On Wednesday, children’s book author Cheryl Blackford published a post to her blog about the recent Tucson Festival of Books. It wasn’t about her experience at the festival, though, but rather about a panel on humor in children’s books. More specifically, it questioned why the panel in question was composed entirely of five white men.
I mean, while I suppose it’s possible that the only funny kidlit writers in Tucson that weekend were dudes, I’d put the likelihood of it up there with the odds that I’m going to be featured in one of this week’s NCCA Basketball Tournament games.
After going on to relate how she questioned the panel regarding the gender imbalance evidenced by their quintet of Adam’s apples, near the end of the post she writes,
Does this matter? you might ask. Yet more carping from a woman on the topic of gender discrimination, you could say, rolling your eyes.
She follows that with a brief argument of why, yes, for the love of the all the cherry-flavored Skittles, pointing it out and examining it, matters. It matters because the only way to someday conquer biases such as this one is to bring it up when everyone else would rather not talk about it.
In doing so, hopefully we can work together to overcome it.
So, of course it matters. It matters to all of us.
Then again, you might be wondering why I’d be bringing this up, of all people. I’m a middle-aged homo sapiens of European descent with man bits who is trying to get his MG books published and make a mark on children’s literature. Heck, I even write books that are intended to be funny. A bias towards guys like me when it comes to deciding who is or isn’t likely to open up a can of belly laughs can only be to my benefit, right?
Except, no, not really. Because believe it or not, it matters a lot to even me that we to work to overcome these biases. Especially the idea that dudes are funnier dudettes.
But, why, you ask?
Well, for one thing, because I believe that few things make a children’s book more enticing to a young reader than a healthy dollop of laughs. Now, clearly, not every MG book needs to be a madcap side-splitter filled with clowns and fart jokes. But I firmly believe (and I’ve seen a ski slope’s worth of anecdotal evidence of this among my four youngsters) that kids will more consistently read and talk about books that make them laugh. And there are plenty of great books out there by women that don’t just deserve to be read, they need to be. Because kids reading great books triggers a positive feedback loop. Once they find one, they’ll go looking for another, and then another, and another. Again and again.
And if you ask me, that seems like a pretty effective way to increase literacy in kids. In turn, that can go a long way toward curing many of society’s ills, one giggling reader at a time.
Another reason why giving equal consideration to the comedic lady folk matters to me is that some of my best writer friends are not only brilliant, but also brilliantly funny, while also being female. In fact, my agent has put together quite a client list of women who make me laugh, both in their work and in regular old, everyday conversation. In fact, if a day goes by that without a literal – by which I mean actually, really, literal— LOL at Julie Falatko* or Dev Petty**, I start to get twitchy, like maybe I’m missing out on something somewhere.
Speaking of which, if you like to laugh, you should probably follow both of them on twitter.
Finally, the most important reason that issues like this matter to me – even if it might seem like I’d be better off keeping my rambling trap shut – is much more personal than professional. I have a daughter who, at nine years old, has already finished writing more complete stories than I did before the age of thirty. She might keep at it and become a professional writer someday. Then again, she might not. But whatever she chooses, I want her to grow into a world where girls aren’t automatically written off when it comes to deciding who might be the funny ones, or the smart ones, or the ones best at applying the Pythagorean Theorem.
The long and short of it is, it matters to me because I want her to have all the same advantages I have now as a middle-aged white dude. I want the playing field to be level, for her and everyone she knows, regardless of race, creed, gender, orientation, or galaxy of origin. And as far as I can see, the only way that will ever happen is by doing exactly what Cheryl Black recommends. We all need to be seeing the biases, asking the awkward questions, and raising the issues until there aren’t any more left.
Before I step off my soapbox, I thought this might be a great place to leave suggestions for the Tucson Festival of Books, or for anyone else who needs help finding a children’s book or two by awesomely funny ladies who know their way around the funny bone. If you’ve got a recommendation, drop it into the comments below. Here, I’ll even go first: Heidi Schulz’s Hook’s Revenge is not only a terrific adventure story with a plucky leading lady, it had me laughing out loud while 40,000 feet over Pennsylvania a few weeks ago.
Much to the chagrin of the guy in seat 14B, I might add. But then I read him a few pages, and he got over it.
So, what do you have in mind? It’s your turn, let’s see what you’ve got!
*Julie’s debut, Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) is due in early 2016. You should keep an eye out for it.
**Dev’s debut, I Don’t Want To Be A Frog is out now. But you’ve already read it, obviously. If not…why not? It’s delightfully subversive, and hilarious.