I have noticed something as I have been reading more stories to my kids, the charming, subtle humor that can make stories so delightful is lost on them. For example, while reading the Hallo-Weiner with my kiddos this Halloween, I was shocked at how they didn’t chuckle at how the main character ( a Dachshund ) was named Oscar or how that his mother’s pet-name for him was ‘sausage-link’. These were just a few of those clever gems that my kids sat there, straight-faced for. After some background information and explaining they understood why those aspects were funny.
* If you like the Hallo-Wiener you can grab my book companion for it HERE.
Stories are meant to inform and entertain, but how much are my kids being entertained when they are missing the subtle humor that can make books so wonderful! I decided to look into how I could have my students catch on to these hilarious instances.
1. Books with lots of Play on Words
One of the teachers in my building shared her copy The Fabled Fourth Graders of Asop Elementary by Candance Fleming. This book is great for 3rd – 5th graders. Many of the character names reference some trait about them or their job. For example, Mr. Jupiter is the science teacher and Ms. Bunz is the cafeteria lady. As each character came up we discussed the connections between their name and trait/occupation, and what made it an amusing choice for the writer to use. There is also a a second book in this series The Fable Fifth Graders of Asop Elementary by Candance Fleming.
2. Book Previews
I always go through the books I am going to use with my students. I have started to do book previews with my students as a means to introduce them to these subtle bit of humor that writers are starting to use in their text. I show them the cover of the book and then we will look a the pictures and identify and label the setting ( ‘Wishbone Farm’ is the setting in Turk and Runt: Thanksgiving Comedy ), as well as, the characters ( Turk and Runt ). Then, we spend a few minutes discussing these elements and why there are funny in the story. I also ask them what words or items might go with the characters or settings, so that their minds are working on seeing possible connections as they are listening to the story.
3. Make Your Own
After we have read a story or two that has examples of these bits of humor, I have had my kids create their own characters. They must give them a job or a quality and name that is related. I am looking for more than Mr. Broom for the custodian, although I will let them start there so we have something to build from. To start, I will usually give them a character trait or occupation and have them come up with the just the name. The goal is for them to show me that they understand these connections.
They have really had a lot of fun doing this and I love getting to see their creativity. It has also been very eye-opening for me to see which students struggle with this. I have seen that these students need to work on areas like multiple meaning words and figurative language. These areas may not have been identified as concerns when they were first evaluated but now are starting to impact their academics. When I see them struggling with these activities, I will do a quick screen for those areas to check and see.