Way, way back when my daughter was in third grade (she’s in 6th now), she got to choose who she wanted to be in the Wax Museum. It was a biography unit—they were to research people in their library period, choose someone whose life or story inspired them, learn all there is to know, write a speech, and then become them in the actually living wax museum. Needless to say, I loved this project so much I wrote an entire book about it.
Historical figures! Athletes! Explorers! Writers! Dress-up! What’s not to love?
At the time, my daughter had been struggling a little and the only thing that distracted her from her worries was comedy. She was strangely drawn to “Wizards of Waverly Place” reruns and specifically, Selena Gomez’s antics as Alex, who was always getting herself into wildly sticky and hilarious situations. Yes, it’s true. That show was HILARIOUS. Full disclosure: long before I got to write my own books, I collected paychecks for writing tie-in books for Disney, which meant novelizing their hit shows. Therefore I have seen my fair share of WOWP and I’m here to tell you Selena Gomez is no lightweight in the comedy department. In fact, she reminded me a little of Lucille Ball, which worried me a great, great deal.
How would my kid ever know that before Alex and the Chocolate Fountain, there was Lucy and the Candy Factory? How?!
Since we were heading out on a vacation, I quickly downloaded some of the best episodes of “I Love Lucy” and handed her a fully loaded computer for the airplane ride. What ensued was one of the most joyous moments of parenting ever, ever. I watched as my daughter tried to stifle her snorts and belly laughs so that no one else on the plane would notice. As Lucy got half in the bag on the stuff of Vitameatavegamin, my daughter got drunk on the fun of watching it. Soon, the whole plane was laughing at this super modern kid watching an old-fashioned comic genius at work. It was—okaaay, Selena—it was magic.
Which is why I cannot wait to hand her Funny Girl, a new book that collects the wisdom and comic stylings of some of the best writers for kids, into a nifty package ripe for gift giving. Edited by the one and only Betsy Bird, the book includes so many different takes on seemingly similar girl experiences, you will truly get something new out of it with each quick flick of the page. I’ve loved the idea of this book since I first heard about it, and it does not disappoint. We here are a funny household. We distract from bad days and homework frustration with sarcasm and pratfalls. I maybe even minimize a bit by invoking comedy when I’m afraid things have gotten too serious. (I know. I’m working on this.)
But this book, from the word go, gets everything exactly right. The very first piece is called, “How to Tell a Joke.” So right off the bat, we know this is a practical guide. “How to Tell a Joke When Dealing with a Bully”? Yes please! This is kind of how I go about parenting so having that backed up in an actual book, having a tangible parenting guide (basically) to hand over to my daughter and her friends, that isn’t a collection of how to properly spit your food into a napkin, or how to bait a fishing hook (useful, but still), or okay, how to apply lip gloss like a boss, is JUST. SO. EXCITING.
From the how-to opener to the “Dear Grandpa: Give Me Money” bit by Alison De Camp, which could have been written between my own kid and her Law-and-Order-loving grandmother, the book is mesmerizing in its collective weirdness, its irreverence, and its heart. There are comics from Raina Telgemeier and Cece Bell and let’s just pause for moment on Kelly DiPucchio’s chapter, “Things Could Be Verse,” which, really is like reading the very best of Shel Silverstein, only with a splash of feminism and some pretty spot on puberty-normalizing wit. Yeah, that’s a thing. I just made it so. It’s AMAZING. Read it. Go.
There are SO MANY things to talk about here but one of my favorites is Mitali Perkins’ “The Brown Girl Pop Quiz: All of the Above,” which digs deep into the white-questions-about-brown-experiences scenario along with a practical multiple choice quiz that is super funny and super empowering, turning the tables once again with a generous and necessary amount of snark. It is so smart. Another favorite is Libba Bray’s Public Service Announcement about period protocol in middle school. I mean, WHERE WAS THIS WHEN I NEEDED IT? In addition to examining the connection between glitter unicorn greeting cards and getting your period for the first time (spoiler: the glitter unicorn is NOT a period mascot), it offers practical advice for what to do if you bleed through your jeans, for example, stripping the moment of its traditional horror and turning it into, you guessed it…comedy. There’s more and I more I could tell you about, because it’s all so good, but here’s the main thing: this book has miles-deep respect for the girls who are reading it and I think, more than anything, that is why I love it so.
So yep, my kid chose Lucille Ball for the Wax Museum and yes she pulled off the red wig in a sweat-induced panic attack moment during her presentation and yes, that made it even funnier because being funny is a special power. It can be a shield, it can be a weapon and it can be a truth serum when everything else in life feels false. Used strategically, it can even make people listen to some important things they might not want to hear and between you and me, these girls (and probably your girl) have some important stuff worth getting to. Final takeaways here: sometimes humor is the way out. Don’t be afraid to laugh with your kids when life gets messy. It will teach them to laugh at the messes, and THIS IS A GIFT. Second, let them talk openly about their weird sh*t. All of it. ENCOURAGE them to give you their take. Some of it might be rough, some of it will be awesome, and if you are able to catch the light before it gets too dark, a lot of it will be funny.
Just okay, just get the book.