Humour, Roald Dahl said, is key to children's writing - "It's got to be funny!". That's the motor behind the Roald Dahl funny prize, now in its fourth year, which this year went to books about pirate cats and a doodling schoolboy. Humour is a bigger driver in children's publishing than ever, which is now drowning in aliens, underpants and quirky surrealism (a field led by Andy Stanton's brilliant Mr Gum series, effortlessly blending Douglas Adams and the Mighty Boosh). But has it always been this way? Spotting a battered copy of David Henry Wilson's Elephants Don't Sit On Cars at a second-hand book stall recently, I was instantly reminded of something I didn't know I'd forgotten: sitting cross-legged on the carpet with the rest of class two, all Clothkits smocks, flared cords and enormous fringes, listening to Mr Evans read aloud the funniest things any of us had ever heard. An elephant doing a Number Two on Daddy's car: to a bunch of six-year-olds in the late seventies, it didn't get any better than that. Apart from that rogue elephant, the stories about Jeremy James were realistic, domestic, even mundane: upsetting a tower of tins in the supermarket, secretly eating a box of liquorice allsorts and suffering the consequences, playing with the boy next door even though you don't like him very much. As the books continue, rites of passage - the first funeral, arrival of siblings, the gradual intrusion of the world's complications into the charmed bubble of early childhood- are seen through both ends of the telescope: Jeremy James's incomprehension and his parents' bemused affection. As well as wry observational humour ("Daddy went on showing Mummy how paper chains should be put up and then Mummy started showing Daddy how paper chains could be put up") there is satisfying slapstick - crashing a car after playing in the driving seat, piercing a water pipe while digging for buried treasure - and yet no one gets angry. Comedy often comes from danger, but these books spin it out of safety and familiarity. They're like Just William without the pent-up fury, or Horrid Henry if he wasn't so spirit-crushingly horrid all the time. And most strikingly, when children's comedy tends either to get the parents out of the way for the adventures to begin, or set out the parent-child relationship as a battlefield, Jeremy James's home life is entirely non-combative. More than thirty years on, how would the stories play with my own captive audience, a four- and a seven-year-old accustomed to Horrid Henry's constant hysteria and Mr Gum's high-concept otherworldliness? Well, they weren't so amused by an adult saying 'Number Two' as we were back in class two. (For maximum comedy value, it needs to be a teacher talking about poo.) They were impressed and envious that the pre-school Jeremy James gets to tricycle off to the sweetshop by himself, and a little wistful at all the shiny 50p pieces handed over by various strange "uncles". (Children may have been freer back in the 70s, but parental roles were more rigid: the car and the money are Daddy's, while Mummy gets saddled with everything else. ) But no other book they've read so far, new or old, has given them more shared laughs than Jeremy James. It's prompted me to order, for a few years' time, another comedy favourite of my childhood, Helen Cresswell's inimitable Bagthorpe Saga. So which comedy classics do you remember from childhood - and are they still funny today?