The Joke Machine:
A Creative Writing Tool Disguised as a Joke Book
So, two guys walk into a bar…
Wait, that’s not how I meant to start. I meant to start by telling you that The Joke Machine is a new non-fiction book by Macmillan that teaches middle graders how to punch up an ordinary sentence into something funnier. I’m nervous because my spellcheck mysteriously switched into Hungarian and I can’t tell if words on this page are misspelled.
Spelling words wrong is something I do knot want to do. I know the importance of proper spelling, it’s something my feather taught me. If I mix up even two letters, this whole page is urined.
Now you’re probably wondering, is she kidding about the spellchecker? The urined page? And most importantly, what happened to the guys who walked into a bar? Well, the answers are yes, yes, and two guys walked into a bar – the third one ducked.
Apologies for the long introduction, I just wanted to make you laugh. Making someone laugh is one of the best feelings in the world. Humor is vital because it helps people connect, build rapport and trust, and it reduces stress and social differences. It’s hard to be mad at someone you’re laughing with.
The premise of The Joke Machine is unique – that being funny is a skill you can learn, practice and polish – there’s no “funny gene” you need to be born with.
Each chapter explores a different style of joke making, such as how to use surprise, contrast, comparison, exaggeration and more to create funny lines. Each chapter includes a “Your Turn” section that offers exercises, tips, and formulas so children can create their own funny lines. By the end of the book, readers have a set of tools in their joke belt to make their friends and family actually LOL.
The true magic of The Joke Machine is that it teaches a difficult, almost mysterious subject using basic tenets of English, in a fun, funny, kid-friendly way, that keeps readers laughing and turning the pages.
Now I’m going to tell you a secret. Lean in, because I’m going to whisper this so kids don’t hear. Though The Joke Machine explains how kids can become funnier, it’s also a book that teaches them how to express themselves more creatively and how to become better, more confident writers.
The Joke Machine teaches basics, such as using similes, metaphors, homonyms, homophones, etc., to punch up sentences, but the real message is deeper. The real message is reaching past the plain “vanilla” and expressing yourself more creatively, confidently, and humorously.
For example, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to create humor by comparing two things that don’t ordinarily go together, by using irony to call out an unusual situation, and by using literalness to respond to someone’s actual words instead of their meaning.
The book explains how to fancy-schmancy it up by using specific details, too. It shows how to change “my shoes smell bad” into something more colorful like “my shoes that smell like they’ve been in my gym locker since second grade”. The book encourages kids to play with words,
punch up puns, twist common catchphrases, exaggerate and understate facts, and even invent words that their friends will understand just by their sound.
Finally, The Joke Machine teaches middle graders to be more confident writers because being funny is about teasing out your message, having the courage to say something and then pull it back. It’s presenting a thought, then twisting, bending and reversing it. It’s like starting with “two guys walk into a bar” and then admitting that’s not what you want to talk about – but now that I have your attention, stick with me. It’s about thinking outside of the box, playing with a message, and holding your reader’s attention, all the way down to the very last line.
Click here to download a PDF of School Jokes!
Buy the Book!
Click here to go to the book's Macmillan site.