Elys Dolan has just been announced as the winner of the 2019 Laugh Out Loud Awards, or Lollies Best Laugh Out Loud Picture Book category for Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory. She talked to Books for Keeps after the awards ceremony.
Congratulations on your win! Tell us why you think it’s important to make children laugh
The same reason it’s important to make anyone laugh, it just makes life better! Also, if you think it’s important for children to read then I think we need them to want to read, not to see it as something they’re forced to do for school. If we can give them books that make them laugh and if they have an excellent time reading those books, then that goes some way to creating passionate readers who will seek out stories for themselves.
What were the books that made you laugh when you were growing up? Do you still find them funny? Have they influenced you?
Yes I do still find them funny (I’ve been a passionate fan of things such as fart jokes from an early age) and they certainly influenced me as an illustrator. Reading things like Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas books made me realise how fun it can be to take a fanciful concept (such as Father Christmas) and combine it with something everyday (a grumpy old man going on a caravanning holiday and getting a dodgy stomach) to make a situation incongruously funny. I think it’s from reading Martin Waddell and Joseph Wright’s Little Dracula books as a child that I realised you can hide extra jokes and subplots in richly detailed images. The story of Debbie which happens in the background of Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory can probably be attributed directly to that.
What’s your favourite funny scene in fiction and why?
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith has a brilliant moment when they’re telling the story of the ugly duckling. What I’m going to do now is explain a joke which as we all know is the most unfunny thing ever so I’d suggest going and reading this book for yourself. But, it starts on a double page spread that shows the ugly duckling looking super ugly. It explains in the text that this duckling is having a hard time being so ugly but not to worry, because really he’s a swan and someday he’ll grow up to be the most beautiful bird in the pond.
Then we turn the page to find out that actually, he was just a very ugly duckling who grew up to be a VERY ugly duck. THE END. It’s my favourite example of bathos ever.
There’s as much for adults to laugh at in Mr Bunny as children. Is that important to you?
It is. When reading a picture book so often it’s a communal experience. A child will sit down with an adult and they’ll read it together. I want to create an experience where a child and an adult will be laughing along to the same book together, not with one of them laughing their heads off and the other just sat there, not being in on the joke. So, I tend to put in a few bits and bobs for the grown-ups too.
Read Elys Dolan’s dissection of the art of being funny in pictures too.
Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory is published by Oxford, 9780192746207, £6.99 pbk.