Tips for using the cartoons in the book

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Getting started with Write Your Own Cartoons.

First, kids will need a lesson in writing in word balloons. Writing in balloons seems obvious to adults, but not so to children. The first person speaking in a panel needs to have his words at the top and to the left, if at all possible. The second person speaking should be to the right and lower, as I've shown in this sample.

Overlapping also helps to give make one balloon read before the other.

The subjects for the cartoons in the book come out of what I've learned from over 800 brainstorming-story sessions I've led with nearly 100,000 kids.

Whether its a pirate, mummy, chicken, or tiger -- these characters are kid-pleasers! Trust me.

If one wants the character on the other side to speak first, it gets a little trickier. In that situation, it's hard to get the first word balloon all the way over to the left, so it can be stacked over the second word balloon to make it read first.

What about titles?

When I was having kids preview and try out these cartoons before compiling them, I found that they preferred their own titles to mine, so I've just placed a line for where the title should go. Writing titles is a great tool for teaching kids how to summarize a story.

Page-by-page tips on using the cartoons in Write Your Own Cartoons.

These are listed below alphabetically based on the names I gave to them. You can let your budding cartoonists work on these in any order.

The Alien
It's obvious that this alien wants something, and gets increasingly desperate to find it. What is it? I've left that for kids to decide in the last panel. That rectangle could be a door, or it could be the frame of a booth that's selling something. (Personally, I'd make it a bathroom. But then, I'm not standing in front of a class of kids at the moment.)

The Box
Something surprising -- perhaps even shocking -- is in a box, as these two kids discover. Where's the humor? In the choice of what's in the box. Maybe what's in the box is something innocent, like a cute puppy or a practical joke by a kid brother. In the last panel, the thing in the box could say something, or the kids could complain. ("That wasn't funny!")

The Chef
Yes, every kid jumps at a chance to draw gross food. So here's the opportunity. When a lady orders the special, the chef serves it up. Kids can draw on the pizza something weird. But in the last panel, the chef is eating it himself, so the humor could be how he thinks the customer is odd for not liking it.

The Chicken
This is one of the cartoons that I confess is strange. A chicken warns another chicken about what it's eating. Then suddenly, the snacking chicken puffs out. Why? In the last panel, the humor comes from the goofy expression on the one chicken and the know-it-all comment that needs to be given the other.

The Cow
And this one is the strangest. A dancing cow? What was I thinking? Just this: that kids think cows are funny, and dancing cows even funnier. I don't really know why the cow is dancing. Maybe it's just udder nonsense.

The Cowgirl
A cowgirl is roping something. The joke here comes from what your cartoonists give her to rope. In the first two panels, she needs to be talking to herself or to the thing she's roping. Maybe it's an escaped toddler. Better yet: it's an inanimate object, like a rock or a cactus.

The Detective
Detectives and mysteries are hugely popular with kids. This one follows the classic clue of footprints to solve the mystery. This cartoon is sideways so that the "reveal" panel gives lots of space for kids to draw in the culprit. (Here's a fun detail for your visual sleuths to find: the footprints are going a different way than the shoes!)

The Dogs
Dogs are also a kid favorite, and none more than a chihuahua. This bully dog meets his match in this cute, little fella. Kids should decide what the chihuahua shouts or barks loudly in the third panel, but the humor really shows up in the fourth, where he comments to the viewer. The contrast between his cuteness and his loudness is the groundwork for the joke.

In this cartoon, my only sports-related one, a coach instructs a young player. What I've left for kids to decide is the environment in the last panel (what if he's running in the wrong direction, or what if it's a father and son in the supermarket?). Also, they could add something in the coach's hand.

The Fox
Here's another cartoon with two ingredients for kids to add. First, they need to decide what the title of the book is that the fox is reading. Then they should add in the scenery around the fox. The humor comes from the contrast between the book and the surroundings. Perhaps the crow makes a snide comment, too.

The Genie
This cartoon is actually similar to a joke I frequently tell in schools. Here, the laugh comes from what the guy stranded on the desert island wishes for. Kids should add that in the last panel, then give the genie the final word on what he thinks of the man's wish.

Jazz Cat
This is one cool cat. This is a great chance to talk with your cartoonists about onomatopoeia, as they add a sound coming out of the sax in both the first and last panels. The humor could come from what is pulled out of the sax (which they will draw) or from the final sound that comes from the unobstructed sax.

The Knight
Of all the subjects kids love, dragons top them all, I think. So here, a knight challenges a sleeping dragon. Kids should give the knight his words in the first few panels. Then in the last one, I've left the lance unfinished so they can add something to the end of it -- flames? A hot dog? The dragon, looking at the viewer, could also make a snide comment about the knight.

The Lion
I devised this one to give kids a chance to make a character sing. Tell them about adding notes to make the words a melody. I think kids will enjoy the contrast between the happy lion and the grumpy hyena. Whatever the hyena says, it doesn't seem to phase the lion.

The Monkey
Kids love dragons because they're cool; they love monkeys because they're funny. In this comic, a monkey makes fun of a chameleon. But the chameleon gets the last word. I drew his hand so that it could be seen as a "thumbs up" or kids could choose to draw something in the hand. (Say, a saw, perhaps?)

The Mummy
The mummy comes closer... closer... what's the problem? Something has caught one of his wrappings and is holding on tight. Kids can think of something funny to draw holding the stretched-out cloth. They might also want to think about why a mummy is in this lady's house.

The Ninja
Another kid-pleaser: ninjas. This cartoon has the classic "three-close-up-then-pull-back" approach. I left space in the action panels if kids want to draw in things that the ninja is attacking. Then in the last panel, the mom should say something to put Ninja Kid in his place.

The Penguin
Kids have to decide what the two penguins are discussing before and after the crazy diver.

The Pig
Here's a porker with a problem. He's getting ready for some event and can't decide what to wear. In the last panel, kids need to give him some kind of a "message" t-shirt, one that makes him proud to be a pig.

The Pirate
Ahoy, matey! This pirate is seriously annoyed at his parrot. Why? Because apparently the parrot has gotten them into some kind of tough spot, which kids have to draw in the last panel. This is a good cartoon use to get kids to observe the emotions of the characters.

The Princess
This princess is talking to her magical mirror, trying to get him to reveal something. The mirror finally agrees, but what he shows isn't what she wanted. Kids have to decide what she's demanding, and draw in what the mirror shows.

The Scientist
This kid is inventing something that I've purposefully kept hidden in the first three panels. In the last panel, kids need to draw in the invention. The humor here is in the contrast between his self-confidence and the laid-back reaction from the girl who walks in at the end.

The Spy
The coast is clear, the spy makes his move. But what does he reach for? This is similar in style to the previous cartoon, so you might want to space these two out.

The Superhero
A cartoon book has to have a superhero! I've given a large panel for the "reveal" of what the superhero is holding up. Kids should think big here.

The Wizard
This is a simple concept that even young writers can understand: a wizard magically transforms a frog. But discuss with your kids whether the old man looks confident in his powers. In the last panel, they should draw in what the wizard has done to the frog.

Finally, I've tacked on a new adventure for my two trusty cartoon characters. They're apparently not happy with the gifts they've given each other. Kids will have to draw in the two presents they end up swapping.

I'm always interested in what you think. Feel free to email me with comments or suggestions through the button below. Enjoy the cartooning!

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