The importance of funny stories: Why kids need books that make them laugh
Published on: 2 Hydref 2019 Author: Katy Birchill
Katy Birchall is the author of Morgan Charmley: Teen Witch – the Sabrina the Teenage Witch for a new generation! She explains that reading funny books gave her comfort as an awkward child, and why she's now writing those books for young readers.
I realised pretty early on at my new school that I was going to find it tricky to make friends.
Most of my classmates had started at this school at the age of 11, whereas I rocked up two years later at 13 when everyone had already worked out their friendship groups. Though naturally intimidating, this wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem for everyone. Some students would swan right into the school in the morning and have a group of pals by lunch.
I, however, wasn’t exactly a natural at fitting in.
Why I didn't win friends
For one thing, I was partial to jumpers with labradors stitched all over them and t-shirts that had ‘I’M A DOG LOVER’ emblazoned across the front, just in case people weren’t sure. I won’t try to guess what the verdict is on that look now, but back in 2001, my canine-themed style didn’t seem to win over the teen crowd.
And then, of course, there were the other few issues that ensured my lack of instant popularity; for example:
- My clumsiness (seriously, WHY can’t I walk without TRIPPING over my OWN FEET?!)
- My terrible sporting ability (forcing someone to take part in athletics on a weekly basis when they always come last is simply cruel in my opinion)
- My habit of divulging nuggets of information I should really keep to myself, for example, when I told my new class about the time I didn’t have a date to the end of year dance at my last school so, instead, I waltzed around with a balloon. Weirdly, that story didn’t go down as well as I thought it would...
Struggling to make friends and feeling fairly down about the whole situation, I found comfort in – you guessed it – books. And not just any books. Funny books.
Children's books that made my life better
I read Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries over and over again, and at night listened to the audio tape on my Walkman (yes, you read that right. Walkman. They used to be a thing). I consumed everything else she’d written and treasured every single one: All American Girl, Victoria and the Rogue, Teen Idol, Nicola and the Viscount, to name a few.
I read Sue Townsend’s genius Adrian Mole stories and spent car journeys on the way to and from school listening to Richmal Crompton’s Just William audio books. I spent hours giggling away as I happily turned the pages of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and The Twits, as though I hadn’t read them a hundred times before.
For those moments, while I was reading funny stories, I felt less out of place and life seemed just that bit better. And that meant everything.
Why comedy is really important
Comedy is important. In fact, it’s essential. It can be a welcome escape from the chaos of the world, an opportunity to have a good laugh and bring some relief. It is a survival tactic, gently helping us to get through tough times when we’re not sure we can. It creates connections – laughing together builds a bond, it brings us closer; it’s integral to human interaction.
Comedy can change the way we think and how we act – a funny story about something that really matters can be a hugely effective way of reaching people. Learning to laugh at yourself is a powerful tool throughout life and being silly every now and then is fun.
And we need fun. Because, can you imagine the world without it?
Now I want to make children laugh
I’ve always wanted to write funny stories and I wanted to write them for children and teens. I can’t really explain why, it’s just what came naturally to me, but I think it’s telling that almost all of my books have a protagonist aged 13, the period of my life that I truly felt like an outsider for the first time.
Just as I leant on the protagonists of the comedies I was reading, seeing elements of myself in them, I hope that my characters will be there for others who feel the same way.
The main reason I do my job, and the reason I LOVE my job, is to make readers laugh and bring people joy.
And perhaps when they’re laughing at scenes in Morgan Charmley: Teen Witch, as Morgan gets all her spells completely wrong at school with hilarious, disastrous consequences, the readers who feel like they don’t fit in either, like they’re not quite cool enough or sporty enough or clever enough... Maybe they’ll feel like they finally have someone on their side.