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Using picture books to teach satire

The Stinky Cheese ManIt is important to expose children to a variety of genres of literature at young age and to do our best to explain the conventions of that genre in developmentally appropriate ways. One of the genres of literature that might not get as much emphasis in standardized tests but is important to be able to comprehend and write is satire. (We have failed our students if they graduate from high school and post Onion articles on Twitter and Facebook thinking they are real). Fortunately, there are plenty of  great satirical picture books that are both entertaining and can help young children begin to understand the concept of literary satire.

Probably the best known satirical children’s book — and a good place to start  is Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Before reading The Stinky Cheese Man, make sure you have exposed the children to all the original stories it satirizes because we can’t assume that all five-year-olds are familiar with “Jack and the Bean Stalk,” “Chicken Little,” etc.

Another conundrum is how to explain the concept of satire to young children. I don’t know a perfect way to do this, but I usually explain to the children that a satire makes fun of other stories or something that happens in real life. Obviously, some children will understand the concept more than others and that is completely okay. If a child laughs and enjoys the satire, that’s good enough even if they can’t really explain it. There are also some easy ways to deepen understanding of the concept of satire if children show interest in it.

Here are a couple of simple ways to help children understand satire.

  • After reading satirical books, staple some paper into a booklet and challenge the children to illustrate and write their own satires.
  • Many satirical picture books start off with a straightforward storyline and then feature an ironic satirical twist in the plot. Two great examples of this are The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and That Is Not A Good Idea! by Mo Willems. With books like these, you can pause during story time before the twist and have children try to predict the ending. Then after finishing the story, you can start a discussion with the children about the satirical twist in the plot.

I’ll end this post with a couple of questions:

  • What are some of your favorite satirical picture books?
  • How did you learn about the concept of satire? Was it at school or through “Bugs Bunny” and “The Simpsons” like me?


Editor’s note: In the same vein, watch for an article by Jonathan Hunt in the September Horn Book Magazine on using picture books to teach older students about inference.

Teddy Kokoros About Teddy Kokoros

Teddy Kokoros works as a Pre-K teacher and adjunct early childhood education professor in Boston, MA.



  1. I always use James Marshall’s THE STUPIDS books in addition to the other books by the marvelous duo you feature here. Obviously the MISS NELSON books are great too.

    One of the most subversive books ever was last year’s BATTLE BUNNY.

    Fabulous post!

  2. The Phantom Toll Booth is a good satire for young people — and still enjoyable for adults.

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