Works of art open the doors to new worlds and allow us to build bridges to other disciplines and other stories. Adriana Fernández, a specialist in children’s and young adult literature, recommends her favorite stories to read during this week of holidays and reflects on the relationship between humour, literature and childhood.
Laughter, body and art in childhood
Where stumbles mean falling down with laughter
Have we ever thought about how much humour is present in children’s literature? Why is that? Do we think that making a child laugh is easy? Not at all.
But it seems that as readers, children are perhaps more uninhibited and less affected by certain social contracts; in their eyes, there is no threat of breaking with the most mechanical aspects of social life.
Hence, the language in children’s literature is very malleable and therefore brings with it unpredictable moments, provoking laughter.
In addition, poetry is perhaps the area where this malleability plays the biggest role on the page. Poetry repeats, turns things around, cuts itself off, twists and creates an antilanguage narrative.
Henri Bergson is the author of perhaps the most revered text on laughter. Bergson says that laughter is the expression produced when the mechanical is encrusted on the living; laughter erupts like an explosion when something ceases to be as it “should be” (the author points to the fact that when a person comes walking down the street and stumbles, it causes us to laugh). As such, laughter means exposure at the same time as subversion. (And in that sense, it is greatly feared…).
“Laughter, then, is not a question of mere aesthetics, since (unconsciously and even immorally, in many particular instances) it pursues a utilitarian aim of general improvement. And yet there is something aesthetic about it, since the comic comes into being at the precise moment society and the individual, freed from the concern of self-preservation, begin to regard themselves as works of art.” (H. Bergson)
Is there a more iconic poem than “El reino del revés” [The Kingdom Upside Down] by María Elena Walsh?
I was told that in the Kingdom Upside Down
Birds swim and fish fly
Cats do not “meow” and say “yes”,
Because they study much English.
Let’s see how it is
The Kingdom Upside Down
Let’s see how it is
The Kingdom Upside Down
(Fragment of “El reino del revés”, by María Elena Walsh)
Like Bergson says, an everyday situation is broken, as shown in this poem by María Elena Walsh.
Dangerous it is
To walk down the stree
the street of the ca
of the cat that fi
the cat that fishes and then
hides and escape -ape -apes
You see it or you don’t
the cat that fi
Sitting at the win
(Fragment of “La calle del gato que pes”, by María Elena Walsh)
Freed from the pretension of self-preservation, Bergson also says that children will undoubtedly be the first to give in to the temptation of avoiding self-preservation and open up, with the literature, to the alternative of literary language “when it stumbles”.
Another perspective of children’s literature and humour can be seen when reading aloud, which consists of a sort of staging of texts. Such is the case of the writer and visual artist Istvansch, reading his book ¿Has visto? [Have you seen?]
Here are some more authors with whom you can read and laugh:
Graciela Repún, “El pez que no nada nada” [“The fish that doesn’t swim at all”].
In the enchanted fishbowl
My fish doesn’t swim at all.
I’d like to invite him on a trip
But I didn’t bring him a swimsuit.
Sleeping is what he loves most,
And for him, his scales are a bed.
Ema Wolf, Historias a Fernández [Stories to Fernandez], 1994
Luis María Pescetti, El pulpo está crudo [The Octopus is Raw], 1990
Adela Basch, Abran cancha que aquí viene Don Quijote de la Mancha [Open up, Here Comes Don Quixote de la Mancha], 2002
How can we keep laughing in these days of the pandemic? We have the books, but we are lacking the encounters between bodies, missing those things that result from contact. How can we compensate for this absence for our young ones?
Speaking of the resilience of children during the Second World War, the neurologist and psychiatrist Boris Cyrulnik said that we must look for what persists inside each one of us, the potential offered by fantasy, which allows us to remain in “another” place and prepare ourselves for the new outside.
Mariana Cincunegui is the artistic and pedagogical coordinator of children’s content at the Teatro Colón and also organizes and teaches workshops independently. At her side, children become the protagonists of artistic expressions that, as she says, paraphrasing Francoise Dolto, are impossible to classify: “They invent expressions of their own.”
During the pandemic, Cincunegui has devised a way of working online, proposing that children make their own houses inside their homes: building them, installing lights, turning them into their shelters.
You can see some of the material from the workshops and learn about her proposals at:
Adriana Fernández (Buenos Aires, 1970) graduated from the Instituto Nacional del Profesorado “Joaquín V. González” as a teacher in Spanish, Literature and Latin. She has taught at the Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento (UNGS), the Universidad Nacional de Lomas de Zamora and the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She is the publishing manager of Grupo Planeta in Argentina