Monday, October 3, 2016

5 Ways to Bring Humor to Your Picture Book by Shawna J.C. Tenney

When I was a kid, my best friend and I played a game called “Opposite Witches.” In this game, we
pretended to be witches with a problem… everything we did, ended up the opposite of what we intended. Our evil spells turned out nice! We flew on our brooms backwards, and we even talked backwards. The whole game was hilarious to us and we laughed and laughed for hours.

The hilarity of the idea for “Opposite Witches” stuck with me over the years, and that is where the idea for Brunhilda’s Backwards Day came from.

Humor is the magical ingredient to make a truly delightful picture book. Its great for almost any picture book to have at least some funny moments. Here’s a five elements that can add humor to your picture book.

1. The unexpected- For Brunhilda, the unexpected was the outcome of her spells. Many picture books often have unexpected surprises or a twist ending that can be funny.

In This is a Moose by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, a moose wants to be an astronaut. It’s funny because it’s not what we would expect a moose to do.

2. Irony- Younger kids don’t really understand irony. This is ironic since their books are full of it!

What could be more funny than carrots scaring a rabbit in Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown’s Creepy Carrots? Could your characters problem be an ironic problem one given their personality or circumstances?

3. A humorous sidekick- Maybe your story calls for a humorous sidekick for your main character. This character can be written or unwritten.

The cat in Brunhilda’s Backwards Day is a nearly unwritten character. He only shows up two times in the text, but is seen on every page- reacting to everything that Brunhilda is doing. It is really his genius that gets the story (and the humor) going.

4. Humor in the illustrations- Lot’s of humor can be added to a picture book when the illustrations
are funny. Characters expressions and body language can add so much to the story. Having the pictures show things that are opposite from what the words say can be very hilarious… and kids totally get it!

This is illustrated (pun intended) beautifully in Molly Idle’s Tea Rex. In this book, the things that happen in the illustrations are very different from what happens in the words, which adds another layer of humor.

5. Melodrama and dark humor-  What do Gru, Yzma and Doofenshmirtz all have in common? The are all funny, melodramatic bad guys. I have always been entertained by hilarious bad guys. I had fun creating Brunhilda for this very reason.

Melodrama and dark humor can be very fun to use in picture books (when used in the right way, of course). Think of I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klaussen. At the end of this book, a bear ends up eating a rabbit. We don’t see him eating the rabbit… but we know it has happened… and we laugh!

One rule to always keep in mind when using humor in your picture book is, don’t force the humor. It needs to be natural to you and the story. And remember to draw humor from what you know. When woven in masterfully, humor can make a picture book a delight to read for all readers young and old!

Shawna J.C. Tenney is an author and illustrator with a passion for picture books. Her work can be found in many children’s books, magazines and games. Brunhilda’s Backwards Day, Shawna’s first book as both author and illustrator, was published by Sky Pony Press. Shawna is also the host of the Stories Unbound Podcast, where she loves helping other authors and illustrators. Shawna lives in the beautiful state of Utah with her husband and two kids. Visit her online at or on Twitter at @shawnajctenney. Find more fun with Brunhilda and The Cat at



Monday, October 3
Guest post by Shawna

Tuesday, October 4
Guest post by Shawna

Wednesday, October 5
Book Review

Thursday, October 6
Guest post by Shawna with giveaway

Friday, October 7
Book Review and giveaway

 Sunday, October 9
Podcast book review

Monday, October 10
Book review

Tuesday, October 11
Illustrator Interview and giveaway

Wednesday, October 12
Book Review and giveaway

Thursday, October 13
Blog tour wrap up and giveaway


  1. I love the quirkiness of your characters in the illustrations. They match the style of your stories, making a great union. Good tips on how to get humor in my writing. My favorite PB's are the ones who have at least a touch of humor in them as humor is one of my defense mechanisms and always has been so having at least some humor in a book is a musthave for the reader in my opinion.

    Thank you for sharing your insight Shawna! Great post Lynne Marie!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, @Traci Bold! Always glad to see you at My Word Playground. Yes, I agree totally -- so wonderfully quirky, and I love the story behind the story!

    2. Thank you Traci! I agree that most any picture book would do well to have at least a touch of humor in it! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Thanks for sharing the humor here... :)

    1. Welcome to My Word Playground, Mavis! So glad to have you here. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    2. Thank you for reading! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I believe ironic elements in pictures books are meant to broaden the audience.

    1. Always glad to see one of my favorite writing friends pop in! Thanks for stopping by, @Manju Howard. Glad you enjoyed the post! XO

    2. Oh for sure! We all know that picture books are supposed to attract parents as well as kids! :D

  4. This is some fantastic advise, and the book looks hilarious! I can't wait to read it.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post @David McMullin! Thanks for stopping by My Word Playground.