When my sister’s boys were just little guys, we’d go on summer camping trips. With three nephews and three uncles, it was a great bonding time. And one of the things we bonded over was telling and making up jokes. On of my faves:
Q: What do you do if you get swallowed by an elephant?
A: Jump up and down until you are all pooped out!
On one long car ride home, I remember doing the good ol’ interrupting cow joke. Only, we expanded it for every animal we saw: interrupting horses, interrupting roosters, and even threw in some interrupting uncles and interrupting nephews. After a week of camping with each other, we all had fodder for some friendly teasing.
That experience inspired me to write one of my latest series: Jokes and Jingles. I take classic knock-knock jokes and expand them into full stories, which were then put to music.
Boo Hoo?: A twist on the “Boo Who?” knock-knock joke in which a group of kids play hide-and-seek.
Hoo, Who’s there?: Peter the Squirrel goes scampering through the woods looking for Ollie the Owl. He’s listening for his friend’s familiar “Hoo Hoo.”
Knock, Knock Moo!: While doing his chores, the farmer’s animals play jokes on him.
Orange You Glad?: Susie wants a snack, but all she can find is an annoying banana that follows her around the house.
In my writing career, I’ve been lucky. I have had the opportunity to write a lot of fun, exciting books, from graphic novels about space aliens to chapter books about monsters. I especially enjoy writing silly stories, and nothing I’ve published yet quite tops the four books in my Sound It Out! series for pure goofiness. Each of these outlandish stories focuses on one letter blend, which helps set up a lot of silly word play.
Blake Has the Blues: What do you get when you combine the letters b and l? You have the bl sound. It lets you sing the blues, curl up in a blanket, and blow a harp with a blue jay.
Chocolate Chimpanzees: What do you get when you combine the letters c and h? You have the ch sound. It lets you swing through the trees with chocolate chimpanzees, chuckle at a funny joke, and join a chicken on a quest for cheese.
Sheila the Shy Sheep: What do you get when you combine the letters s and h? You have the sh sound. It lets you meet a shy sheep, sip a milkshake, and hush a toothy shark who is hungry for some relish.
The Story of Stanley and Steven: What do you get when you combine the letters s and t? You have the st sound. It lets you tell a story, stomp around, and sing about some monsters.
My wife is a STEAM specialist. That’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) with an Art component. And one of my publishers, Cantata Learning, was looking for some science type songs. I thought that would be a great opportunity for me to collaborate with Katie as she also has a music degree and is a lovely singer. So she was the brains behind our STEM series of songs while I was the wordsmith.
Engineers Solve Problems!: Budding engineers will learn the steps engineers use to solve problems. As they sing along, students will solve a problem just like an engineer would.
Let’s Use the Scientific Method!: Budding scientists will learn how scientists use the scientific method to understand the world around. And as they sign along, students will work their way through an experiment.
Math Saves the Day!: Math is important because we use it every day. As they sing along, students will learn that we use math when we bake cookies, go the grocery store, and play with our friends.
Technology Is All Around You!: Technology is more than computer tablets and smart phones. As they sing along, students will learn that technology is anything that solves a problem.
Recently, I’ve been working on a series of books involving Magic E, an owlish wizard who knows a little word trickery. With a wave of his wand and a flick of his wrist, he changes the vowels sounds of words like pin, tub, can, and cap by adding an E to the end of them.
The book in this series are going to be outlandish stories with some fun word play. In one story, Magic E sends Tim the porcupine back in time—get it, add an e to Tim and you get time! In another, he teaches a cod to read secret codes. Chuck the Duck goes from being a dud to a cool dude, and Sam has his cap turned into a magical cape.
These stories really allowed me to let some of my goofiness out into the world. And to top it off, I once again get to work with the amazing Luke Flowers. He’s illustrated my retelling of The Muffin Man, and also worked on a few titles that will be coming out this summer. His work is incredibly fun, and from the initial sketch of Magic E, I can tell he’s going to capture the playfulness of this series.
Stay tuned for more.
Most adults know the muffin man by now, but many will have never heard the story in quite this way! Author Blake Hoena has given the intrepid baker and his beloved Drury Lane bakery a new daily routine, turning the Muffin Man into an early riser who makes a wide variety of muffins to tempt the passers-by. At the end of the day, the store is empty and everyone is happy. This cute picture book is written in such a way that every page can be sung to the melody of the classic children’s song; in fact, the book even includes a CD featuring a recording of the full song, complete with toe-tappingly catchy music. Illustrations by Luke Flowers are delightfully cartoony, full of bright colors, and young readers will be smiling along with the people in the book as they go through every page. This is a fun addition to the library of any young reader . . . Great for the preschool crowd.
—San Francisco Book Review
With kids underfoot, jokes are aplenty in our household, whether we’re making up songs or sneaking up on each other or retelling a funny one we heard earlier in the day. We share a lot of laughter.
Admittedly, I tell a few stinkers—not fart jokes, but jokes that bomb. I get my share of eye rolls and “seriously!”s and patronizing smirks. But I’ve learned that without failure, there can be no success. This is very true of telling jokes and writing funny stories. So I keep trying.
My most recent attempts have been in my Jokes and Jingles series, children’s books that retell knock-knock jokes in song (AND graphic novel format). Here’s a sketch from Orange You Glad. It is the story of how Susie Loo goes looking for a snack and gets harassed by an annoying banana. It might be my favorite of the bunch—at least I think it’s the funniest.
I have been exercising my funny bone this fall with graphic novel adaptations of knock-knock jokes for my Jokes and Jingles series. The fun part about writing these children’s books?—the kids and I tell these jokes (and some weird variations of them) around the house.
Here’s is a sketch from Boo Hoo? I turned it into a story about a girl named Betty who is playing hide-and-seek with her friends.
I knew the publisher, Cantata Learning, was interested in creating easy-to-read graphic novels in a picture book trim size. So I suggested joke books, and I feels the knock-knock jokes turned out to be a perfect for this format. It’s easy to see and read the back and forth that sets up the punch lines.
Here is a little bit of silliness, a sketch from my song Chocolate Chimpanzees. It is part of a series of tunes based on letter blends, and this one is chock full of chuckles. Two chimps join a chicken on a quest for a treasure chest. They meet a chili eating chinchilla, a checkers-playing chihuahua, and a charango-playing cheetah while chasing after Charlie the chipmunk.
Of the handful of songs I’ve written so far, this is my fave. The melody popped into my head one day, and the words just flowed. Not often is something as easy to write as this song was. Or as fun. Now I just need to wait for it to be put to music.
Ever since I wrote my first graphic novel, Matthew Henson, Arctic Explorer, I have been fascinated with the format. Sure, some of that has to do with me reading Spider-Man and Batman comics as a youngster. And part of it is that I wish I was better a better artist because I’ve always wanted to draw my own comics. But it’s also because of the added element, the pictures, in telling a story. Sometimes, illustrations can present things is a simpler, more straightforward way than just words, especially when targeting young readers.
So recently, I was given the challenge to create graphic novel joke books within a picture book trim and page book. Oh, and they were also to be paired with music. I thought knock-knock jokes would be a perfect fit, and then to the great annoyance of my kids, I began telling and retelling some of the classic knock knock jokes to them.
The above sample is a sketch from Knock, Knock, Moo!, a play off of the interrupting cow joke. Though the farmer in this book has more than just an annoying cow.