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Big, Funny, and Proud, a guest post by Rebecca Elliott

That’s my character Haylah in my book Pretty Funny for a Girl. And I don’t necessarily mean “big” in the physical sense, although Haylah (known as “Pig” to her friends) is dealing with body confidence issues surrounding her plus-size figure. She’s big in her personality, ambitions, opinions, and passions. I wrote the character as a reaction to the message we are so often spoon-fed—that girls are pretty, meek, innocent, and sweet, or else they are slutty and objectified. Either way, girls are passive and not yet a fully formed thing, and when they are, they’re past their best.

WHAT A LOAD OF BALL-BAGS!

This narrow description, consistently shoved in our faces by the media and society, literally fits NO teenage girl I have ever met. EVER.

Girls are exciting and passionate and strong and ambitious and fierce and wonderfully weird and a hundred different things in any given moment. And girls are funny. So frickin’ funny. Yet often the girls who know they’re funny, know they’re clever, know their personality is brighter and bigger than any room could possibly hold still feel like a no one. Why? Because the crappy societal pressures, ever more present in today’s Instagrammy world, tell them they don’t live up to the impossible and downright dull expectations we put on girldom.

Using stand-up comedy, which is a big fear for a lot of people, seemed like a good way to explore my main character’s bravery, not in a dystopian-hero-saving-the-world kind of way, but in more of a relatable way. Even if it’s not a career readers are interested in, I think there’s so much in stand-up that teens can identify with: the intense vulnerability and the desire to be noticed and heard but not to be judged. Plus it’s a good excuse to make a lot of jokes and hopefully make readers laugh. Because, as Haylah says, “When you find the funny in this serious world that is so often full of pain and cruelty, it’s like discovering a diamond in a cave of crap. It’s precious.”

So aside from my own life-long love of comedy, this is another reason why I chose to have Haylah deal with both body image and her confidence as a comedian at the same time. Because girls are already in many ways standing on a stage feeling like the world is staring at them and judging them, and I wanted my character to voluntarily take that leap onto centre stage and find the confidence to proudly be herself, to say, “This is me, with all my perfect imperfections, and dammit I have a voice and deserve to be heard!”

I very much didn’t want the body image thing to be the central theme of the book. So often when plus-size female characters are the main protagonists of books and movies, their weight is the major factor, the main narrative hook to hang everything else from. But guess what: when you are bigger, that usually isn’t the main thrust of your own narrative  (and I certainly never wanted to lead her towards some “happy” ending where she loses the weight and all is well with her world—like thin people have it all sorted too!).

Yes, Haylah feels that she’s big and at times wrestles with the way that makes people perceive her, but for the most part she’s quite happy with herself and what she thinks about way more than the way she looks is her ambition to do something amazing—become a stand-up comedian. I only wish that the way we look, particularly for teenagers, could take a back seat to the way more important stuff, like our passions and ambitions.

Whilst, as with most of us, Haylah may always struggle a little with her body confidence, I think she’d also say that one of the coolest realisations as a feminist is that there is no right or wrong way for a girl to look, to dress, to act, so be you big, small, loud, shy, “masculine,” “feminine,” high-heeled and preened, DM-wearing and pierced, and anything and everything in-between and outside—it’s ALL GOOD, and it’s all beautiful. We are sold, particularly on social media, the ideal of “perfection,” whereas the message should, of course, and particularly in respect to teenagers already bombarded by judgement and pressure, be that YOU ARE PERFECT REGARDLESS. By getting on stage and being the girl she is, nothing more, nothing less, Haylah isn’t proving that she thinks herself perfect, but that she’s happy in her own skin; as Sophia Bush so eloquently put it, “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.”

So I hope one of the central themes of the books is screw the haters, screw the ridiculous expectations of society and social media, the only opinion of you that matters is your own opinion. So be whoever the hell you want to be and be proud—shoulders back, tits out, and go show the world who you really are.

I hope the book resonances with readers, and particularly those closest to my heart—the gobby, opinionated, wildly inappropriate, larger-than-life girls who make you laugh until you pee your pants. The girls who need to shake off society’s ridiculous expectations of them, jump under the spotlight and crack on with joyously wobbling their funny bits in the face of life.

Meet Rebecca Elliott

REBECCA ELLIOTT is an author and illustrator of many picture books and The Owl Diaries early chapter book series. Pretty Funny for a Girl is her first YA novel. She earned a degree in philosophy and once did a brief stint in a dull office. Now, she enjoys eating angel delight, loudly venting on a drum kit, and spending time in her sunny garden. She lives in England with her family, some chickens, and a cat named Bernard.

Find Rebecca’s book at Bookshop.org: https://bookshop.org/books/pretty-funny-for-a-girl/9781682631478

Rebecca’s site/social:

https://www.rebeccaelliott.com/

https://www.instagram.com/rebecca_elliott_author/

Facebook

@BecElliott

About Pretty Funny For a Girl

Pretty Funny for a Girl

A candid and laugh-out-loud journey of family, friends, and fierce mistakes.

Haylah Swinton is an ace best friend, a loving daughter, and an incredibly patient sister to a four-year-old nutcase of a brother. Best of all, she’s pretty confident she’s mastered making light of every situation—from her mom’s new boyfriend to unsolicited remarks on her plus-sized figure. Haylah’s learning to embrace all of her curvy parts and, besides, she has a secret: one day, she’ll be a stand-up comedian star.

So when impossibly cool and thirstalicious Leo reveals he’s also into comedy, Haylah jumps at the chance to ghost-write his sets. But is Leo as interested in returning the favor? Even though her friends warn her of Leo’s intentions, Haylah’s not ready to listen—and she might just be digging herself deeper toward heartbreak. If Haylah’s ever going to step into the spotlight, first she’ll need to find the confidence to put herself out there and strut like the boss she really is.

Rebecca Elliott’s hilarious and authentic narrative voice is sure to capture readers’ hearts as her plus-sized, teenage heroine navigates learning to love the body she’s in while dealing with friends, family, and boys.

ISBN-13: 9781682631478
Publisher: Peachtree Publishing Company
Publication date: 10/01/2020
Age Range: 12 – 16 Years

Girl, You Crack Me Up! Funny Female Authors in Middle Grade Fiction, a conversation with authors Jessica Kim and Arianne Costner

Hey all! I am Arianne Costner, author of MY LIFE AS A POTATO. Fun fact: This post also includes pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane!

And I am Jessica Kim, author of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG. Isn’t it wild that our debut books are out there in the world now? Feels like just yesterday when we met for the first time. 

A: It does! I remember meeting up over the summer with some other writer friends. We were excited because our books have one thing in common–they’re both marketed as humorous. We realized that we both have a love for comedy and want to see more of it, especially written by females. We’ve done lots of fun things together since then–even skydiving! I’ll attach a pic of that below! So I’ll kick this convo off and ask you, Jessica: Why is writing comedy important to you?

J: Personally, funny books are the ones I like to read the most. I tend to gravitate toward people who have a good sense of humor, so it makes sense that the characters I end up loving are also the ones who can make me laugh. 

I think comedy is especially important during tough times, too. It can give readers an escape when things are too serious or scary outside. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine, right? 

I also think it’s important that girls see funny books written by other girls, because the comedy genre is pretty male-dominated. Why do you think that is, anyway? 

A: I’m not sure! In trade reviews (and non-trade reviews alike,) I’ve been compared to authors like Jeff Kinney, Gordon Korman, Lincoln Pierce, and Chris Grabenstein. It’s flattering of course because I LOVE these guys! But it’s interesting that I’ve never been compared to a female author–not that I’ve seen, anyway. This could be because I have a boy main character, and books with boy MCs are often written by males. It’s glaring, though, that there aren’t as many females thriving in this space of “goofy” middle school stories. 

Honestly, it’s been a little intimidating. At times I’ve worried that kids would see my name on a book and decide it wasn’t going to be as funny. Earlier on, I even considered going by A.L. Costner to keep my gender ambiguous, but then I thought, you know what? No way! Girls need to see female authors write books like this! Besides, kids today are very keen and I never want to underestimate them. 

What about you? Did you ever feel intimidated trying to write a funny book?

J: I didn’t necessarily feel intimidated while writing the book, because funny books are the only ones I know how to write, but when I was promoting my book, I noticed I was often the only woman on the funny book panels. What’s that all about? I really hope that changes quickly because the world is missing out on some awesome hilarious-girl content! Speaking of which, can you share your process of creating humor? How did you know a joke was landing?

A: I tested most of the quips on my husband, and he is very honest–brutally honest, sometimes, but that’s why he’s helpful! I also did lots of good old Youtube and Google searches about creating humor and humorous scenarios. We are so lucky to have a world of resources at our fingertips! And of course, I read other books for inspiration. Speaking of which, I’m curious: Who are some of your favorite funny female authors?

J: I’m a big fan of Dusti Bowling, Remy Lai, Lisa Yee, and Booki Vivat. They crack me up. What about yours?

A: First of all, YOU obviously haha. I also love Niki Lenz and all of the authors you mentioned above! If we are going to kick it old school, Judy Blume is fantastic. I grew up reading her Fudge series. Louise Rennison is a crack up and a total inspiration! And, of course, Renee Watson is an icon. Since it’s April Fools Day, I have to finish by asking: What was your favorite April Fools joke you’ve played?

J: Well, this didn’t happen on April Fool’s Day, but once my friends and I mixed some spicy wasabi into our friend’s green tea ice cream while she was in the restroom. We thought it’d be hilarious but then she started coughing and her eyes started watering and she turned bright red and I was afraid we were going to have to call an ambulance. I’ve been wary of playing pranks of anyone ever since. Though I did see this hilarious thing on the internet where someone scratched creepy messages onto some bananas (like: I know what you did or HELP or DO NOT EAT etc) for unsuspecting grocery buyers to discover as the bananas brown a few days later. I’d never do that though! What about you?

A: Oh, the banana thing sounds hilarious! We are all a little wary around produce right now haha, so maybe not the best prank for this year! Growing up, my siblings and I would TP my parent’s bedroom on April Fool’s Day. That wouldn’t go over well these days, amiright?

J: With toilet paper being such a scarce commodity these days, it may be more of a favor than a prank. In any case, I hope you have a delightful April Fool’s Day and thanks so much for chatting with me. And also thanks to those who listened in on our conversation! We hope you’ll check out our books linked below.

Signing off!

Arianne and Jessica

And as promised, here are pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane. Have a great April Fool’s Day, everyone!

Meet Arianne Costner

Arianne Costner lives in the middle of the desert with her husband and three children. She is a former English teacher who believes that writers should crack up at their own jokes. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing the piano and composing music. Her favorite kind of potato is the tater tot, with mashed potatoes coming in close second—as long as they’re not gluey.

Arianne’s twitter: @ariannecostner Arianne’s IG: @authorariannecostner.   website: ariannecostner.com 

Meet Jessica Kim

Jessica Kim writes about Asian American girls dfinding their way in the world. Before she was an author, Jessica studied education at UC Berkeley and spent ten years teaching third, fourth, and fifth grades in public schools. Like Yumi, Jessica lives with her family in Southern California and can’t get enough Hot Cheetos, stand-up comedy, BTS, and Korean barbecue.

Jessica’s twitter: @jesskimwrites IG:  @jesskimwrites. website: jesskimwrites.com

About My Life as a Potato by Arianne Costner

For anyone who has ever felt like a potato in middle school, this hilarious story about a boy forced to become the dorkiest school mascot ever will have readers cheering!

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are likely to be a big dud! Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he lies to his friends to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

Life as a potato is all about not getting mashed! With laugh-out-loud illustrations throughout, hand to fans of James Patterson, Gordan Korman, Jeff Kinney, and Chris Grabenstein!

ISBN-13: 9780593118665
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Arianne’s local indie is Red Rock Books (order from here to get a signed book of MY LIFE AS A POTATO).   

About Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

ISBN-13: 9780525554974
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Jessica’s local indie is

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (order from here and get a signed nameplate along with STAND UP,  YUMI CHUNG! ).