Call it fate. Call it kismet. Call it the stars aligning, the moon in ascendance, the converging of the planets, whatever you like. When I saw last week that there was a topic trending on Twitter called #WomenWriteFunny, started by Angie Manfredi, it was clear that the hour had come. For a long time a project has been incubating. I’ve kept it quiet as long as possible, but if you saw the following in your PW Children’s Bookshelf yesterday evening then it’s safe to say that the jig is officially up. To wit:
Yes. I have joined forces with the illustrious Viking editor Sharyn November, who has taken my idea and sprinted, not just run, with it. And it all began with a problem.
You see, friends, I’m a fan of the funny. I understand the necessity for serious fare, of course. Serious absolutely has its place in this world. But so does humor, and over time I realized that there was something missing in the marketplace. At first, I thought I just hadn’t been looking hard enough but eventually it became clear as crystal: There isn’t a single, solitary collection of funny stuff for kids written by women, out there. Not one. Zippo. Zero. Zilch.
So I did what any enterprising librarian might: I gathered information. I asked parents, parents I knew, with kids, both boys and girls, to simply name “the funniest women they could think of”. A simple request, no? The results were just as fascinating as I thought they’d be. Some kids mentioned contemporary comics (Zooey Deschanel, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey being the most frequently mentioned). Some were unable to think of any women at all.
None of them mentioned writers or comic artists.
Hence, FUNNY GIRL (and yes, I know Nick Hornsby recently published a book of the same name – but don’t forget the 1960s Broadway musical and motion picture, both starring Barbara Streisand. It’s not like it hasn’t been used several times over).
If you’re playing devil’s advocate you might ask why this book is necessary. After all, aren’t there plenty of funny women out there, writing and drawing for kids? There are indeed, and imagine if you could see them all together.
I asked two of my contributors to talk a bit on the subject.
First, Shannon Hale (whose RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE and PRINCESS IN BLACK are downright hilarious):
“So why does it matter? Why do kids need to see/hear/read women being funny? And hear adults acknowledging that they are funny? Because stereotypes shut down possibilities. The ‘class clown’ is always a boy. The actually truly funny girls in class are just ‘obnoxious’ or ‘attention-seekers.’ Boys who are funny are encouraged, laughed, cheered. Girls who are funny are told to behave, shush, sit down. Comedy is a gift to humanity. How sad and pointless life would be without good laughs. We need to see girls being funny, encourage them to develop their sense of humor, reward them for the cleverness and intelligence it takes to make jokes. They’ll be happier, more fulfilled human beings. And so will we. The more comedy the better!”
Fair enough, but why would busy, best-selling authors sign on? Rita Williams-Garcia will tell you:
“I’d sworn off anthologies for scheduling reasons, but when I learned of this collection, I immediately called my editor daughter. ‘We have to do this!’ At 4, Michelle had her own talk show, opened it with a minute of ‘schtick’, and had little sister, Stephanie as her second banana. She and Stephanie’s routine said it all: Smart girls are funny girls.”
Sharyn and I have already pulled together our list of potential candidates for inclusion. Some have already been contacted and some will be contacted soon. In the end, we will produce something girls would actually want to read, whether they’re on the beach, at camp, or in the privacy of their own room. We’re filling it with visual artists galore as well as authors well established and new. And here’s the kicker: It’s actually going to be funny. And fantastic. And amazing.