Throughout history, writers have commented on and criticized society through humor. Humor helps people get through bad situations by making it possible to laugh at events, see the ridiculous or impossible or what life really could be. Humor is developmental. Children learn about humor while very young through pretend games and later see amusement through incongruity and language play. More sophisticated still is the level of humor that brings laughter through illogical behaviors.

A survey of American schoolchildren in grades three through eight led to the conclusion that "hoaxing (actions toward another person) very readily caused laughter," but remarks often went unnoticed or without reaction. In other surveys, "something funny happens" is one of the two attributes that children often noted about their lists of favorite books.It appears, then, that humor that is appreciated in books for young readers must be reactive (something needs to be seen and acted upon), and it needs to fit a level of humor appropriate for their development.

It is not surprising that humor was one of the deciding factors in Children's Choices for 1990, a list of books selected by 10,000 children from five regions. Of the 14 titles that were found to be "appropriate for all ages," nine were books of jokes (five by one team of authors!) or those with plots or poems that touched on the ridiculous. Two others had wide swipes of humor. Of the remaining, two were classics and the other a recent Caldecott winner which may show the influence of an adult reader. Hopefully, it does!

Taken from the master list of 111 titles published in 1989 that youngsters have voted as their favorites, the following is a list of 14 books that are recorded as appropriate for all ages:

CAN YOU MATCH THIS? JOKES ABOUT UNLIKELY PAIRS. Rick Walton and Ann Walton, illustrated by Joan Hanson. Lerner.

CHOCOLATE DREAMS. Arnold Adoff, illustrated by Turi MacCombie. Lothrop.

CLOWNING AROUND: JOKES ABOUT THE CIRCUS. Rick Walton and Ann Walton, illustrated by Joan Hanson. Lerner.

EARTHLETS AS EXPLAINED BY PROFESSOR ZARGLE. Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross. Dutton.

FOSSIL FOLLIES: JOKES ABOUT DINOSAURS. Rick Walton and Ann Walton, illustrated by Joan Hanson. Lerner.

THE HAPPY PRINCE. Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Ed Young. Simon & Schuster.

JUMBO THE BOY AND ARNOLD THE ELEPHANT. Dan Greenburg, illustrated by Susan Perl. Harper.

KISS A FROG: JOKES ABOUT FAIRY TALES, KNIGHTS AND DRAGONS. Rick Walton and Ann Walton, illustrated by Joan Hanson. Lerner.

THE KNIGHT WHO WAS AFRAID OF THE DARK. Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Tony Ross. Dial.

LITTLE PENGUIN'S TALE. Audrey Wood. Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

LON PO PO: A RED RIDING HOOD STORY FROM CHINA. Retold and illustrated by Ed Young. Philomel.

POEMS OF A. NONNY MOUSE. Selected by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Henrik Drescher. Knopf.

SWAN LAKE. Retold by Margot Fonteyn, illustrated by Trina Schart. Hyman, Gulliver.

WHAT A HAM! JOKES ABOUT PIGS. Rick Walton and Ann Walton, illustrated by Joan Hanson. Lerner.

For single copies of complete lists of book choices made by young readers and those directed toward easy-reading, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (first-class postage for two ounces), to:

IRA

800 Barksdale Road

P.O. Box 8139

Neward, DE 19714

"Attention: Children's Choices"

For older readers, write "Attention: Young Adult Choices" and include a separate envelope with adequate postage to the same address.

If you are interested in easy-reading titles for teens (ages 12-18) with a sixth-grade or below readability, send a self-addressed stamped envelope (first-class postage for two ounces) to:

ALA

50 E. Huron St.

Chicago, IL 60611

"Attention: Quick Picks for Young Adults"