Today, I’m lucky enough to have the wonderful Oliver Phommavanh in for a cup of tea and a chat (or, actually, a large hamburger if his Instagram feed is anything to go by). Oliver is the author of six books for kids, including incredibly popular titles such as Thai-riffic and Con-Nerd. His new book, The Other Christy, is out now (Mr12 is reading and enjoying) and takes him into new territory, so I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about it – and for some tips on how to write funny books for kids.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing funny for kids?
Oliver Phommavanh: “Being funny is about pushing boundaries, so there’s a tension that you may take things too far. But half the fun is seeing how far you can go. Also, humour needs a target and they may be offended. Hopefully they won’t take it too seriously, hehe.”
Do you actively sit down to write ‘funny’ or is it something that just emerges through the voice?
OP: “I think the funny comes through the voice. Kids always say ‘tell me a joke, make me laugh’ but I think I’m one of those people that you hang out with and then the funny stuff will come out.”
I’ve seen your author talk and it’s like stand-up comedy (my boys both loved it) – is that ‘performance’ aspect something that you work on? How important is the author presentation for a kid’s author?
OP: “Yes, I try to make my presentations like a stand-up comedy show. It’s taken years of school visits to polish up my act but I do try to throw some new jokes in there, too. I think the author’s presentation needs to be engaging, to capture those kids who don’t know who you are or who need to be persuaded to read your book. I’ve seen many authors engage kids through all kinds of ways, not just humour but multimedia, storytelling and props as well.”
Your new book, The Other Christy, is written from the perspective of a girl – did you find it difficult to find the voice? Where did you start?
OP: “It wasn’t too difficult – all my characters are a little strange and Christy is no different. The voice came naturally to me because it was loosely based on a shy girl I used to teach at school. From there, I added other observations as a teacher about girl friendships, as well as asking my wife and other female friends for some insights.”
Do you think ‘girl’ humour is different to ‘boy’ humour? How?
OP: “I think there’s not much difference, I find boys and girls laugh at the same things. I suppose it’s the subjects that make something funnier for boys or girls, like boys tend to like gross out stuff but then I find that girls can be into that as well. So I’d say there’s probably not a lot that separates them.”
What are your top three tips for authors who’d like to write funny books for kids?
OP: “Find your own sense of humour, what makes you laugh? Try to hang around some kids at school or family/friends and see what they find funny, observe how they create jokes. Comedy stems from a lot of emotions and feelings. So make a list of things that make you angry, worried or scared, and work out what could drive your character crazy!”