Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

No joke: funny books for kids deserve to be taken seriously. If you want to make reading together more fun, encourage a reluctant reader, or help your child use books to regulate their emotions or deal with challenges, funny reads can pack a serious punch alongside the punchlines. 

Reading with my daughter, I’ve also found that the books that make her (and me) laugh deliver some of the best value. She tends to pick them time and again, so we get in more reads. And they often spark all sorts of jokes, wordplay, and silliness after reading—which keeps the book, and the learning, alive for longer. 

I’m not alone in seeking out laughs in kids’ lit. According to one report, 52 percent of children want books that make them laugh, and their parents want the same. Given that enjoyment is a crucial motivation for kids to engage with books, spurring them to keep reading independently [LINK TO READING MOTIVATIONS BLOG]—and that there’s a sharp drop in the number of kids reading for fun as they get older—kids’ longing for humor in story time isn’t something to laugh off.       

Besides, laughter—remember that “best medicine” adage?—is good for us, credited with positive effects on body and mind. It stimulates and oxygenates organs and muscles, boosts the immune system, and provides emotional release. These reasons alone would make incorporating funny books into your family reading worthwhile. But what else can laughter bring to your child’s reading and development? Let’s dive in.   

Laughter Can Lead to Learning

Humor is a great way to create positive learning experiences. Laughter attracts our attention and eases tension, thereby making us more receptive. It also activates the dopamine reward system, and dopamine has been linked to motivation to learn and memory retention

Add in laughter and give kids free choice in their reading, and you’re onto a winning combination. So, if you have a struggling reader or one who’s lost their enthusiasm, funny stories might just help them fall in love (or fall back in love) with books. Plus, they’ll support learning in a way that feels playful and organic. And that kind of learning is more likely to stick!          

Comedy Creates Connection

Laughter builds bonds as well as brains. In a group setting like the classroom, it can help to lower defenses, promote a feeling of safety and togetherness, and encourage rapport. And at home, sharing a laugh as you read together fosters connection on a more intimate level, as well as helping reaffirm books as a positive way to spend time together. 

This isn’t just from a child’s perspective, either. For parents, taking a few moments to enjoy a funny story with your little one can go a long way towards carving out real quality time after a long day. This is especially true if you’re feeling the pain of missing out on the laughs your child had at daycare or you’re suffering from a bout of parenting burnout.  

Humor Can Lower Stress

When we laugh, our stress hormones, like cortisol, take a dip, and feel-good endorphins spike. The result? We feel more relaxed and happier. In fact, even anticipating laughter can kick-start these mood-boosting effects. 

Laughing can also act as a kind of emotional pressure-valve for releasing pent-up tension—and just think how much stress little ones may have to handle or repress day to day. For my family, reading has often been a go-to calming activity during stressful moments or after a challenging day. And choosing a funny book can often work extra wonders for re-setting the mood or easing that pressure-valve open.    

Funny Books Allow for Rule-Breaking

This is one of my favorite reasons for bringing funny books for kids into the heart of our reading collection. Children are bombarded by rules, covering everything from what they can touch to where they can go, what they have to share, and when they eat or sleep. What’s more, adults may not be, or at least may seem not to be, bound by these same dos and don’ts. 

But in funny books—especially those that lean towards the (mildly) anarchic or subversive in spirit—these rules are often upended or thrown out completely. So reading them can act as a kind of healthy wish-fulfillment for frustrated little ones, where they are free to relish rule-breaking, or uphold the rules, if they choose. Even more than that, funny, disruptive books also encourage creativity, taking alternative perspectives, and critical thinking.

Humor Is Empowering

Kids relate to funny characters, and often these same characters show children that it’s okay to be silly, it’s okay to make mistakes time and again, and it’s okay to feel fearful or uncertain even when that fear or uncertainty doesn’t make sense to others. 

In some stories, it’s the grown-ups who are the silly or misguided characters, offering a valuable lesson that adults don’t always get everything right either. Humorous characters can help children to feel seen and understood in a world where that doesn’t always feel like the case.  

How to Use Funny Kids’ Books  

Funny books can be a valuable tool in helping kids come to grips with challenging ideas or situations, from bullying and family separation to illness or death. Using funny reads in a targeted way has its place, but simply focusing on the joy that humor brings is enough most of the time. 

As long as the humor is age-appropriate—the youngest readers will struggle with irony and complex wordplay, for example—and positive rather than disparaging and aggressive, anything goes! Have fun exploring what you and your children find funny, whether that’s slapstick, dark humor, or anything in between.    

The punch line? When it comes to your child’s reading choices, funny isn’t everything. But it sure makes a good starting point, especially on the most challenging days. And if you’re looking for more laughs in your family reading, our curated list of funny picture books for kids should do the trick.  

Are funny books for kids a hit in your family? Let us know!