Australian Children’s Literature
Week 2 – Lecture 1
© La Trobe University, David Beagley 2006
Themes for today
• Development of children’s sense of humour
• Kinds of humour evident in children’s literature
• Not a lot!
• McPhee, PE & Chapman, AJ (1980) Children’s Humour.
Chichester: John Wiley
(Heavy duty psychological study)
• Robinson, M (1987) Humour in Children’s Literature. in
Give Them Wings: the experience of children’s
literature ed. Saxby, M & Winch, G. Melbourne:
What makes something funny?
Why do we laugh at one thing and not at another?
outside the expected – extra-ordinary, unpredictable
non-threatening, usually focussed on others
positive and affirming social interaction
can be a social marker that excludes as well as
A joke
A new employee is hired at the "Tickle Me Elmo" factory. The
Personnel Manager explains her duties and tells her to report to
work promptly at 8.00am.
The next day at 8.45am there is a knock at the Personnel Manager's
The assembly line foreman comes in and starts ranting about this new
employee. 'She is incredibly slow and the whole line is backing up!'
The foreman takes the Personnel Manager down to the factory floor to
show him the problem.
Sure enough, Elmos are backed up all over the place. At the end of the
line is the new employee.
She has a roll of material used for the Elmos and a big bag of marbles.
They both watch as she cuts a little piece of fabric, wraps it around
two marbles and starts sewing the little package between Elmo's
The Personnel Manager starts laughing hysterically. After several
minutes he pulls himself together, walks over to the woman and says:
"I am sorry, I guess you misunderstood me yesterday, I said, your job
is to give Elmo two test tickles".
So, what makes humour?
Elements of humour
• Exaggeration – beyond
the normal
• Incongruity –
• Surprise – sudden and
• Absurdity – improbable
and impossible
So, what makes humour?
Types of humour
• Physical – slapstick
• Visual - appearance
• Verbal – the
manipulation of language
• Situational – normal
conditions subverted
So, what makes children’s humour?
Up to pre-school
• Incongruous actions towards objects – mixing up, out
of place, using wrongly, appear/disappear
• Word play: nonsense words, mis-labelling of objects,
patterns of sound, unusual sounds
• Is a mechanism to explore the world
So, what makes children’s humour?
School age:
• Children begin to recognize linguistic ambiguity
verbal jokes and riddles,
puns, parodies, hyperbole,
understatement, satire,
irony and surprising references as part of verbal humour.
• Humour can be directed and targeted
objects of fun
ridicule and satire
inclusion and exclusion – identity
can be used to shock – appropriate and inappropriate
So, what makes children’s humour?
Older children:
• Preferred styles emerge
– e.g. physical, verbal, satire, etc.
– Matching or mimicking adult styles and fashions
– Often more situational than “punchline” and deliver more
complex messages
• Influenced by factors such as
– Intellectual skills – especially verbal
– Gender
– Family and cultural background

Australian Children’s Literature EDU 21ACL