Sunday, January 30, 2011

Leonard Marcus: Look Who's Laughing

The humor panel's moderator, Leonard Marcus, you have to sing his name like a song from FUNNY GIRL — "Leonard Marcus! Leonard Marcus! What a beautiful, beautiful, byooooutiful naaaaaaame!"

Lin calls Leonard our residential scholar and a national treasure.

He's the author of among others, DEAR GENIUS, A CALDECOTT CELEBRATION, THE WORD AND THE WAND, and his latest, FUNNY BUSINESS, all about writing humor, which we'll get a taste of in the current panel of Mo Willems, Lenore Look, and Marvin Terban.

Leonard says we have three of the most talented and funniest people in our field on this panel. Mo Willems, picture book artist and writer. Everyone of his books is an event. Lenore Look, a very versatile writer with two series of chapter novels and various picture books. She's written about girls and boys, entertaining her audience while introducing them to Chinese culture. Finally, a change at the last minute, sitting in for Douglas Florian is good friend and fine writer, Marvin Terban. He's known as Mr. English for kids, Scholastic refers to him as "Professor Grammar."

Leonard asks us what makes funny funny? It's well known if you have to explain a joke, that's a problem. He brings up some funny adults writing for adults. Aristotle said we laugh at stories about people not as smart as ourselves. And Will Rogers said everything is funny as long as it's happening to someone else.

Leonard reads an excerpt from a letter Ursula Nordstrom wrote to William Péne du Bois about his illustrations for THE MAGIC FINGER by Roald Dahl "...No place does the author specify the gesture of the finger is done using the middle finger... couldn't you draw the gesture as using the index finger instead?"

Leonard reads another Ursula letter illustrating how to respond to angry letters, this time a letter to Hilary Knight:

Dear Hilary,
I hesitate to worry you, but some enemy of yours is writing me very angry letters and signing your name to them. Have a good week.

Leonard says no one at the conference or on the panel has ever been late with a manuscript or set of illustrations, but imagine receiving this letter from your editor (this went to Edward Gorey):

Dear Edward,
Thanks for your card telling me you are having a nervous breakdown. Welcome to the club. I think you know I have his and hers straitjackets hanging in my closet... If you are stuck or discouraged I might be able to help you get unstuck or encouraged... I thought I'd experienced all the editor experiences there are to experience, but you are a new experience... It makes me feel all young again."

Oh, oh! Check out Leonard's next book coming out this year, THE ANNOTATED PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH.

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