Pressing Jokes Between the Pages with Tom Angleberger

My co-conspirator, Cece Bell, summed up the way we worked on our Inspector Flytrap series like this: I wrote it to make her laugh. She drew it to make me laugh.

 That’s really where a LOT of our books come from.
crankee doodleCrankee Doodle, for example, was all plotted out on a car ride and the whole thing started with one of us saying something like, “Wait, what if his name was CRANKEE Doodle?”
 And then we kept piling it on. Trying to add on a little twist to what the other person came up with. Eventually we had a whole book and it would be pretty hard to say who did what.
 Of course, not everything gets a laugh.
 Just this week, I told Cece an I idea I had for an absolutely hilarious book…. and she didn’t bust up laughing. In fact I’m not sure she laughed at all. So maybe that one needs some work or just a quick trip to the trash can.
 That’s the other important thing about the way we work.
 Sometimes when one of makes a joke or a nice turn of phrase, the other says “That would make a great kids book!” (Or sometimes we just say that about our own idea.) And then we think it over for a bit and… often we realize that, NO it wouldn’t.
 It’s a good thing we do this, because when we’re rolling it can happen several times a day. And obviously no one can publish 365 times several kids books a year. You have to be willing to let some sail off into the sunset. (I’ve always wished we kept a list of the ideas that didn’t make it, because a list of things that didn’t turn out to be all that funny …  would be funny.)
princess leia But then other ideas, like “a talking origami Yoda puppet,” are worth pursuing. When I started that, I had no idea I’d pursue it for (at least) 7 books. Or that I’d spend my time agonizing over questions like: what pun can I make out of Princess Leia?
 Inspector flytrapI don’t really remember when I decided that the idea of a crime-solving plant was worth the pursuit. He sort of forced himself past the early stages and jumped out of my head ready to ride his skateboard, fight crime and banter with his assistant, Nina the Goat. Cece claims she has had a lot of fun illustrating it — although it looks like hard work to me.
But that’s really the crazy thing about this job of trying to make kids laugh via books: it takes a lot of writing, drawing, revising, editing, emailing and promoting to take whatever that first joke was and try to press it between the pages of a book so that it falls out on some kid maybe 10 years from now and it’s still — hopefully — funny.
tom AnglebergerTom Angleberger has been a newspaper reporter and columnist, juggler, weed boy, lawn mower part assembler, and biology research assistant. He is the bestselling author of many funny books including the Origami Yoda Series, Fake Mustache, The Qwikpick Papers: Poop Fountain!, and more. He is married to author illustrator Cece Bell. Visit his WEBSITE to find out more about Tom and his books.   and follow him on Twitter @OrigamiYoda

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195 comments on “Pressing Jokes Between the Pages with Tom Angleberger

  1. gweddle says:

    Great post! How nice to have immediate feedback you trust! Sounds like fun!


  2. Debbie Austin says:

    Sounds like a match made in heaven. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Kristen Browning says:

    Thanks for the fun post. I need to check out Crankee Doodle and Inspector Flytrap! I love the imagery of the joke’s being pressed between the pages–to fall out on readers and make them laugh out loud, even years later. Something to work for!


  4. Rona Shirdan says:

    Thanks for sharing!


  5. Alexis Larkin says:

    Great post! Thank you!


  6. Sheri Radovich says:

    Interesting husband and wife team. I wonder if they have separate books as well. Finding a co-author to bounce things off, that’s going to take some time.


  7. Sounds like you two have a lot of fun working together. What a gift–for you and your readers!


  8. knittingbishop says:

    Great article.


  9. Andi Osiek says:

    I’ve been paying a lot of attention to which books my daughter giggles at and which she doesn’t lately. When she’s quiet it can still be a great book… but when she laughs it becomes one of her favorites. A great reminder… thanks for the post!


  10. Julia says:

    Fun post.


  11. Sounds like the two of you make a great team!!


  12. Kathy Levy says:

    Thanks for sharing this fun post!


  13. I agree it does take a lot of “writing, drawing, revising, editing,” and so forth to publish the just right book that kids will love. Tom + Cece = A Great Literary Team! Thank you.
    ~Suzy Leopold


  14. Sandy Perlic says:

    How wonderful to have a co-conspirator! But yes, some ideas do need to fly off into the sunset to make room for the ones with staying power. Love your quirky sense of humor!


  15. Marge Gower says:

    Great article. Sounds like a fun way to get ideas. I wish I had someone to share ideas with. 🙂


  16. Cindy Jolley says:

    So great you have a bouncing partner to work through ideas together.


  17. Laurie L Young says:

    What a great idea to make a list of what’s NOT funny. Thanks!


  18. Aimee Haburjak says:

    There can never be too much humor.
    Thanks for a great post!


  19. Kathleen Lamb says:

    I am going to try some of your ideas for working on humor with a partner. Thanks!


  20. I love that humor can materialize in back and forth banter. Now, I need to get a friend to drive with me so I can gather new ideas.


  21. All your books are going on my to-buy list because I think my sons would love them. Thanks for your post.


  22. Midge Ballou Smith says:

    Thank you!


  23. theresenagi says:

    Glad you shared about your crime solving plant books. Can’t wait to read them,


  24. “Sometimes when one of makes a joke or a nice turn of phrase, the other says “That would make a great kids book!” (Or sometimes we just say that about our own idea.) And then we think it over for a bit and… often we realize that, NO it wouldn’t.” This is what happens with my husband when we’re riding in the car. He’s a very honest critic, so if he doesn’t respond to an idea I have, I rethink it. It’s always good to have a collaborator.


  25. Amy Benoit says:

    Important to trust someone who knows a great deal about you and who is honest enough to let opinions fly. Will definitely check out your books this summer.


  26. susanzonca says:

    Tom, thanks for bringing play back into the process. I can get so intense that the fun is forgotten.


  27. Jenifer says:

    Nice post like the wordplay and humorous ideas, too.


  28. Debbie Meyer says:

    Wow. It must be great to be on a roadtrip with you two!! 🙂


  29. Kristen C.S. says:

    Great inspiration to keep on keeping on. =)


  30. Keila Dawson says:

    What a team. Excuse me while I look for your book with Poop in the title…

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Angela Turner says:

    Trying to decide which ideas are worth pursuing and which are better left alone is not always easy. I bounce ideas off my daughter who teaches elementary which helps. Thanks for sharing today.


  32. gcartee86452015 says:

    What fun to be a team that can bounce ideas off each other. My critique group talked about doing just that yesterday.


  33. What a riotous mind you have! Keep up the good work! Love those titles. 🙂


  34. Mavis Penney says:

    Imagine… writing jokes with a 10-year plus shelf-life! Wow, that’s what I want to do! 🙂 Thanks for this post!


  35. Lotus Ivak says:

    Thank you for this great piece!


  36. Sue Heavenrich says:

    I’ve seen leaves and flowers pressed between pages of a book – even fairies. But jokes? Am still trying to catch one.


  37. 01chicchick says:

    Those titles are great with wordplay and humor!


  38. judyrubin13 says:

    What a joy to work as a team. Tom, thank you for sharing your insights.


  39. Susan Cabael says:

    What a simple and challenging task: write to make her laugh.


  40. Gabi Snyder says:

    It sounds like you’re having entirely too much fun with your work! Keep it up, and thanks for sharing your process.


  41. ericaanne2000 says:

    My brother and I are like this. We call it a “brainicain” (a massive brainstorm session) and find ourselves hilarious. It’s hard to let those things sail away but really a lot of it wouldn’t make sense to other people.


  42. Patti says:

    Great idea. Jokes do build.


  43. Alex Borns-Weil says:

    Love this post. The power of collaboration. Woohoo!


  44. Karen Leiby Belli says:

    I bounce ideas off my husband it helps to have an objective team effort. Thanks for sharing!


  45. donnacangelosi says:

    So great to have like-minded people to share ideas and jokes with. Thank you for a fun post and for reminding us to let some ideas “sail off into the sunset!”


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