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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

In Search of the Elusive Funny Female Character

Yeah.  Too dang quiet around here.  Need to needle the masses.  Get a little controversy started.

Here’s an idea.  I’ll throw out a sentence and then you can jump on my head with the reasons why this sentence is wrong.  Here’s goes nothing:

Why do some writers (sometimes women and more often men) have such a hard time writing funny females?

Okay.  Hold off for a second until I back this up a bit.

What do I mean by “funny”?  Well, I mean female characters that a kid would read about and find hilarious.  The female Captain Underpants.  The female Greg from Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Not potty humor necessarily but someone who has funny observations or does funny things.  A gal that makes the reader laugh out loud.  Now if funny things happen to a female character, is she a “funny” person?  Not necessarily.  Humorless characters can be placed in funny situations but that doesn’t make the characters themselves funny.  No, I mean characters that are humorous in and of themselves.

Now a lot of male writers, particularly in the children’s book world, do fabulous kick-ass females or smart females or stand-up/notable/model citizens of their community females.  They are brave and strong and true.  Phooey.  I also want someone funny.  I am demanding in this way.  After reading books like Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol, Kid Vs. Squid, Archvillain, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, A Whole Nother Story, Guinea Dog, Cosmic, and other fantastic funny books, I feel the lack.  Now mind you, in 2010 I’ve seen a fair amount of funny gals but then I started noticing the gender of the writers:

The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow – I admit it.  I found this book hilarious.  These may be the funniest girl characters of 2010.  More of this, please.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt – She may be porcine, but Nanny Piggins is also very funny indeed.  Far funnier than most nanny type characters out there too.

Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm – Turtle is VERY funny.  And the narrator.  So you get the extra “first person narrator” points on this one.

Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable – Funny female guinea pig detective (and note the conspicuous lack of eyelashes, big pouty lips, bows, frills, or bazoongas).

Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror by Jennifer Finney Boylan – Jenny went so far as to create a funny female chupacabra.  Funny fantasy girls?  Woah.  I might be cheating with this one, though.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood – You could argue whether or not Miss Penelope Lumley is actually funny.  You know who really is, though?  Cassiopeia.  That little gal is full o’ the funny.

There are many others, but those are just the first few to come to mind.  Humor is always difficult, no matter what your gender.  So is the problem not that men write funny girls less than women do but that there are just fewer funny books out there at all?  Or is it a gender thing?  Is it just difficult to make the opposite gender amusing?*  Chewing on that, I would now like to take a little time out to give full praise to the men who really have taken the time to include at least one (sometimes many more) funny girls in their books.  This is a trend I would like to see continue.  Well done, gentlemen of 2010.  Well done:

Adam Rex: You can make a case as to whether or not Gratuity was funny in The True Meaning of Smekday but her mom sort of was.  More to the point, this year’s Fat Vampire has a funny lady in it.  Give it up for the man.

Jon Scieszka: His Spaceheadz has a girl in a tutu who chews on pencils and looks ready to rip someone’s head off at a moment’s notice.  Generally speaking, Scieszka doesn’t do many females, but when he does (think The Little Red Hen from Stinky Cheese Man) he can get it right.

Barry Deutsch: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword – VERY funny.  Also a great example of how a girl can be kick-butt and not 100% humorless. Actually, this book is chock full of gals who know how to tell a joke.  There’s our main character Mirka, her stepmother Fruma, Rochel her stepsister . . . the list goes on.

Alan Silberberg: Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze – Hillary, the strange girl that collects broken dolls, is kinda funny.  We’ll give her a pass, though she tends to fall more into the “meaningful friend” category.

Stephen Swinburne: Wiff and Dirty George: The Z.E.B.R.A. Incident – Ah ha!  The rare Luna Lovegood award of funny dotty gals.  Daphne is very amusing in this book, and I appreciate that.  I really do.

Jimmy Gownley: Any of the Amelia books – Funny girls outweigh funny guys in Gownley’s books.  On top of that, he creates the rare comic relief girl character.  I’m looking at you, Violet.  You’re a rare flower.

Help me celebrate some others from 2010.  Laugh out loud XX chromosomes.  Remember, it’s gotta be a book that contains a funny girl written by a male author.  Middle grade, preferably.  I’ll tell you right now that you get the most points if you can find a girl who is the comic relief.  You also get quite a lot of points if you can find a book starring a girl, written in the first person, with a funny, wry voice.  For 2010 I couldn’t think of any, though I’m sure there must be at least one out there.  Men write first person middle grade girls sometimes, right?  Or is that a rarity as well?

Now pounce, my pretties!  Pounce!

* We could do a similar debate about whether or not women write funny guys as well as guys do funny guys too, if you like.  That would make up a different post, though.  I’m mostly just intrigued by the nature of humor itself, and the difficulties that exist in giving it enough praise.  I could propose another ALSC award, this time for humor, but something tells me I’d just be flogging an already very dead horse.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I would argue that Raina from “Smile” (and indeed the author herself) is a funny gal. Then there’s Babymouse, bless her. And Flavia du Luce (in books by Alan Bradley) is wonderfully dry, but her mysteries are YA at best.

  2. Just read (and reviewed) John Kloepfer’s The Zombie Chasers–I give you MADISON. She is the eighth grade girl at a sleepover who ends up evading a zombie invasion with her good friend Zoe’s little brother Zack and his friend Rice. Madison is a gorgeous blonde who rolls her eyes a lot at the boys and carries a little purse-size dog, but the three kids make a surprisingly resourceful team. Besides the odd juxtaposition of characters, Madison comes up with some funny stuff of her own. Witness her farewell speech to her beloved facial features when she thinks she’s about to become a zombie, or the effects of her healthy lifestyle on the war against zombiefication. Even though Kloepfer is mocking a type here, Madison is kickbutt, and she’s often funny. I believe it’s safe to say Madison is the comic relief here!

  3. If creating a humorous character depends to some extent on caricature, does that require (or might that be read as) making fun of the character? For male authors, is “making fun of a girl” akin to “hitting a girl”—a no-no is many ways?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Replying to Mr. Bell, I wouldn’t think so. I mean, unless the girl was developmentally disabled in some way, I doubt it would be seen as a problem. Besides, we don’t lack for girl caricatures in books written by guys already. I just want one of those caricatured girls to be funny. Basically, I want the Liz Lemon of children’s literature.

      Billy, name me comic relief girls! I need some! And I agree with you about the animals. Really, I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here.

  4. What a fascinating topic, Fuse. I’ll have to ponder this a while, actually.

    I personally think that in books written by men, a funny and well-drawn “comedic relief” female character could actually be found in a lot of places. The same could be said of male characters in books by females.

    However, I think a funny main character, especially a funny narrator, of an opposite gender than the author is actually quite rare. Think about it. I’m sure if you did a study you would find that most men would prefer to write about boys, and women about girls, not from a biased standpoint, but just because it seems more natural; any given person would feel they might have slightly an easier time “getting into the head” of their charachter it it was of your similar gender, right. You’d have less trouble pondering about “what a girl might think”, etc.? And when you’re writing a funny book, that problem would be multiplied, because a lot of comedy comes from a recognition or shared experience, or a particular delivery or style, and it doesn’t take a supergenius to recognize that a lot of what boys think is funny, not always but often, girls might not, and vice versa.

    And quite frankly, Fuse, I’m not sure animals completely count. People are often just naturally less judgemental on animals, and you have more room to be more different about what could be considered funny; in addition there is less of a problem with gender distinction to start with.

    I’m not an author, but just from my experience and possible deduction as a reader, this is what I’ve come up with.

  5. What about Stephanie/Valkyrie from Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant? I happen to think she’s quite comical in the best way possible.

  6. I love the Popularity Papers. I convinced a co worker to read it. Now we can talk about all the funny moments. (like the cell phones)

    Buckley’s female villain, Hyena from Nerds is funny. She gets much face time in the first book. Hyena was one of my favorite characters.

    Low’s Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone is YA but MG appropriate. It’s worth checking out if looking for funny female progatonist.

  7. I have to give a nod to main character Floey in I Am The Wallpaper by Mark Peter Hughes – she is fun and funny and memorable. Kudos to the author, he has created a refreshing character and the story has a great message.

  8. Forthcoming, but YA (still, isn’t that true of FAT VAMPIRE?), Terry Pratchett’s I SHALL WEAR MIDNGHT. Tiffany has a lovely wry outlook on life.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      I thought about that, but while Tiffany is droll she’s not “a funny character” in quite the same sense. Far closer would be the witch with all the scintillating inside information on naughty things (her name eludes me at the moment) who appears 5/8ths of the way in the book. Tiffany is far more a noble, stand-up heroine. Which is fine. Not funny funny, though.

  9. what about Constance Contraire from The Mysterious Benedict Society? I found her hilarious.

  10. I’ll throw in Gilda from the Gilda Joyce books. She is quirky funny, but she can be snort out loud funny as well.

  11. How can you forget her name? It’s Mrs. Proust for goodness sake’s:)

  12. Eric,not a 2010 book. Sigh. The rules as I understand them:
    Guy writer.
    Really funny (not droll:) girl.
    2010 pub date.

  13. I have to say that I loved The Popularity Papers, too. Also, the book Bloody Jack has a female character that is funny, and it was written by a man.

  14. Betsy — I think you mean Nanny Ogg, if you’ve stepped back and are discussing Wintersmith. But dammit, why did you bring this up while I was incommunicado in Stratford? This question has depressed me since P&P — if the heroine is funny (a far cry from being ridiculed) the book is by a woman. Interesting to see exceptions appear (and yes, Pratchett has lots of them, bless him.)

  15. Alyson Whatcott says:

    How about Clementine? Or Ramona? Or Junie B Jones? I think the funniest girls are for younger readers. There is definitely a dearth. One of my favorite narrators is the nameless one from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. I don’t know if she is so funny or that her material (the Herdmans) is, but funny and touching book. Anyway, here are a few for the list.

  16. Hmm. Great topic. I’ll be on the lookout. For funny girls written by men, but I think they’ll be hard to find. Frankly, I’m tired of the middle grade girl book that depicts her life in school…like Allie Finkle Rules. I do enjoy those books but there seems to be quite a few out there with rather unoriginal plots. I’d love to see a mg contemporary with more original storylines… and funny!