Funny Business


What makes funny FUNNY? An esteemed anthologist interviews thirteen favorite children’s authors — and asks them to share their trade secrets.


"A joke isn’t a joke if you need to explain it," notes Leonard S. Marcus. "Even so, the hidden clockwork of comedy . . . has long been considered one of the great riddles of life." There are many kinds of humor, but capturing their essence on paper is a remarkably difficult (and often ...

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What makes funny FUNNY? An esteemed anthologist interviews thirteen favorite children’s authors — and asks them to share their trade secrets.


"A joke isn’t a joke if you need to explain it," notes Leonard S. Marcus. "Even so, the hidden clockwork of comedy . . . has long been considered one of the great riddles of life." There are many kinds of humor, but capturing their essence on paper is a remarkably difficult (and often undervalued) skill. So how do authors create books that not only stand the tests of time but also make us laugh? In thirteen fascinating interviews, well-loved writers of humorous books for children discuss an array of topics, from their sources of inspiration to the ways they began writing, from their revision processes to childhood anecdotes to the value they place on comedy in their work and lives. Beautifully designed and thoughtfully edited, this collection is bound to tickle the fancy of children and adults alike.

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Editorial Reviews

Abby McGanney Nolan
Leonard S. Marcus conveys a sense of 13 writers…and their influences, their books and even their writing habits…Philosophies and backgrounds vary wildly, but these writers share a respect for kids, their varied senses of humor…and the insights children have that adults don't necessarily appreciate.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In 12 entertaining interviews (and one equally entertaining e-mail from Daniel Pinkwater declining to participate), Marcus's compilation explores the childhoods, writing processes and senses of humor of well-known writers for children, including Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Daniel Handler, Norton Juster and Jon Scieszka. Marcus's evident knowledge of his subjects' writing makes for some intriguing questions and answers (“I used to crack jokes a lot, but they would always land kind of flat,” says Louis Sachar. “One of the nice things about being a writer is that you get to rewrite—and take back all the stupid things you said”). Photographs, manuscript pages and even e-mail chains between the writers and their editors add fascinating tidbits. Ages 10–up. (Oct.)
Children's Literature - Jean Boreen
Thirteen children and young adult authors from the United States and Great Britain provide the conversations about how to write with humor for kids. Daniel Handler (alias Lemony Snicket), Sharon Creech, Christopher Paul Curtis, Jon Scieszka, and Judy Blume are just some of the names readers will recognize as they begin reading through this book. Each chapter is set up in an interview style, with Marcus asking consistent questions like: "What kind of a child were you?" and "What do you like best about being a writer," that then lead to author-specific questions. The interviews are a nice mix of humor and genuineness about growing up in the author's particular situation and about writing for young people. I learned something about each author and many of their books from the individual interviews, and younger readers will undoubtedly by inspired by some of the suggestions for writing and reading from the various authors. Another nice touch in each chapter is an example of how the revision process works for each author. This is an interesting book for teachers or for students who want to know more about the authors they love to read. Reviewer: Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
VOYA - Amanda MacGregor
Although comedy is certainly subjective, most people can agree that there are certain writers who really know how to tickle a reader's funny bone. Marcus presents thirteen children's authors who excel at humorous writing, holding conversations presented in question-and-answer format with Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Sharon Creech, Christopher Paul Curtis, Anne Fine, Daniel Handler, Carl Hiaasen, Norton Juster, Dick King-Smith, Hilary McKay, Daniel Pinkwater, Louis Sacher, and Jon Scieszka. Each conversation begins by asking what kind of a child the author was and flows organically from there. Most of the discussions touch on schedules and routines, how the author began writing, and what the author likes best about being a writer. Photos, both current and from childhood, are included, as are manuscript pages with editorial notations and e-mail exchanges between authors and editors or agents. The format allows each author's voice to come through as they recall interesting, funny stories about their childhoods and the process of writing a book, making the discussions both entertaining and informative. Aspiring writers and readers looking to know more about their favorite authors will enjoy taking a peek at what shaped each author's early years and led them to writing comedic books for children. Marcus's anthology is a great, accessible resource for both teachers and students. Lists of select titles are provided for each author. Reviewer: Amanda MacGregor
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up—Marcus invites readers to listen as writers use their own words to tell "how they found their funny bones, their voices, and themselves." These are revealed in a series of interviews with 13 well-known and much-loved writers. Purists will only count 12 actual interviews. (A correspondence from Daniel Pinkwater is included; in it, he is typically offbeat and downright funny.) The selections provide insight into the authors' personalities, how they came to write funny books especially for young readers, experiences that stand out, and more. Each interview begins with a brief prologue by Marcus, a photograph of the writer, and the same question, "What kind of child were you?" Various correspondences, excerpts from their books, and early photographs appear in each one. The inserts suggest the interplay between writer and editor, show a page of a manuscript, or depict the author in an earlier time. Though always illuminating, these intriguing bits sometime impede the flow of the interview. Each one concludes with a list of books. The writers range from raucous (think Jon Scieszka and Daniel Handler) to gentle, thoughtful, or simply softer (e.g., Hilary McKay and Beverly Cleary). Also interviewed are Judy Blume, Sharon Creech, Christopher Paul Curtis, Anne Fine, Carl Hiassen, Norton Juster, Dick King-Smith, and Louis Sachar. As he did with fantasy writers in Wand in the Word (Candlewick, 2006), Marcus provides a glimpse of a group of extraordinary individuals whose books appeal to young readers. This title should find its way onto shelves for readers of all ages.—Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at Washington DC Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
Marcus once again unobtrusively gives both rising and established stars in the field a bully pulpit. As usual, readers will learn less about the outer lives of his 13 interviewees-which include the likes of Beverly Cleary, Christopher Paul Curtis, Louis Sachar, Sharon Creech and (with a particularly memorable and hilarious set of comments) Hilary McKay-than their inner ones: how they now would characterize themselves as children; what events or revelations turned them on to writing; what issues or themes are important to them; how certain of their tales, series or characters developed over time. Some entries, such as Carl Hiaasen's earnest rant (" . . . though my books are supposed to make people laugh, they're serious books. Serious books generally don't come from a happy place") and Daniel Pinkwater's brief refusal to be interviewed, are duds, but most are delights, and readers of all ages will come away with significant insights into the minds and hearts that have created some of children's literature's finest and funniest high spots. The Q&As end with selected reading lists. (Nonfiction. 10 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763632540
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 445,430
  • Lexile: 920L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Leonard S. Marcus is one of the world’s most respected writers about children’s literature. His essays, interviews, and reviews appear in the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW and many other publications, and he has a regular column for PARENTING magazine. Among his numerous books are THE WAND IN THE WORD: CONVERSATIONS WITH WRITERS OF FANTASY and MINDERS OF MAKE-BELIEVE: IDEALISTS, ENTREPRENEURS, AND THE SHAPING OF AMERICAN CHILDREN'S LITERATURE. He lives in Brooklyn.
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Table of Contents

Introduction viii

Judy Blume 1

Beverly Cleary 15

Sharon Creech 33

Christopher Paul Curtis 51

Anne Fine 67

Daniel Handler 85

Carl Hiaasen 105

Norton Juster 119

Dick King-Smith 141

Hilary McKay 155

Daniel Pinkwater 171

Louis Sachar 173

Jon Scieszka 191

Acknowledgments 211

Photography Credits and Copyright Acknowledgments 212

Index 213

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 12, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy, compiled

    Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy, compiled and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, surveys a dozen beloved authors of young adult literature, focusing on humor as a common theme: Judy Blume (Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret), Beverly Cleary (Beezus and Ramona), Sharon Creech (Walk Two Moons), Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy), Anne Fine (Alias Madame Doubtfire), Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), Carl Hiaasen (Hoot), Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth), Dick King-Smith (Babe), Hilary McKay (Casson Family and Conroy Sisters books), Louis Sachar (Holes), and Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man). Marcus’s own skill and wit as an interviewer and author shine through from his dedication to “Thing One and Thing Two” to his shortest chapter, which is nothing more than an amusing e-mail from Daniel Pinkwater declining to be interviewed.

    Each author comes alive through personal history and insights in his or her own voice. Photographs, manuscript pages, correspondence, and short passages from well-known books interspersed throughout the interviews add visual appeal and interest to the text. There are a handful of mildly profane responses—one from Hiaasen, one from Juster, and several from Scieszka. Overall, however, the content is appropriate for middle grade readers and will also appeal to anyone interested in writing, publishing, or simply understanding what it is that makes people laugh.

    Marcus explores the subtleties of humor with each author, discovering many underlying truths. Anne Fine tells Marcus, “The pain of being aware of what is going on around you is often what galvanizes a person to wit and humor.” She also notes that “in Shakespeare the jester is always the one who’s given license to say whatever he wishes.” All who love any one of these authors and everyone who appreciates quality young adult literature are sure to enjoy this thought-provoking compilation.

    Laurie A. Gray
    Reprinted from the Christian Library Journal (Vo. XIV, No. 5, October 2010); used with permission.

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