Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A funny pairing of boy-ish books

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka

By Jon Scieszka

During sixth grade volunteer reading time, one class in particular responded great to slightly "weird" humor. I discovered this when presenting the two books titled above simultaneously. I have to admit, the humor tickled the funny bone of boys quicker than it did the girls…..but it worked for both. I especially appreciated the teacher's positive response to the humor I was reading because sometimes Jon Scieszka's writings are a tiny bit irreverent if not slightly naughty—so sixth grade!

The Stinky Cheese Man has been around for a long time (published 1992) and is a favorite of many older kids that grew up with sweet fairy tales such as The Little Red Hen, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Pea and The Little Gingerbread Boy. Sceiszka gathered all of these tales, fractured and reassembled them into a jumbled up compilation that makes kids who don't necessarily enjoy reading push on to the end. As with all great picture books, the illustrations of Lane Smith further "tell" the story so that the book is best if the reader searches out the illustrations too. The book is a Caldecott honor book.

Knuckleheads, published in 2008, is a fantastic autobiography of the author's life growing up with five brothers. Scieszka explains that he's been asked so many times about where his stories come from that he thought an explanation in the form of his autobiography would be a good start. Each chapter is super short and either funny or touching in a very boy kind of way. Yes, there is bit of potty humor and story about throwing up but, the book makes the reader laugh through universal experiences of boyhood from any generation. Knuckleheads is, in my opinion, a fantastic way of introducing the genre of autobiography to younger readers. My boys ages 6 and 7 read and giggled through several of the chapters that I read aloud to them. The black and white photographs show the author and family members from an earlier time giving the book a definite "old timey" (in terms of today's kids) feel. For sixth graders, I read a few pages of Stinky Cheese Man and then a chapter of Knuckleheads….asking students if they "got" how Scieska's childhood experiences shaped his humor as a writer. At first, students showed me faces with the "huh?!" expression and then little by little were giggling with me toward the end of our reading session. We all had fun.

Scieszka is an outstanding children's author and was named the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature by the US Library of Congress in 2008. His mission to engage young people, especially reluctant readers and boys, in reading is obvious. Another one of his works that I intend to check out soon is his edited compilation of essays: Guys Write for Guys Read (Viking 2005). Many wonderful details can be learned about Scieszka can be learned at his child friendly website Jon Scieszka Worldwide: That's What It's All About: http://www.jsworldwide.com/yeah_he_wrote_em.html

Scieszka, J. (2008). Knuckleheads: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka. New York: Viking.

Scieszka, J. (1992). The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. New York: Viking Juvenile.

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