-style home and worst of all, Violet’s mom for a new wife. When her mother takes up with Dudley Wiener, Violet and her friend decide that they need to take control. They plan to help her snag George Clooney!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied
Written by Jess Keating
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4022-9755-7
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 5-6
Twelve-year-old Ana’s social life is officially on the endangered list: she lives in a zoo (mmm, elephant droppings!), her best friend has moved to New Zealand, and junior high is miserable. All Ana wants is to fade into the background. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Luckily, Ana finds new friends who help her discover her true seventh-grade self and even help her pass her math finals!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius
Written by Stacey Matson
Illustrated by Simon Kwan
Scholastic Canada, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4431-3317-3
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 5-6 Arthur Bean, a soon-to-be-rich-and-famous author, has two goals for himself: to win the school writing contest and to win the heart of his secret crush, Kennedy. But his life has had some major twists and turns, and the recent loss of his mother definitely complicates things. Welcome to a year in the life of the irreverent and outrageous Arthur A. Bean.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

Young Adult Fiction

Acting Up
Written by Ted Staunton
Red Deer Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-88995-441-0
IL: Ages 12-14  RL: Grades 6-7
Sam Foster’s parents want him to behave more maturely, but that’s easier said than done. Sam has an anarchistic girlfriend who loves breaking the rules and a teacher who has it in for him no matter what he does. Toss in a wild road trip, a river race, a local rock band called ADHD and Sam’s desire for a weekend on his own and you’ve got the makings of a hilarious teen novel.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Highly Inappropriate Tales for Young People
Written by Douglas Coupland
Illustrated by Graham Roumieu
Random House Canada, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-36066-3
IL: Ages 14 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
In these seven very funny stories we’re introduced to seven evil characters we can’t help but love. This cast of miscreants unleash their dark, unruly and antisocial behaviours on every page. Meet an incredibly hostile juice box, an action figure with issues, a truly dreadful babysitter and so many more. Great witty short stories for older teens.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Losing Joe’s Place
Written by Gordon Korman
Scholastic Canada, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4431-1304
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
Jason’s brother Joe is letting him and his friends stay at his apartment in the city over the summer, and all they have to do is pay the rent each month, but soon they run out of money, lose Joe’s car and are in danger of being evicted. Keeping Joe’s place turns out to be harder than they’d thought.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Me & Death: An Afterlife Adventure
Written by Richard Scrimger
Tundra Books, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-88776-796-8
IL: Ages 14 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
Jim is the sort of kid you don’t feel sorry for when he gets run over. Which he does. Lying in the middle of the road, Jim has a near-death experience in which he meets some ghosts and learns a few home truths. Jim’s quest for moral redemption does not go smoothly. Thought-provoking, scary and hilarious—sometimes all at the same time.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers


101 Cool Canadian Jokes
Written by Erin O’Connor
Illustrated by Bill Dickson
Scholastic Canada, 2005
ISBN: 978-0-43995-205-7
IL: Ages 8-12  RL: Grades 3-4
“What did the Canada goose say to the mallard? You quack me up!” Over 101 Canadian riddles, knock-knock jokes and silly puns guaranteed to make kids laugh.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Don’t Touch That Toad & Other Strange Things Adults Tell You
Written by Catherine Rondina
Illustrated by Kevin Sylvester
Kids Can Press, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-55453-454-8
IL: Ages 7-10  RL: Grades 4-6
Eat your bread crusts, they’ll make your hair curl! This book, which looks at some of the most common, yet crazy, things that adults tell kids, is filled with humorous insights and wacky illustrations. It also includes a section of “Parentisms” — the truly unexplainable things adults say to kids!
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
How Much Does Your Head Weigh? The Big Fat Book of Facts
Written by Marg Meikle
Illustrated by Tina Holdcroft
Scholastic Canada, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4431-0047-2
IL: Ages 9-12  RL: Grades 4-6
Former CBC Radio host Marg Meikle provides wacky, but informative, answers to more than 300 questions such as “Why is 13 unlucky? Why is it called a funny bone? Why can’t you tickle yourself?” Originally published by Scholastic Canada as three individual books—Funny You Should Ask, You Asked for it! and Ask Me Anything!.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers
Joking Around with Chirp
By the Editors of Chirp Magazine
Illustrated by Bob Kain
Owlkids Books, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-926973-64-7
IL: Ages 4-6  RL: Grades 1-2
Join Chirp and other friends from Chirp Magazine as they giggle and guffaw through more than 100 feather-ruffling riddles, jokes and tongue twisters. Filled with family-friendly jokes, photographs and cartoons, this book will enable young readers to tell their own jokes and practise reading on their own.
Amazon | Indigo | Canadian Bookstores | Wholesalers

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Author Corner: Mélanie Watt

Mélanie Watt is a children’s author and illustrator based in Quebec. She is best known for the Scaredy Squirrel and Chester series of picture books. We talked to her about how she got her start, her writing process and how she incorporates humour into her very funny books.

Can you tell us a little about how you got started as an author and illustrator?

I didn’t expect to have a career in writing and illustrating children’s books. I was studying design, to eventually work in advertising (publicity). It was in an illustration class at university that I created a book project about colour using a chameleon as my main character. I called my book mock-up Léon le caméléon. It was a story meant to explain complementary colours to kids. My teacher Michèle Lemieux guided me through the process and sent my project (which I later translated to English) to Kids Can Press.

They decided to publish it. I was finishing my last year of university. I worked with Debbie Rogosin, and I learned a lot about children’s picture books by reworking and polishing my book project. I’ve been writing and illustrating kids’ books ever since!

You write in both English and French. What is the translation process like? Is it difficult translating jokes from one language into the other?

It’s not the easiest thing to do, but I enjoy it greatly! When I think of ideas, I think in two languages — I cannot separate them. My writing style in English relates very much to how I write in French (like the order of words, for example). How I form my sentences is unique because it’s all a mix, I guess!

As for humour, it can be tricky! In English, I can use different meanings of a word, which is great sometimes, but when I go to the French version, I don’t have as much versatility. I try to think this through early on so I’m not trapped. What’s interesting for Scaredy is that I translate the French-Canadian version but not the one for France. In France, expressions are quite different. I like to showcase the Quebec expressions as much as I can.

In the very funny Scaredy Squirrel series, the title character often has to confront a fear. How do you think humour can help children dealing with similar issues?

I think humour plays a huge role in communicating to not only kids but also adults! We benefit from not taking things too seriously. Humour can help us address more difficult themes. For example, I have just finished a new book that addresses the topic of loss. It’s called Bug in a Vacuum and features a fly dealing with five different emotions after being trapped in a vacuum cleaner. I use humour even in the most difficult of topics because it helps to lighten things up.

Humour definitely can help kids with more difficult issues because they can see the exaggeration or the irony in a situation. They like to point out that Scaredy is excessive or that his fears are out of context because it makes them feel empowered. They want to help Scaredy.

Tell us about your writing and drawing process. What comes first? How do your illustrations influence the jokes in your books?

When starting to write a Scaredy story, it isn’t funny in the beginning. It starts with brainstorming a concept or questions like: Why do we need friends? What are the advantages and disadvantages? It’s a deconstruction of a concept that is then put back together piece by piece.

In fact, it’s like putting together a puzzle with two dimensions. First, there’s the visual (graphics, lists, boxes, etc.). Second, there’s the structure of the storytelling. Afterwards, I figure out what info works best with what graphic. The gags and jokes come into play much later. It’s the cherry on top.

The fact that I can both write and illustrate benefits me greatly. I can write what I can’t draw and draw what I can’t write. This gives me the liberty to choose between one or the other. I don’t use many words in my picture books on purpose. I find that editing out a lot of words pushes me to be a better artist. Plus, as a kid, I wasn’t a big reader and I preferred lots of pictures. It probably stuck!

How have your books been used in the classroom? Do you have any suggestions for teachers?

The best compliment I can get is that my books have a life beyond the reading. Teachers tell me that the structure of the Scaredy books gets kids interested in creating their own projects and stories. The graphic nature of the Scaredy books allows people to adapt it in different ways and with many topics. The expressive nature of the Chester books inspires kids to take on double personalities with their art and to role-play with the characters. I think it’s great that my works are used as fun teaching tools.

What were your favourite books growing up?

Cinderella by R.H. Disney and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White.

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Amy’s Travels in YA

by Amy Mathers

When it comes to what people find funny, humour is often in the eye of the beholder. There are times when I find myself struggling to get the joke as others are laughing uproariously, and other times when I am the lone voice laughing in a darkened theatre. This is why I especially enjoy humour in books because whether I find something funny or not, it is my own private experience and assessment.

YA books contain four main types of humour: character, situational, physical and subversive.

Although Susin Nielsen’s books straddle the line between pre-teen and teen, they consistently contain memorable characters whose views of life are unique and humorous no matter what the situation. It has to do with them facing whatever comes their way in a vulnerable and endearing way. This is character humour at its best as the thoughts and actions of the main character are inherently grin-inducing. I love The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen (Tundra Books, 2012) as an example of this type of humour.

Situational humour happens when characters find themselves in awkward circumstances resulting in comical misunderstandings. In Betsy Wickwire’s Dirty Secret by Vicki Grant (HarperCollins Canada, 2011), Betsy meets Murdoch in an unfortunate but hilarious shower scene while she is starting a new job as a cleaning woman. Not Suitable for Family Viewing (HarperCollins Canada, 2011), another Vicki Grant gem, had me laughing till I cried when Robin mistakes Levi, a harmless local boy, for a dangerous predator and reacts accordingly.

In a visual setting such as a movie or a TV show, physical humour generally involves pain or perceived pain. But in a YA book, physical humour is all about the unpredictable nature of a body going through puberty. Author Don Calame is the master of this type of humour, and his Swim the Fly trilogy (Candlewick, 2010) is a stellar example. I have noticed physical humour in YA tends mostly to be about guys, and I think this is because it is more socially acceptable to write about erections than menstrual cycles.

My favourite type of humour in young adult books is the subversive, tongue-in-cheek kind. In Sandbag Shuffle by Kevin Marc Fournier (Thistledown Press, 2007), Owen uses a wheelchair because both of his legs have been amputated, and never tells the same story twice about why he needed them amputated in the first place. Both Owen and his friend Andrew continually use the well-meaning generosity of strangers for their own purposes, resulting in many entertaining events as they refuse to be ruled by the ideas and systems of others. Fournier uses their story to comment on societal attitudes toward those we consider to be disabled, and turns these beliefs upside-down as a result.

As I continue to expand my YA horizons, I am particularly aware the ability to make someone laugh is a gift, and a rare one at that. In the midst of a seemingly endless sea of teenage angst, a good sense of humour is not only appreciated, it is one of the aspects of storytelling that makes a book especially memorable.

See you next month!


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Illustrator’s Studio: Dave Whamond

Dave Whamond is the award-winning author and illustrator of the Oddrey series and My Think-a-ma-Jink, as well as a regular contributor to chickaDEE and OWL magazines. We talked to Dave about his experiences as an illustrator and how he thought up Oddrey.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started as an illustrator and writer of children’s books.

I went to the Alberta College of Art and Design and had been an illustrator for years working mainly for magazines, ad campaigns and newspapers. I also do a syndicated comic panel called Reality Check but I always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to do a children’s book. It wasn’t until I had my own kids and I would read books to them every night that it hit me that I really wanted to do it. As a kid, I loved books and I sort of rediscovered the old classics that my parents read to me when I was a kid.

I started out illustrating books like the Hot Dog and Bob series but I wanted to try both writing and illustrating my own book. In 2009, it finally happened and I published my first book, My Think-a-ma-Jink with Owlkids. It was meant to be as I had illustrated for chickaDEE and OWL magazines for years. It was my first book and it was their first picture book as well.

Since then, working on children’s books has been my new love and I have worked on close to 30 books. What I love about children’s books is that it is something that is everlasting whereas most of my work with magazines and newspapers was more ‘disposable.’ It is viewed once or twice and then never seen again. I used to look at my Dr. Seuss books when I was a kid over and over again. Most kids would collect hockey cards or dolls. I collected books. That was my treasure.

Tell us about your illustration process, for your own books and for others.

It depends on the project but I usually work in mixed media (ink, watercolour, chalk) and then scan it and work back into it digitally in Painter or Photoshop. Sometimes I work solely digitally. I am always open to exploring different styles and in my latest book, I am experimenting with a pencil, more sketchy line and a minimal palette. It keeps things fresh, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone every now and then.

Of course, every illustration starts out with a blank page, then some rough sketches, then further development and more refined sketches. Once a sketch is approved, it is then transferred down onto the illustration board and the final art stage begins!

My studio is a walkout basement in my house so I get a lot of natural light. I used to share studio space with a group of illustrators and designers downtown but it was like Grand Central Station at times (we had too much fun) but there were too many distractions. I get a lot more work done now but miss the creative collaboration at times.

Your latest book, Oddrey Joins the Team, is the third in the Oddrey series. What inspired you to create this character?

Oddrey was a very important book for me to write. As a kid, I was a little odd and, looking back, I wished there was a book that told me it was okay to just be myself. I just wanted to write stories and draw pictures. It was my favourite thing to do but I thought I should be probably playing sports or whatever, like the other kids were doing.

Oddrey began as a simple sketch… actually it was more of a happy accident, as Bob Ross used to say in his painting show. I had accidentally smeared some ink on a page doing another illustration and I thought to myself, that almost looks like a funky hairdo. So I drew a character around that smudge and the cover you see on the first Oddrey book is that exact same illustration. Oddrey the character was more loosely based on my daughter, who is also quite a unique person, and I mean that in the best possible way. When she was younger, she had so many idiosyncrasies and cool little ways of looking at the world. I just had to put it in a book.

Do you have any suggestions for teachers on how they could use your books in the classroom?

It’s interesting that you ask that. I have noticed that teachers have come up with a lot of interesting activities for a few of my books. They are much better at that sort of thing than I am. For My Think-a-ma-Jink, kids are encouraged to use their own imaginations and create their own Think-a-ma-Jink by either drawing the character or writing a story about what the character might look like or what it would allow them to do. One class did an online presentation on YouTube with their own version of places they would go in their imaginations.

For Oddrey, there were a number of interesting approaches. In one library, they asked the children to think about and draw what they think might make them different from the rest of the class. They also compared what their answers were before and after reading the book.

In another library, they would read Oddrey to the kids several times so that they would be familiar with her character. Then the kids would do their own character analysis by going around to different stations where they would answer questions about character traits (in Grade 2, no less!) and do various related activities, in addition to discussing them with their schoolmates. In another school, they made their own self-esteem shields, in which each child would draw what made them unique on their shields.

It’s so great to see that kids are connecting with the book and getting a lot out of the related activities. It means a lot to me that the schools are developing activities based on my books. How cool is that?

What projects are you working on now? Anything you are particularly excited about?

Presently, I am working on another Justine McKeen book for Orca (Justine McKeen Bottle Throttle) as well as the final book in the Bagels series (Bagels on Board). I am also writing and illustrating another book for Owlkids called Frank and Laverne, a book about a dog and a cat’s perspectives of the same series of events. I am just working on the final art now, which is the fun part once you’ve gone through all the rewriting and revisions for the rough sketches. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to do this for a living. I don’t even like to call what I do ‘work.’ It’s still fun for me after all these years.

I am also working on another book that I am quite excited about but can’t talk about it just yet as it is in development. Top secret!

Below are images Dave shared with us of his process and studio. Click on each image to enlarge.

“Once a pencil sketch is approved, I transfer it onto an illustration board using graphite.” “After tracing the rough onto the board, I ink the illustration with a brush and a crowquill nib pen.”
“I then add watercolour washes on top of the ink (be sure to use waterproof ink). I add chalks, gouache paints, and other textures at this point as well.” “Once the traditional way is finished, I then scan the illustration and work back into it digitally using Photoshop and Painter. I find I can’t recreate the feel of the watercolour on the computer and I also can’t achieve some of the effects with the traditional method that I can do with computer programs so it’s the best of both worlds. It’s also nice to mix it up and not have to sit in front of the computer all day or the drawing desk.”

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Out soon: Spring 2015 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens

245 new books for preschool, elementary and high school, in the latest edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens!

The Spring 2015 edition of Best Books for Kids & Teens, the CCBC’s semi-annual selection guide, will be released in early May. All of the titles in Best Books for Kids & Teens have been handpicked by expert committees of educators, booksellers and school and public librarians from across Canada. The reviewed materials include picture books, junior/intermediate fiction, graphic novels, and powerful teen fiction, in addition to a wide array of non-fiction, magazines and audio/video resources.

Click here to pre-order your copy today for only $4.00!

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Next Month…

Our June newsletter will be all about summer reading! Please contact us if you have any questions or feedback — we would love to hear from you!