Jon Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man
illustrated by Lane Smith
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Fairy Tales turned Fairly Stupid...in a good way!
Jon Scieszka attacks the grade school funny bone by taking familiar fairy tales and rendering them, in his words, stupid.
Do those titles make you think of anything? Do you remember Mad Libs? Well, according to my calculations, Scieszka's stories resonate with funny bones at the precise stage of development as those that think "I pledge allegiance to peanut butter mouse poops" is pretty much the funniest thing they've ever heard.
Which is to say, pretty much every kid in grade school. It's absurdist fun to the extreme.
Scieszka promises nine fractured fairy tales (while only delivering eight, omitting entirely The Boy Who Cried "Cow Patty"), in addition to his original The Stinky Cheese Man.
The pretense of the whole production is that it's being put together by Jack (of beanstalk fame) and that no one's cooperating, particularly the Giant and the annoying Little Red Hen (who just won't shut up about her kernel of wheat). These two characters are capable of showing up at any point in any narrative.
(The book of course ends with the Giant eating the Little Red Hen.)
These aren't the kind of fractured fairy tales that put a new spin on an old tale and then play out the new version with a classical story structure. No, these are stories that get silly quick and end with a splat.
He knew that one day he would probably grow up to be a swan and be bigger and look better than anything in the pond. Well, as it turned out, he was just a really ugly duckling. And he grew up to be just a really ugly duck. The End.
The illustrations, and even the layout and typography, are part and parcel with all the absurdity. It isn't the sky that falls on Chicken Little - I mean, Chicken Licken - it's the Table of Contents. Review continues.
Illustrator Lane Smith won a 1993 Caldecott Honor for his efforts, and let it be said that this man certainly does know how to deliver a really, really ugly duckling.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales has become a classic (there's even a commemorative 10th anniversary edition) and deservedly so; the author-illustrator team puts the "juvenile" back in "juvenile humor."
(And don't forget the Mad Libs!)
More Caldecott honorees.
More of Steve's reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.