The Art of Adding Humor. Even When You Probably Shouldn’t.
I can’t handle sad movies. Or sad songs. Or especially sad books. I don’t think I ever fully recovered from The Giving Tree. I was devastated months after reading Where the Red Fern Grows. And don’t even talk to me about The Fault In Our Stars.
And while so many sad books are beautifully written and offer huge emotional life lessons, I avoid them at all costs. Listen, it’s not them. It’s me. I’m super weird.
I like funny. And I’m not even really funny. But I like funny especially during moments when no one should be funny. Dark moments entwined with lighter ones get in my bones. They feel the most right. Because making someone laugh, who has nothing to laugh about, is the biggest measure of true grace. It’s the greatest gift. And it should be given more. Especially in books for children that get kind of heavy. We should always balance the heavy with an even heavier dose of knock-knock jokes.
As I wrote The Meaning of Maggie, I struggled most writing emotional scenes. It felt manipulative in many ways. I don’t ever want to make anyone cry. Especially myself. I’m an uglier crier. But when I let the funny happen in these scenes, I felt like I could breathe again. I felt okay opening that emotional door because it was going to end with a smile. Or an Oreo.
Kids should know that it’s okay to alternate between sobbing and laughing so hard your stomach hurts. It’s these fits of giggles that you remember most in life. There’s eloquence in levity and lightheartedness.
One of the most lovely examples of this that guided my own writing is from Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live. Bill Murray shares the most beautiful story about the last time he ever saw Gilda Radner and it’s just so funny and beautiful.
“Gilda showed up and she’d already had cancer and gone into remission and then had it again, I guess. And she started doing, “I’ve got to go,” and she was just going to leave, and I was like, “Going to leave?” It felt like she was going to really leave forever.
So we started carrying her around, in a way that we could only do with her. We carried her up and down the stairs, around the house, repeatedly, for a long time, until I was exhausted. Then Danny did it for a while. Then I did it again. We just kept carrying her; we did it in teams.
We worked all aspects of it, but it started with just, “She’s leaving, I don’t know if you’ve said good-bye to her.” And because these people were really funny, every person we’d drag her up to would just do like five minutes on her, with Gilda upside down in this sort of tortured position, which she absolutely loved.
She was laughing so hard we could have lost her right then and there. It was just one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ll always remember it. It was the last time I saw her.”
We owe the same kind of hilarious grace to our characters and our young readers. We ask so much of them and it’s only right to give them every emotion in equal measure. We spend so much time making sure kids react appropriately to every situation. Let’s give them permission to laugh a little when they aren’t supposed to.
When I was young and my own father was very, very sick, the hospital sent the chaplain to talk to my mother and me. She held our hands and asked what religion we were. And my mother, with tears in her eyes looked up and said, “We’re Rastafarian.” I looked at her panicked and terrified. But she just continued, “So we’re going to need you to find us a shaman.” The chaplain left confused and I yelled, “Mom! What are you doing?!” And my mom just smiled and said, “Listen, if your dad wakes up, he’s going to think this is really funny.”
And he did.
And it was great.
It was everything.
About the Author
Megan Jean Sovern is a purveyor of fine teas, old time-y music and hugs. Recently she was in a bad break-up with muffins and her life hasn’t been the same since. She’s often mistaken for a seventh grader but don’t be fooled, she is very grown-up. A grown-up who watches television past ten o’clock and everything. Before her first leap into fiction, she was an advertising copywriter for many moons where she worked with top-notch talent mostly named Matt or Karen. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Ted and his near complete collection of Transformers. He doesn’t like it when she says, “Zoinks.”
By Megan Jean Sovern
✭”Smart, sensitive, sad and funny.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
✭ “Readers will appreciate Maggie’s humor and rejoice in her growth. This is a remarkable story of a working-class family pulling together in the face of a serious illness.”-School Library Journal, starred review
✭ “Maggie is a firecracker character, one who sparkles with wit, cynicism, love, and potential. Her voice will charm and captivate readers.”—Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review
“The Meaning of Maggie does for middle-grade fiction what John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars did for teen literature: Both portray coping with serious illness as one aspect of a complex character, not as the single issue that defines them.” —BookPage
“Heart-wrenching yet full of heart.”—Publishers Weekly
“An absolute start-to-finish delight… a book bound for glory.”—Beth Kephart, author of Small Damages and National Book Award Finalist.
“In The Meaning of Maggie, Megan Jean Sovern has found a way to illuminate one family’s struggle in the face of an impossible and incurable disease. She’s done it with humor, wit, and heartache. And along the way, she’s given us a character—Maggie—who is a joy to behold despite being stubborn, immature, and temperamental. There is hope here, and a great story to boot.” —Kathi Appelt, author of National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book The Underneath
“The Meaning of Maggie is funny, charming, and full of heart. Maggie is an unforgettable character and young readers will love her.” —Wendy Mass, New York Times Bestselling author of Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.
“An affecting portrayal of coming to terms with an adult’s illness. Megan Jean Sovern’s writing features a fabulous voice and crafts a loving portrait of a mother and daughter coping with enormous changes to their family.” —Walter M. Mayes, Library Media Specialist, The Girls’ Middle School, Palo Alto, CA
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Chronicle Books | May 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1452110219
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