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The power of laughter in a time of crisis, a guest post by Nicole Kronzer

Senior year!

I had the most magnificent high school theater teacher. I was equal parts terrified and in awe of her because she treated teenagers like we mattered. Part of that meant being honest with us.

So when I went to her with my graduation speech, I got halfway through the delivery and she stopped me. “It’s so boring, Nicole. Don’t write what you think everyone wants to hear. What’s something you learned in high school that you think everyone should remember forever?”

I swallowed. “Uh…the power of laughter?”

“Then write that speech.”

So I did. I delivered that speech to a college basketball arena filled with my fellow graduates and the people who loved us. I pointed out fun facts about the number of calories burned while laughing and the endorphins it creates, interrupting the facts with impressions of our teachers and snippets from the song Make ‘em Laugh from Singin’ in the Rain. The crowd, as they say, went wild.

I look back on that speech now, twenty years later, and think: “Brave girl, Nicole.” And also, “You were right about the laughter.”

My very first book, a YA novel called Unscripted, came out April 21st. It takes place at an improv camp in the mountains of Colorado. I’ve been thinking about laughter and the power of laughter in all sorts of ways ever since high school.

This is such a weird time. My young daughters asked me, “What happened during pandemics when you were little, Mama?” and I tried not to scare them when I answered, “Nothing like this has ever happened in my lifetime, sweet peas.” And then I tickled them. And showed them the “Horse with No Name” Rex Chapman tweet. When we were done, they still knew this was a singular time, but also that we could persevere.

Laughter does not distract us from the work we need to do, it fills our cups so we can do the work. So we can be strong for the kids who need us.

There’s all sorts of power in laughter. I knew it when I was eighteen and I wrote that graduation speech that brought the house down, I knew it at thirty-eight when I started writing Unscripted, and I know it today at forty, raising two little girls through a pandemic.

There is a lot that could overwhelm me, but I can handle it after watching Parks and Rec or Key and Peele. I can do hard things after giggling with my friend KC as she tries to tape ear buds into her weirdly shaped ears so we can take our separate runs together over the phone. I can read Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin and disappear for a while, rejuvenated when I close the book’s cover.

When times are difficult, we often deny ourselves the very things we need to survive those times: sleep, exercise, nutritious food, and togetherness. Our physical togetherness is limited right now, but laughter can bring us together, and give us the strength we need to keep going.

My eighteen-year-old self would urge you to take Donald O’Connor’s advice and Make ‘em Laugh. Or be the person who does the laughing. Or recommend books for students so they can laugh. No matter how you slice it, laughter will help us come out on the other side, ready for anything. 

Meet Nicole Kronzer

Photo credit: Dawn Busch

In addition to writing books for teenagers, her favorite people, Nicole Kronzer is a high school English teacher and former professional actor. She loves to knit and run (usually not at the same time), and has named all the plants in her classroom. She lives with her family in Minneapolis.


Socials: Instagram & Twitter: @nicolekronzer
Website: nicolekronzer.com

About Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer

A funny and timely debut YA about the toxic masculinity at a famous improv comedy camp

Seventeen-year-old Zelda Bailey-Cho has her future all planned out: improv camp, then Second City, and finally Saturday Night Live. She’s thrilled when she lands a spot on the coveted varsity team at a prestigious improv camp, which means she’ll get to perform for professional scouts—including her hero, Nina Knightley. But even though she’s hardworking and talented, Zelda’s also the only girl on Varsity, so she’s the target for humiliation from her teammates. And her 20-year-old coach, Ben, is cruel to her at practice and way too nice to her when they’re alone. Zelda wants to fight back, but is sacrificing her best shot at her dream too heavy a price to pay? Equal parts funny and righteous, Unscripted is a moving debut novel that Printz Award winner Nina LaCour calls “a truly special book, written at exactly the right time.”

ISBN-13: 9781419740848
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication date: 04/21/2020
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Local bookstores: Red Balloon, Wild Rumpus, Storied Owl, Magers & Quinn

Links to my book in each of these local bookstores: Red Balloon, Wild Rumpus, Storied Owl, Magers & Quinn

Buy link through my publisher

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! ).

Book Review: How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

Publisher’s description

how you ruinedA new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An excellent holdover from my surly teen years is that if someone tells me I will like something, or if something is billed as being “hilarious,” I will immediately NOT want to like it and usually not even venture to read/watch/whatever something because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I WILL LIKE and DON’T TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO FIND SOMETHING FUNNY. So, suffice it to say, between the description up there of this book as “hilarious” combined with someone having read this and told me I’ll “love” it, I was all ready to be disappointed. I think Rod, the main character in this book, would appreciate my very (leftover) punk rock attitude of I WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS.

 

You know where I’m going here, right? That’s right—I enjoyed the heck out of this book. 16-year-old Floridian Rod is in a semi-okay punk band with his two good friends, Clarissa and Mel. He’s dating Audrey, who is super smart and sells their merch at shows. Life seems like it’s going fine… and then his cousin Blake shows up to live with Rod and his mom for three months. Blake is ANNOYING. He’s an entitled snob who sends a U-Haul with 42 boxes to Rod’s tiny house, arrives at the airport with a dozen suitcases, and can’t even be bothered to help bring them in or even open his own car door for himself. He is INSUFFERABLE. Blake claims he’s not being insulting, just observant, as he makes snide remarks about Rod’s life. He treats Rod like a servant, and has no understanding at all of boundaries (like he immediately takes down half of Rod’s posters and puts up his own crap, then decides he’ll sleep in Rod’s bed and leave Rod with the air mattress). But to Rod’s mom, he’s a total suck-up. Rod is LIVID. He addresses the reader a lot, which normally would bug me, but really works here. That even works to hilarious effect in the chapter about biology class and animal dissection—it comes with a warning, and I did skip that chapter, because no thank you, but the next chapter provides a brief recap for those of us who couldn’t handle the dissection chapter. Super nasty Blake continues to act like he’s just being observant and trying to help and really working to help make Rod’s life BETTER. But Blake’s version of “better” involves Rod’s girlfriend dumping him, his band ousting him, and an awful lot of “helpful” things that sure seem like sabotage. When Rod just can’t take it anymore, when everything has imploded, he takes drastic action—only Blake isn’t sure if it’s a prank or real.

 

This book is funny, full of digressions and ramblings and lots of ranting. It’s not exactly deep, doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, and Blake’s reasoning for his actions is pretty thin, BUT this book is a lot of fun. A solid recommendation for readers who like unreliable narrators, pranks, and lots of humor. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492662020
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2018