Scieszka, Jon 1954-
Jon Scieszka 1954-
American editor and author of fairy tales, nursery rhymes, children's poetry, picture books, and juvenile fiction.
The following entry presents an overview of Scieszka's career through 2005. For further information on his life and works, see CLR, Volume 27.
A former teacher turned children's book author, Scieszka has written over twenty books that have established a tradition of reading through fun, light-hearted material that nonetheless provides educational content. Perhaps best known to adults for his ventures into "fractured fairy tales" with his early books The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! By A. Wolf; As Told to Jon Scieszka (1989), The Frog Prince, Continued (1991), and The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), Scieszka has carved out a growing literary reputation with his energetic tales that examine such varied topics as math, science, history, language, and literature with a wicked satirical bent that makes these otherwise potentially difficult and boring subjects thoroughly enjoyable to his intended audiences. Beyond his written efforts to encourage reading through both his parodic refiguring of fairy tales and his popular juvenile series, the Time Warp Trio, Scieszka is also the orchestrator and spokesman of a program called "Guys Read" that seeks to encourage higher recreational reading among young boys by tailoring specifically designed programs and book lists to appeal to their interests.
Born September 8, 1954, in Flint, Michigan, to Louis, an elementary school principal, and Shirley, a nurse, Scieszka (pronounced "Shess-ka") was the second eldest son in a family of six boys. After graduating from Culver Military Academy in Indiana, he attended Albion College in Michigan with the intent of getting his medical degree, however, he drifted instead into the school's writing program. Graduating from Albion with his B.A. in 1976, Scieszka was accepted into the John Hopkins Medical School, but instead chose to move to New York City. There, he attended Columbia University with the goal of becoming an adult fiction writer or college professor. After a year, he married art director Jerilyn Hansen and took a variety of odd jobs before, ultimately following in his father's footsteps, becoming a teacher at The Day Elementary School in Manhattan. Scieszka quickly discovered that he loved teaching and continued on as a second grade teacher, even after earning his M.F.A. in fiction in 1980. Scieszka nevertheless continued to try to get his adult short stories published, but found little interest in his work. Realizing that his skills as a writer might be better applied elsewhere, he decided to take a year off from teaching to try his hand at writing for children. During this period, Scieszka was introduced to illustrator Lane Smith by his wife who had collaborated with Smith as an art director at Sport magazine. The two men hit it off almost immediately and discovered they shared a sense of humor and the same taste in children's books. Smith, who had already illustrated three picture books, sketched out some drawings for Scieszka's manuscripts and took them to publishers. The duo found a kindred spirit in Viking Press editor Regina Hayes who laughed out loud at their prospectus. Taking a chance, she published The True Story of the Three Little Pigs in 1989, which quickly became a best-seller. Touring to support their book, Scieszka proved to be an animated storyteller, often trying out new material on his audiences. Accompanied by Smith, the two would act out the dialogue from the books with Smith drawing pictures of the children in the audience. Since the release of Scieszka and Smith's second collaboration, The Stinky Cheese Man, the two have gone on to collaborate on thirteen other books, including the first eight titles in the Time Warp Trio series. However, the two men have published independently from one other, most notably seen in Adam McCauley assuming Smith's position as primary illustrator for the later Time Warp Trio books. Scieszka has also been intimately involved with his reading initiative for boys called "Guys Read." The program, created in response to a substantial difference in reading levels between male and female students in the 8-12 age group, attempts to entice boys to read by adjusting reading lists to include books that suit male interests.
Scieszka's books were among the first to touch on a growing trend among picture books authors to create works that satisfy the young but still entice older readers with a combination of simple diction and parodies of more sophisticated material such as geometry and adult literature. Generally, Scieszka's books can be divided into three related subcategories: his fractured fairy tales, the Time Warp Trio series, and his more recent deconstructions of such educational subjects as math and science. Scieszka's first books featured his own interpretations of the growing literary genre of the "fractured fairy tale." By definition, the fractured fairy tale is a reevaluation of traditional folklore and myth, where such classic stories as "Little Red Riding Hood" or "The Gingerbread Man" are altered to reflect a more contemporary view by changing one element—such as narrative perspective, form, or even a piece of the basic story framework—to imagine an entirely new outcome that is both fresh and interesting. In The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! By A. Wolf; As Told to Jon Scieszka, Scieszka retells the story of the "Three Little Pigs," but chose to tell the story from the perspective of the big, bad wolf. Calling himself Alexander T. Wolf, the traditionally villainous character relates his interpretation of the events that, he claims, have led to his being falsely framed for the murders of two of the three little pigs. As depicted by Scieszka, Alexander—or Al, as he prefers to be called—is not as innocent as he suggests, or at least, this is the message conveyed by Smith's accompanying illustrations. The dichotomy between the truth and the wolf's story notwithstanding, the volume presents the compelling idea that perspective, even in seemingly immutable fairy tales, can change everything. This concept also drives Scieszka's next book, The Frog Prince, Continued, which ponders what happened after the Princess kissed her Frog Prince and restored his humanity.
In The Stinky Cheese Man, perhaps Scieszka's most famous book, a variety of shorter fairy tales are genially altered by rethinking the core elements of each story—what if the cook in "The Gingerbread Man" ran out of gingerbread and was forced to use a smelly cheese instead (as imagined in "The Stinky Cheese Man"); what if the prince wanted to assure himself of the princess's hand by covertly replacing her pea with a bowling ball ("The Princess and the Bowling Ball"); what if Little Red Riding Hood was actually able to outrun the wolf to her grandmother's house ("Little Red Running Shorts"); or what if the Ugly Duckling really was just a duck and not a swan at all ("The Really Ugly Duckling")? Instead of reconfiguring just the fairy tales, Scieszka and Smith question every aspect of traditional book-making and publishing. The type sets and sizes are altered in mid-sentence, fonts and colors become scrambled throughout, and Chicken Licken discovers that the threatening force she has being bellowing about throughout the entire book is not the sky, but rather the table of contents. All this contributes to a sense of absolute chaos, even down to the back cover which wonders, "Who is this ISBN guy?"
The second primary category of Scieszka's fiction is his Time Warp Trio series. His most conventionally expressed writing to date, these works of juvenile fiction follow the adventures of three young boys, Fred, Sam, and Joe, who are constantly thrown through time into potentially alarming circumstances by a magical tome called "The Book." Acting as a first introduction to history for young readers, the Time Warp Trio series presents non-threatening adventures that attempt to subtly intersperse real historical facts—from the inventions of Thomas Alva Edison and the landscape of nineteenth-century Brooklyn in Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? (2002) to the politics of feudal Japan and the structure of haikus in Sam Samurai (2001)—amongst Scieszka's trademark light-hearted humor. Lane Smith illustrated the first eight volumes of the series—beginning with Knights of the Kitchen Table (1991) and ending with It's All Greek to Me (1999)—and Adam McCauley has illustrated every subsequent edition, beginning with See You Later, Gladiator (2000).
Scieszka's third category of children's fiction includes his poetry and picture books that emphasize educational themes. Math Curse (1995), Baloney (Henry P.) (2001), Science Verse (2004), and Seen Art? (2005) are simple yet enjoyable overviews of difficult subjects presented in creative formats. In Baloney (Henry P.), a little green alien boy faces the prospect of "lifelong permanent detention" for being late to class. His doozy of an excuse borrows nonsensical words from languages around the world to tell what is a relatively simple story yet seems humorously incomprehensible due to Henry's injection of foreign words like "speelpats" (Dutch for "playgrounds") and "zimulis" (Latvian for "pencil"). Despite the strange sound of the words, the book teaches children the fundamentals of language by stretching the reader to find the meaning of the words through context and form. With Math Curse and Science Verse, Scieszka introduces characters who, due to the casual remarks of their teachers, are "cursed" to examine math and science in different contexts. The female protagonist of Math Curse falls under a self-induced hex that forces her to examine every aspect of her daily life as a math riddle. For example, if there are twenty-five kids in her class and her classmate brings in twenty-four cupcakes, how does she divide the cupcakes? For the little boy in Science Verse, all science becomes expressed through parodies of popular poems, songs, and simple rhymes.
Few authors can claim to have had the immediate critical embrace that has greeted Scieszka's books since his arrival as a children's author. Almost without exception, his works have been favorably reviewed, often receiving special designation as honor books by reviewers. His unique combination of child-sized humor, educational goals, and complete restructuring of traditional picture book formats has earned him special consideration as a trail-blazer, innovator, and educator. Together, he and Lane Smith have broken down the elements of contemporary picture books and have been credited with being among the most influential and talented children's writers in the field. As a result of their efforts, publishers have begun marketing specially-designed picture books with more sophisticated language and concepts to an older audience of newly independent and reluctant readers. Margarida Morgado has applauded Scieszka for "changing the face of children's literature for ever. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is becoming a set text in the children's fiction literary canon, and it seems to be widely acclaimed by child readers." Critics have debated the validity of Scieszka's frequent pop culture references in his works, with some wondering if such allusions are appropriate for young audiences. Others have strongly complimented Scieszka's postmodern take on children's literature, noting the influence of such diverse sources as Mad magazine, Dr. Seuss, Saturday Night Live, Francesca Lia Block, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Don Quixote on Scieszka's writing.
Scieszka received two Publishers Weekly Cuffies awards in 1989 for "The Funniest Book of the Year" and "Most Engaging Character in a Lead Role (non-bunny, non-dinosaur)" for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and a prestigious Caldecott Honor Book Award in 1993 for The Stinky Cheese Man. His other honors include a New York Times Best Books of the Year citation, the American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children's Book citation, the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan Picture Book Award, Parenting's Reading Magic Award, and the Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators, all in 1989, for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. He was also awarded a New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year citation, a School Library Journal Best Books of the Year citation, a Booklist Children's Editors' "Top of the List" citation, an ALA Notable Children's Book citation, all in 1992, for the The Stinky Cheese Man. He also received the Rhode Island Children's Book Award, Georgia's 1997 Children's Choice Award, and Wisconsin's The Golden Archer Award for The Stinky Cheese Man. Math Curse was awarded a Publishers Weekly Best Children's Book citation, a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon citation, a Booklist Children's Editors' "Top of the List" honor, and a Salon du Livre (Best Translated Book in France) and Editors' Choice citation, all in 1995. The volume also won the ALA Best Book for Young Adults Award in 1996, Maine's Student Book Award, The Texas Bluebonnet Award, and New Hampshire's The Great Stone Face Book Award in 1997. Also, the Educational Paperback Association has named Scieszka as one of the top 100 paperback authors.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! By A. Wolf; As Told to Jon Scieszka [illustrations by Lane Smith] (fairy tales) 1989
The Frog Prince, Continued [illustrations by Steve Johnson] (fairy tales) 1991
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales [illustrations by Lane Smith] (fairy tales) 1992
The Book That Jack Wrote [illustrations by Daniel Adel] (nursery rhymes) 1994
Math Curse [illustrations by Lane Smith] (picture book) 1995
Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables [illustrations by Lane Smith] (fairy tales) 1998
Baloney (Henry P.) [illustrations by Lane Smith] (picture book) 2001
Science Verse [illustrations by Lane Smith] (children's poetry) 2004
Guys Write for Guys Read [editor] (short stories) 2005
Seen Art? [illustrations by Lane Smith] (picture book) 2005
Time Warp Trio Series
Knights of the Kitchen Table [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1991
The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy [illustrations by
Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1992
Your Mother Was a Neanderthal [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1993
2095 [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1995
Tut, Tut [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1996
Summer Reading Is Killing Me! [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1998
It's All Greek to Me [illustrations by Lane Smith] (juvenile fiction) 1999
See You Later, Gladiator [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2000
Sam Samurai [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2001
Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2002
Viking It and Liking It [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2002
Me Oh Maya [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2003
Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2004
Oh Say, I Can't See [illustrations by Adam McCauley] (juvenile fiction) 2005
Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott (essay date 2001)
SOURCE: Nikolajeva, Maria, and Carole Scott. "Figurative Language, Metafiction, and Intertext: Metafiction." In How Picturebooks Work, pp. 220-24. New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing, 2001.
[In the following excerpt, Nikolajeva and Scott propose that Scieszka writes many of his children's books from a metafictional point of view—a method that emphasizes the fictionality of a work.]
Metafiction is a stylistic device aimed at destroying the illusion of a "reality" behind a text and instead emphasizing its fictionality. Metafictional elements in a text deliberately draw attention to its status as a literary construction and therefore raise questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.1
In picturebooks, visual images open wide possibilities for metafictional comments, as several scholars have observed.2 In fact, mutual visual-verbal comments on modality, discussed in the previous chapter, are highly metafictional.3 Further, since metafiction is primarily based on the conventionality of language,4 the examples of the visualized figurative language above can be considered part of metafiction as well.
One of the simplest types of metafiction is direct address to the reader. It is widely used in classical novels for children as well as for adults. In picturebooks, it may assume, for instance, the form of an admonition: Do you want to know what happened next?—turn the page. We meet it as a recurrent narrative device in Tove Jansson's Moomin, Mymble and Little My (1952), where every page is concluded by the direct question to the reader: "What do YOU think happened then?" The book also carries another interactive element, encouraging the reader to draw a picture of the fillyjonk "when she has calmed herself" in the empty space in a corner of a page.
There is, however, a much more subtle example of metafiction in the same book. The frontispiece of the book carries a picture of a bearded, bespectacled man in a correct suit with a bow tie, holding a pair of oversize scissors. Above him, a round hole is cut in the page, with uneven strips of paper falling down to the bottom of the page, while a clumsy printed inscription announces that "the holes are cut at Gebers." Gebers is the name of Tove Jansson's Swedish publisher (the Finnish translation naturally mentions its publisher, WSOY, and the English translation, Benn's). Since there are no human beings in the Moomin world, the man is not part of the narrative, but he is unmistakably part of the book, that is, the metanarrative that introduces the main narrative and invites the reader to enter it. In doing so, the figure brings forward the clear and yet fluctuating borders between fiction and reality.5
In Lingdren and Eriksson's The Wild Baby's Dog (1985), there is a short comment that can be apprehended as metafictional. As the baby rips off the dog's blazing tail, the narrator suddenly lifts above the diegetic level: "Such things happen in this world—one day everyone will die! No, not us, I mean the dog's tail. We just fly away quickly somewhere else" (author's emphasis). This is the only case where the narrator really exposes itself and refers to itself as "I," also revealing the story as a construction.
Most critics claim that metafictive elements have become prominent in contemporary literature and art since the early 1970s.6 Moomin, Mymble and Little My, published in 1952, shows that this phenomenon is present in a considerably older text. It is true, however, that the number of picturebooks wholly based on metafictional play is rapidly increasing. One author who has made it his trademark is Jon Scieszka, who has collaborated with a number of different illustrators on his metafictional picturebooks. The simplest is perhaps The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by A. Wolf (1989), illustrated by Lane Smith, in which the traditional story is told in the first person by the wolf himself. On the verbal side, the book is a witty and humorous reversal of the well-known plot, with many contemporary allusions, such as: "It's not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep and pigs [. . .] If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad, too." Statements like this one are illustrated by funny and thought-provoking pictures, which, however, are not metafictional as such. The only genuinely metafictional visual element is the cover, representing a page of a newspaper titled "Daily Wolf," with a large heading "The True Story of the 3 little pigs." In the right bottom corner of the cover we see a pig's foot holding the newspaper. The story's existence as an artifact is subtly emphasized.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), perhaps Scieszka's best-known book, illustrated by Lane Smith, has a metanarrative with a narrator portrayed in the pictures as well as one of the characters constantly commenting on the story. The narrator frequently addresses the reader—or perhaps the character, the Little Red Hen. The narrator is, incidentally, Jack Up the Hill, who tells his own story, so the widespread metafictive play with narrator/character reversal is applied too. The narrator even pretends that he does not know the outcome of the story. Although the main focus of the book is the many fractured tales it contains, its metafictional nature contributes to the whole impression.
The most overtly metafictional of Scieszka's creations is The Book That Jack Wrote (1994), illustrated by Daniel Adel. The first spread shows a painting in a heavy wooden frame of a very thick volume, with the same cover as the book itself. The volume is lying on a black-and-white checkered surface. In front of it we see a pair of round spectacles, and from under the book, a pair of red shoes are showing (perhaps reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the East killed by Dorothy's house in The Wizard of Oz movie). The text states simply: "This is the Book that Jack Wrote." In the next spread, the book is opened and we see an idyllic rural landscape, framed in a similar heavy wooden frame. The double frame removes the readers from the story, "alienates" them. Next, a rat "falls" into the picture. The rat is outside the inner frame, but entering the landscape, transgressing the borders between two framed pictorial spaces. In this third spread, the picture of the book inside the outer frame has moved closer to us, so that the checkered background is no longer seen, the spectacles have disappeared beyond the frame, and the shoes are barely visible. The next spread, portraying "the cat, that ate the Rat," has only one frame, and the picture of the open book is gone. It is impossible to decide whether we have now entered the outer frame or whether the inner narrative has invaded the outer frame. The rest of the story (the Dog that chased the Cat, the Cow that spooked the Dog, the Baby humming the tune, the Pie flying through the air, and so on) takes place within this undeterminable frame; however, the frame itself changes from rectangular to a variety of shapes and forms evoking paintings in a museum. Every now and then a little detail sticks out of the frame as if trying to force the border. Some of the characters allude to Lewis Carroll's figures (Humpty-Dumpty, the Hatter) as well as Tenniel's illustrations of them. On the Hatter spread, we see a framed picture on the wall replicating the cover and the first spread (the so-called mis-enabyme, see below). We also see the black-and-white checkered floor: the story is literally rounding up. "The bug, that frayed the rug, that tripped the Hatter
. . ." in the next spread is wearing red buckled shoes, and in its half-blurred face human traits begin to be discernible, with a reddish pointed nose and round spectacles. It is easy to anticipate the metamorphosis in the next spread, where we see "the Man in the tattered coat," whom we immediately recognize from the cover and the first spread. Behind him, slightly obstructed by the outer frame, we see the replica of the picture with the open book. However, the next episode is perhaps less predictable, as the heavy volume comes tumbling from above, transgressing the frame and, in the final spread, squashing the man. We are thus brought to realize that the spectacles and the red shoes from the earlier spread are what is left of the squashed man. However, this last spread also breaks the border between the reader and the narrative, since the wooded frame of the painting is splintered too. As readers, were are now inside the narrative, and the fictionality of our own reality is suggested, just as it happens in Through the Looking-Glass as Alice contemplates the question "Which dreamed it?"
- See Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction (London: Methuen, 1984): 2. For a more detailed discussion of metafiction in children's literature, see Maria Nikolajeva, Children's Literature Comes of Age: Toward a New Aesthetic (New York: Garland, 1996): 189ff.
- See David Lewis, "The Constructedness of Texts: Picture Books and the Metafictive," Signal 62 (1990): 131-146; Margaret Mackey, "Metafiction for Beginners: Allan Ahlberg's Ten in a Bed," Children's Literature in Education 21 (1990) 3: 179-187; John Stephens, "'Didn't I Tell You about the Time I Pushed the Brothers Grimm off Humpty Dumpty's Wall?' Metafictional Strategies for Constituting the Audience as Agent on the Narratives of Janet and Allan Ahlberg," in Children's Literature and Contemporary Theory, ed. Michael Stone, 63-75 (Wollongong, University of Wollongong, 1991). Also, scholars such as Clare Bradford and Jane Doonan observe metafictive elements in their studies of picturebooks.
- Patricia Waugh includes fantastic worlds in her very broad definition of metafiction. See Waugh, op. cit.: 108ff.
- Waugh, op. cit.: 3.
- In their analysis of the book, Lena Kåreland and Barbro Werkmäster observe the figure and interpret him as an old-fashioned theater manager opening the curtains to present the performance. They do not make use of the notion of metafiction. See Lena Kåreland and Barbro Werkmäster, En livsvandring i tre akter (Uppsala: Hjelm, 1994): 41.
- E.g. Waugh, op. cit.: 21ff. She does, however, admit the presence of metafictive traits in Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy.
Daniel L. Darigan, Michael O. Tunnell, and James S. Jacobs (review date 2002)
SOURCE: Darigan, Daniel L., Michael O. Tunnell, and James S. Jacobs. "Variants, Lampoons, and Sequels." In Children's Literature: Engaging Teachers and Children in Good Books, pp. 222-23. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Education, Inc., 2002.
Since the appearance of Jon Scieszka's landmark The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, illustrated by Lane Smith, which retells "The Three Little Pigs" from the wolf's perspective, we have seen an enormous number of books published that poke fun at or that continue a fairy tale already in progress. Scieszka himself has done that in his The Frog Prince, Continued, which acts as the sequel to the traditional "Frog Prince," and then in a variety of tales in his rollicking The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. For instance, instead of Andersen's "The Princess and the Pea," we have "The Princess and the Bowling Ball" ; for "Little Red Riding Hood," we chortle at his lampoon "Little Red Running Shorts" ; and for the "Gingerbread Man," who could forget "The Stinky Cheese Man" ? Quotes the main character, "Run, run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the Stinky Cheese Man." Each is written with a contemporary, humorous slant. And because there is a lively banter between Jack of "Jack and the Beanstalk" fame and the chicken from "The Little Red Hen," we have a continuity across all the stories, though selected favorites can still be shared during what should prove to be a hilarious read-aloud session.
THE FROG PRINCE, CONTINUED (1991)
Diane Roback and Richard Donahue (review date 26 April 1991)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, and Richard Donahue. Review of The Frog Prince, Continued, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steve Johnson. Publishers Weekly 238, no. 19 (26 April 1991): 58.
Will Scieszka, who set the record straight in his best-selling The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, let the Frog Prince and the princess who kissed him live happily ever after? Well, maybe—but first the two must weather various marital difficulties [in The Frog Prince, Continued ]. She hates the way he hops around on the furniture instead of slaying dragons, and he complains that she never likes to visit the pond anymore. The bug-eyed, long-tongued prince decides that he will be happy only if he becomes a frog once again, so he runs off in search of a witch to do the job. On the way, he encounters a trio of eccentric hags preoccupied with the plights of other fairy-tale characters, as well as a fairy godmother who is practicing turning various objects into carriages. Though their coloring is somewhat somber, Johnson's (No Star Nights; The Salamander Room) stylized, sophisticated pictures add to the keen humor of this revisionist revelry. Ages 3-8.
Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash (review date January 1992)
SOURCE: Martinez, Miriam, and Marcia F. Nash. Review of The Frog Prince, Continued, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Steve Johnson. Language Arts 69, no. 1 (January 1992): 62-3.
Ages 5 and up. This book begins with a reminder of just how that earlier story, The Frog Prince, ends: "The Princess kissed the frog. He turned into a prince. And they lived happily ever after. . . ." But the reader of The Frog Prince, Continued soon discovers that the prince was not happy at all; in fact, he was downright miserable. The princess never wanted to go down to the pond anymore; she didn't approve of his hopping around on the furniture, and she complained about his croaking snore. So the prince set off to find a witch who could change him back into his former frog self, but as luck would have it, the prince kept running into witches from the wrong fairy tales. The witch from Sleeping Beauty wanted to cast a spell on him so the wrong prince wouldn't wake up Sleeping Beauty, and the witch from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs offered him a large poisoned apple from which a bite had been taken. In pursuing a solution to his problem, the Frog Prince gains some insights into life and love while devising his own surprise solution that will leave readers laughing. Viewers will want to carefully inspect the illustrations to discover the hilarious "frog details" found throughout the book.
Jack David Zipes (review date 2001)
SOURCE: Zipes, Jack David. "The Contamination of the Fairy Tale." In Sticks and Stones: The Troublesome Success of Children's Literature from Slovenly Peter to Harry Potter, pp. 117. New York, N.Y.: Routledge, 2001.
. . . Such comic turns are evident in Jon Scieszka's The Frog Prince, Continued (1991), with paintings by Steve Johnson. In this wry version of the Grimms' tale, Scieszka debunks the notion of a happy ending by creating a prince who could not get rid of his nasty frog habits; the princess becomes so disturbed that the prince feels he must run into the woods to look for a witch who will transform him back into a frog. After many adventures with spooky witches and a clumsy fairy godmother, the prince manages to return home, thankful and content to have such a wonderful wife in the princess. He gives her a kiss, and immediately they turn into frogs and hop happily into the forest. Scieszka's satire on fairy tales and happy endings is cleverly illustrated by Johnson's stark oil paintings that portray the prince in modern dress. Clothed in green, the prince's eyes bulge and his tongue catches insects. He and his wife resemble wooden puppets pulling at the strings of the dictates of the traditional fairy tale. There is a surrealistic quality to Johnson's illustrations that transforms the cheery fairy tale into an eery one, despite the alleged happy ending.
KNIGHTS OF THE KITCHEN TABLE (1991)
Edward T. Sullivan (review date May 1999)
SOURCE: Sullivan, Edward T. Review of Knights of the Kitchen Table, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Book Links 8, no. 5 (May 1999): 31.
Gr. 3-6—From the Time Warp Trio series, [Knights of the Kitchen Table ] is a hilarious, zany adventure featuring Joe, Fred, and Sam, who are sent back in time by a magic book and find themselves face-to-face with giants, dragons, wizards, and the knights of the Round Table. Among other things, this is an extremely funny and irreverent spoof of Arthurian lore.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE GOOFY (1992)
Diane Roback and Richard Donahue (review date 11 May 1992)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, and Richard Donahue. Review of The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 239, no. 22 (11 May 1992): 72.
The third field trip of the Time Warp Trio [The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy ] lands them in the heart of the Old West. Far from enjoying the pulsating adventure of TV westerns, however, Fred, Sam and Joe suffer the dust-choked, mosquito-infested monotony of a cattle drive—until the Indians show up. Once again the threesome utilizes a bit of 20th-century cunning to save their hides and outwit their opponents. Scieszka's zany sarcasm sets a lively pace and offers up subtle parodies of popular western stereotypes. (This time, the Indians get to be the good guys.) Despite some clever wordplay, the story lacks the inventiveness and high-pitched excitement of the trio's previous adventures. Nonetheless, these collaborators' fans will no doubt gobble up this latest time-travel installment as they eagerly await the next one. Smith's black-and-white illustrations possess his characteristic brio—a double-page spread of a cattle stampede is particularly flashy. Ages 8-12.
THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES (1992)
Stephanie Zvirin (review date 1 September 1992)
SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Review of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 89, no. 1 (1 September 1992): 56.
Whatever Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith coproduce usually spells a raucous time for everyone, and this book's no different. It's a continuation of the fairy tale fracturing the pair undertook in The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, going that story nine better. Here are "10 complete stories!" and "25 lavish paintings!" that purposefully wreak havoc with such familiar nursery tales as "Little Red Riding Hood," "The Princess and the Pea," and "Jack and the Beanstalk." The picture-book set will probably recognize the stories enough to know that what's going on isn't what's "supposed" to happen. But The Stinky Cheese Man isn't a book for little ones. It will take older children (that's teens along with 10s) to follow the disordered story lines and appreciate the narrative's dry wit, wordplay, and wacky, sophomoric jokes. There's more than a touch of black humor, too—Jack's giant eats the Little Red Hen as the book closes, and the Ugly Duckling never turns into a gorgeous swan. Smith's New Wave art is an intricate part of the whole, extending as well as reinforcing the narrative; the pictures are every bit as comically insolent and deliberately clever as the words, with Smith's dark palette giving them a moody feeling. An illustration sure to elicit school-yard belly laughs pictures the book's title character (whose head is an odiferous wheel of cheese) causing flowers to wilt, skunks to faint, and children to run screaming for home. But the high jinks go beyond plot and picture. Scieszka and Smith also play around with book design: type sizes vary from minute to majestic; one page is totally blank (this greatly upsets the Little Red Hen), while several others are filled with yellow "smell" squiggles. And there are other little "surprises," some of which seem aimed more at adults than at kids: not often, for example, will you find such a rhetorical question as "Who is this ISBN guy?" or discover that book illustrations have been done in "oil and vinegar." Every part of the book bears the loving, goofy stamp of its creators, and while their humor won't appeal to everyone, their endeavors will still attract a hefty following of readers—from 9 to 99.
Diane Roback and Richard Donahue (review date 28 September 1992)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, and Richard Donahue. Review of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 239, no. 43 (28 September 1992): 79-80.
Grade-school irreverence abounds in this compendium of (extremely brief) fractured fairy tales [The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales ], which might well be subtitled "All Things Gross and Giddy." With a relentless application of the sarcasm that tickled readers of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Scieszka and Smith skewer a host of juvenile favorites: Little Red Running Shorts beats the wolf to grandmother's house; the Really Ugly Duckling matures into a Really Ugly Duck; Cinderumpelstiltskin is "a girl who really blew it." Text and art work together for maximum comic impact—varying styles and sizes of type add to the illustrations' chaos, as when Chicken Licken discovers that the Table of Contents, and not the sky, is falling. Smith's art, in fact, expands upon his previous waggery to include increased interplay between characters, and even more of his intricate detail work. The collaborators' hijinks are evident in every aspect of the book, from endpapers to copyright notice. However, the zaniness and deadpan delivery that have distinguished their previous work may strike some as overdone here. This book's tone is often frenzied; its rather specialized humor, delivered with the rapid-fire pacing of a string of one-liners, at times seems almost meanspirited. Ages 5-up.
Mary M. Burns (review date November-December 1992)
SOURCE: Burns, Mary M. Review of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Horn Book Magazine 68, no. 6 (November-December 1992): 720.
Scieszka and Smith have done it again! Blend Saturday Night Live with Monty Python, add a dash of Mad magazine with maybe a touch of "Fractured Fairy Tales" from the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show, and you have an eclectic, frenetic mix of text and pictures with a kinetic display of typefaces, rivaling the fireworks extravaganza on the Fourth of July. Even the page arrangement [in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales ] is unconventional, so that the entire book is a spoof on the art of book design, the art of the fairy tale, and whatever other art one might wish to parody. The individual tales are part of a zany whole in which the Little Red Hen, a kvetch if ever there was one, reappears periodically to complain about the dog, cat, and mouse who refused to help her plant her wheat. She and Jack (of beanstalk country) serve as a kind of running commentary on this theater-of-the-absurd in picture-book format. The concluding spread suggests that the annoying fowl gets her comeuppance—and not one she expected. Individual tales, such as "The Princess and the Bowling Ball," "The Really Ugly Duckling," or the title tale, "The Stinky Cheese Man," can be extracted for telling aloud—with great success. Who, after all, could resist a prince with foresight enough to substitute his bowling ball for the traditional pea under the feather mattresses to insure that he and his beloved live "happily, though maybe not completely honestly, ever after"? In addition, the collection includes "Chicken Licken" (newly revised), "The Other Frog Prince," "Little Red Running Shorts," "Cinderumpelstiltskin," and "The Tortoise and the Hair." The farcical tone of the whole may carry this concoction to the attention of primary schoolers, but it will enjoy its real success among middle-school through senior-citizen audiences. Another masterpiece from the team that created The True Story of the Three Little Pigs !
Eliza T. Dresang (review date 1999)
SOURCE: Dresang, Eliza T. Review of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. In Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age, pp. 85. New York, N.Y.: H. W. Wilson Company, 1999.
Throughout the retelling of ten traditional tales [in The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales ], words grow, shrink, and turn upside down. The Giant, who engages in an exuberant on-the-side conversation with one of the stories' narrators, Jack, insists on reading his own story. "Giant Story," not "Giant's Story," turns out to be a huge collage of words and pictures (a giant story indeed). The words have been cut and pasted onto a picture of a piece of paper with a story on it. The words have turned into pictures. Assorted fairy-tale and nursery-rhyme images in all sizes, shapes, and colors mingle with the words, creating uproarious contrasts. Throughout The Stinky Cheese Man, colors, normally restricted to the illustrations, blend into the words. Red print, for example, identifies the speech of the Little Red Hen, the other narrator of the stories. It is interesting to think about how words "look" as well as what they "say."
Magarida Morgado (essay date 2002)
SOURCE: Morgado, Magarida. "Beyond Imagining: Child Disappearance in Fiction." Yearbook of English Studies 32 (2002): 256-59.
[In the following excerpt, Morgado suggests that Scieszka's The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales offers a subversively cynical and rebellious outlook that works in contrast to the more typical formula of the traditional fairy tale, thus allowing children to break free of the normal constraints of literary and familial relationships.]
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Kathleen Odean (review date September-October 2002)
SOURCE: Odean, Kathleen. "Having Fun with Fairy Tales. (Never Too Soon)." Book 32, no. 24 (September-October 2002): 38.
It seems like a familiar fairy tale: A fox swims across a river with a passenger on his back. Only it isn't a gingerbread man, and this isn't the traditional story. "Oh, man!" says the fox this time. "What is that funky smell?" The passenger, in fact, is terrible-smelling Stinky Cheese Man, who soon falls apart and disappears. This engagingly goofy story is one of a dozen folktale spoofs (along with "Cinderumpelstiltskin" and "Little Red Running Shorts" ) in the enormously popular book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. The book, which won a Caldecott honor, celebrated its tenth anniversary this year, and while the irreverent author-illustrator team of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith wasn't the first to fracture fairy tales, The Stinky Cheese Man took the genre to new heights.
Scieszka says the pair's inspiration comes from disparate sources, ranging from '60s and '70s entertainments like The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and MAD Magazine to innovative advertising campaigns and Scieszka's experience teaching grade school and "knowing what kids find funny." He and Smith liked "messing with traditional forms," Scieszka says. "We threw it all in the blender and The Stinky Cheese Man came out."
YOUR MOTHER WAS A NEANDERTHAL (1993)
Janice Del Negro (review date 1 October 1993)
SOURCE: Del Negro, Janice. Review of Your Mother Was a Neanderthal, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 90, no. 3 (1 October 1993): 346.
Gr. 4-6—Sam, Joe, and Fred, the Time Warp Trio who made their first appearances in Knights of the Kitchen Table (1991) and the Not-So-Jolly Roger (1991), travel back to the Stone Age and are immediately in trouble. First of all they don't have "The Book" that enables them to travel in time, and second of all, they're naked. Sam, with a large leaf and a piece of vine, invents clothes—just in time for them to be discovered by "cavegirls." Sam, Joe, and Fred escape (they think) the hostile women, take refuge with men hiding from a sabertoothed tiger, flee a woolly mammoth, and save the day with some simple physics involving a fulcrum and a lever. Scieszka's text is funny and fast, always clever and never cute (OK, naming the cavegirls Nat-Li, Lin-Say, and Jos-Feen is cute, but that's the only part), and Smith's pen-and-ink drawings add a rollicking, somewhat riotous air to the proceedings. [Your Mother Was a Neanderthal ] is the kind of book that kids tell one another to read—a surefire hit to the funny bone, whether read alone or aloud.
THE BOOK THAT JACK WROTE (1994)
Elizabeth Devereaux and Diane Roback (review date 4 July 1994)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth, and Diane Roback. Review of The Book That Jack Wrote, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Daniel Adel. Publishers Weekly 241, no. 27 (4 July 1994): 63.
Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales ) and Adel lend a few demented twists to familiar nursery verse in this puzzlesome but polished yarn [The Book That Jack Wrote ]. As in the "House That Jack Built," a cause-and-effect chain is steadily built ("This is the Cat / That ate the Rat / . . . That lay in the book that Jack wrote"). Adel, whose illustrations have appeared in the New York Times, contributes bizarre but virtuosic paintings that evoke Alice in Wonderland by way of Francis Bacon. His Cat, for instance, has unsettlingly human teeth and a wide Cheshire grin from which dangles the unfortunate Rat's tail; a Hatter à la John Tenniel shows up later. Adel's sophisticated compositions, set against white ground, incorporate picture frames that give each portrait a 3-D, lifelike quality. Scieszka's detached narrative seems straightforward at first, but gets weirder as the passage of time goes out-of-whack. When, at the conclusion, a "book that Jack wrote" falls on and flattens a Man, the Man's feet protrude from beneath the book—but those feet were present from the story's first page. Readers who require logic will be stymied; those who appreciate near-Victorian oddities and Escher-like conundrums will tumble right in. Ages 5-up.
Teri S. Lesesne, G. Kylene Beers, and Lois Buckman (review date May 1997)
SOURCE: Lesesne, Teri S., G. Kylene Beers, and Lois Buckman. Review of The Book That Jack Wrote, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Daniel Adel. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 40, no. 8 (May 1997): 669.
From the author of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (Viking, 1992) and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (Viking, 1989) comes a wonderfully twisted cumulative story [The Book That Jack Wrote ]. The book that Jack wrote trips a hatter (mad, of course), knocks an egg off a wall (sound familiar?), startles a pieman at the fair (now you've got it), and generally dredges up a dozen or so references to other familiar works from nursery rhymes to contemporary literature. From the warning on the front book flap to the author and illustrator information on the back flap, this book will delight readers of all ages. Combining characters from several stories would make an excellent follow-up writing assignment for secondary students.
MATH CURSE (1995)
Elizabeth Devereaux and Diane Roback (review date 11 September 1995)
SOURCE: Devereaux, Elizabeth, and Diane Roback. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 242, no. 37 (11 September 1995): 86.
Whew! This latest whimsical work from Scieszka and Smith (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs ; The Stinky Cheese Man ) is bound to stretch out the old thinking cap. The day after her teacher announces, "You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem," the narrator [in Math Curse ] is afflicted with a "math curse" that affects how she views every facet of her day ("Everything seems to be a problem"). A minimum of the questions she asks herself are entirely logical ("How many quarts are in a gallon?"); some are far-fetched extrapolations (if an M&M is about one centimeter long and the Mississippi River is about 4000 kilometers long, how many M&Ms would it take to measure the length of this river?); and a happily hefty number are sheer nonsense: "I undo 8 buttons plus 2 shoelaces. I subtract 2 shoes. I multiply times 2 socks and divide by 3 pillows to get 5 sheep, remainder 1, which is all I need to count before I fall asleep." Like the text, Smith's wonderfully wacky collage-like art will give readers ample food for thought—even if it's part junk food. Here's a morsel: "Does tunafish + tunafish = fournafish?" Kids will want seconds—count on it. Ages 7-up.
Carolyn Phelan (review date 1 November 1995)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 92, no. 5 (1 November 1995): 472.
Ages 6-9. Children will know what they're in for when they read Scieszka's dedication: If the sum of my nieces and nephews equals 15, and their product equals 54, and I have more nephews than nieces, HOW MANY NEPHEWS AND HOW MANY NIECES IS THIS BOOK DEDICATED TO?" But unlike in their classrooms, readers are in control here: they can decide whether or not to calculate the solution. In [Math Curse ], a girl wakes up one morning to find everything in life arranging itself into a math problem. Throughout the school day, each minor event inspires her to create new sets of math problems, which quickly develop from the merely arithmetical to the moderately puzzling to the truly wacky. Other kids in math-across-the-curriculum classes may sympathize when the teacher asks how to divide Rebecca's 24 cupcakes among 25 people: "I'm the first to figure out the answer. / I raise my hand and tell Mrs. Fibonacci / I'm allergic to cupcakes." She decides that her teacher has put a math curse on her, but in her dreams that night, she finds a way out of her mathematical mindset. Bold in design and often bizarre in expression, Smith's paintings clearly express the child's feelings of bemusement, frustration, and panic as well as her eventual joy when she overcomes the math curse. Scieszka and Smith triumph, too, at the top of their class as artists and entertainers, their distinctive voice and original vision creating a child-centered, witty picture book about the woes of math anxiety.
Maria B. Salvadore (review date November-December 1995)
SOURCE: Salvadore, Maria B. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 6 (November-December 1995): 738.
Math. It's a curse. Particularly when one day your teacher, Mrs. Fibonacci, suggests that almost everything can be thought of as a math problem. And it is. Getting up, getting dressed, getting breakfast—it's all a problem, a math problem. Entering class with twenty-four kids ("I just know someone is going to bring in some cupcakes to share"), each subject studied, having lunch—all involve math problems: addition, subtraction, division, fractions, algebra, counting systems, augh! Just when you figure out a way to break the math curse, Mr. Newton, your science teacher, says, "You know, you can think of almost everything as a science experiment." Readers will empathize, recognizing the narrator's plight [in Math Curse ] as they calculate, contemplate, and chortle through this rollicking book by the duo who created The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and who fractured folktales in The Stinky Cheese Man. From cover to copyright to flap information (with everything in between), textured, modern, abstract art and text in varied typefaces are completely integrated to create a sophisticated, humorous look at a subject that often creates the high level of anxiety so well portrayed here. A tour de force created by the convergence of two brilliant, slightly zany, and innovative talents.
Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash (review date April 1996)
SOURCE: Martinez, Miriam, and Marcia F. Nash. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Language Arts 73, no. 4 (April 1996): 264.
Ages 7 and up. What happens when your math teacher puts a math curse on you? Everything becomes a math problem, as the little girl in Scieszka's story [Math Curse ] discovers. The first problem becomes apparent in the morning:
I wake up at 7:15. It takes me 10 minutes to get dressed, 15 minutes to eat my breakfast, and 1 minute to brush my teeth. Suddenly, it's a problem: If my bus leaves at 8:00, will I make it on time?
One problem leads to the next: How many kids are loaded on the school bus? How many desks would be in each row of 8 rows? If a person wants 2 slices of pizza, what fraction of a pizza should she request? The problems are endless and provide opportunities to read charts; count by 2s; work with addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and much, much more. This zany book will inspire students to start looking at the math problems embedded in their own daily routines.
Jessica Higgs (review date May-June 1997)
SOURCE: Higgs, Jessica. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Emergency Librarian 24, no. 5 (May-June 1997): 51.
One Monday in math class [in Math Curse ], Mrs. Fibonacci tells her students that you can think of almost everything as a math problem. And from that point on the hero of the book encounters nothing but problems—getting dressed ("I have 3 shirts and 2 pants—can I make one good outfit?"), eating lunch (if pizza is cut into 8 pieces and I want 2 slices, do I ask for 1/8? 2/8? or two slices?) and so on ad infinitum. This picture book is filled with wacky illustrations that reflect the increasing anxiety of the victim of the Math Curse. Bold colors, bright backgrounds and varying sizes of print add to the book's appeal. Full of math problems, silly jokes and bad puns, this title will have readers eagerly awaiting Wednesday morning's science class when Mr. Newton says, "You know, you can think of almost everything as a science experiment . . ."
Joy L. Lowe and Kathryn I. Matthew (review date May 2000)
SOURCE: Lowe, Joy L., and Kathryn I. Matthew. Review of Math Curse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Book Links 9, no. 5 (May 2000): 61.
Gr. 2-Up—In this story [Math Curse ], a student discovers the pervasiveness of math as she goes through her daily activities. This story makes abstract concepts real using humorous, clever, logical questions. It encourages students to explore and seek answers to thought-provoking questions in order to solve a variety of math problems encountered before, during, and after school. Math problems are encountered in every topic, leaving the student a "math zombie" by the end of the day. Rather than figuring out what fraction of 24 cupcakes 25 people will get, the student declares herself allergic to cupcakes. Once it has been introduced and read aloud to students, this book can be placed in a math center for students who want to try to solve the problems it poses.
Julie Yates Walton (review date 1-15 June 1995)
SOURCE: Walton, Julie Yates. Review of 2095, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 91, nos. 19-20 (1-15 June 1995): 1773.
Gr. 3-5—The Time Warp Trio is back—to the future, this time, as Joe, Fred, and Sam travel to the year 2095, again courtesy of Uncle Joe's magic book. Launching their trip from the 1920s room in the Natural History Museum, the boys arrive in the future's museum, where they see the 1990s showcased in an exhibit of the past. Such ironies of time travel abound as the three encounter their great-grandchildren, who rightly strive to return their ancestors to the past. Scieszka writes with a kid's perspective at all times, blending a warp-speed pace with humor that ranges from brainy riddles to low brow upchuck jokes. Although the plot is a bit thin and meandering, readers will find sufficient distraction in the robots and levitation footwear of the future. Smith targets the audience equally well with black pencil illustrations brimming with zany, adolescent hyperbole.
TUT, TUT (1996)
Stephanie Zvirin (review date 1 October 1996)
SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Review of Tut, Tut, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 93, no. 3 (1 October 1996): 352.
Gr. 4-6—High jinks reign in the latest adventure of the Time Warp Trio [Tut, Tut ], which finds friends in the heart of ancient Egypt. This time, they square off against a pharaoh's evil priest as they search for the all-important Book, Joe's little sister, Anna, and Cleo the cat. Readers expecting logic will be disappointed, but those who like creative problem solving will be delighted with the novel ways the kids save themselves from untimely demise. Scieszka devotes one explanatory chapter to readers unacquainted with the boys' unique time machine, but it will be readers who have met the distinctive threesome before who will enjoy the fast-flying action of this tale the most. They will like it even more if they remember some of what they learned in school about Egyptian customs and history. The illustrations, done as usual by Lane Smith, are a bit disappointing.
Miriam Martinez and Marcia F. Nash (review date March 1997)
SOURCE: Martinez, Miriam, and Marcia F. Nash. Review of Tut, Tut, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Language Arts 74, no. 3 (March 1997): 220-21.
Ages 7-11. Series books are known for their formulaic writing, and although that type of writing is frequently criticized (and often justifiably) as shallow, it often makes it easier for young readers to grasp the structure of a longer work. This is certainly true in Scieszka's popular Time Warp Trio series. In fact, in Tut, Tut, the latest book in the series, the narrator jokes about the formula on which the series is based:
Now before things get out of hand (and you know they will as soon as we land), I'd like to take a minute to explain a few things.
First of all—I had no idea what I was getting into when my Uncle Joe gave me The Book for my birthday. It turns out that this is no ordinary book. This thing is a time machine. Every time we open it, it takes us to a different time. Which sounds like great fun. But there is one little problem. The only way to get back to our time is to find The Book in the other time. And whenever we time travel. The Book has a nasty habit of disappearing.
That, of course, is just what happens in Tut, Tut when the trio finds itself in ancient Egypt. Children can explore the formula in other Time Warp Trio books or try their hand at creating their own series formula.
SQUIDS WILL BE SQUIDS: FRESH MORALS, BEASTLY FABLES (1998)
Stephanie Zvirin (review date 15 September 1998)
SOURCE: Zvirin, Stephanie. Review of Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 95, no. 2 (15 September 1998): 232.
Gr. 2-6—In Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), Scieszka and Smith took on Mother Goose. Here, [in Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables, ] it's Aesop they tackle, though in a much less direct (and also not quite as successful) fashion. The 18 contemporary fables (some of which are simply goofy setups with a moral tacked on) may not feature human characters, but they are certainly imbued with concerns pulled from a child's world—from kids' relationships with friends and battles over homework to the TV commercials they watch and the terrible smells (translate this as farts) they joke about. Although the fables are good-humored and inventive, with solid kid appeal, they lack the inspired goofiness and intricate picture-text balance that distinguish The Stinky Cheese Man. Smith's illustrations are fun, but they're surprisingly decorous; their fantasy doesn't sparkle, and they don't extend the text as they did in Stinky. Nor is the book design quite as clever: the varied type size may help storytellers achieve the proper inflection, but it isn't very attractive and seems to serve little purpose. There are still some good laughs to be had, however, as well as a few good lessons about good behavior, but don't expect quite the enthusiasm Stinky engendered or the "crossover" adult appeal.
Roger Sutton (review date November-December 1998)
SOURCE: Sutton, Roger. Review of Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Horn Book Magazine 74, no. 6 (November-December 1998): 718.
Squids will be . . . kids in this goofy collection of "fables" [Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables ] that seem more like verbatim tales from the fifth-grade, here populated by Grasshopper, Frog, Elephant, and Skunk, not to mention Rock, Paper, Scissors, Piece of Toast, and BeefSnakStik™ (proudly proclaiming in a stand-off with a platypus, "I have beef lips"). Kids will see themselves—well, okay, maybe not themselves but other kids—in such characters as whiny Squid, bossy Matches, officious Froot Loops, and self-centered Slug. More affection is granted to Elephant—tenderly portrayed by the illustrator—perpetually late and always forgetting to call home ("Moral: Elephants never forget, except sometimes"). The humor is definitely juvenile and wears a little thin, but Scieszka has perfect pitch when it comes to this kind of thing ("Moral: He who smelt it, dealt it"), and Smith's portraits find the humanity behind the masks.
Holly Angus (review date November-December 1999)
SOURCE: Angus, Holly. Review of Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Step-by-Step Graphics 15, no. 6 (November-December 1999): 105-06.
If you have a child, know a child, or were once a child yourself, Squids Will Be Squids: Fresh Morals, Beastly Fables is guaranteed to elicit chuckles—if not outright belly laughs. This book of offbeat fables by writer Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith is filled with people—er, characters—you know (perhaps all too well) and may or may not love. Fables, Scieszka explains, provide the perfect vehicle for telling stories about all the "annoying, weird, pain-in-the-neck people you know" without stooping to nasty gossip. All you have to do is change people to animals, add a moral, and you're in a position to rival Aesop. In fact, the author writes in his foreword, "This book is a collection of fables that Aesop might have told if he were alive today and sitting in the back of the class daydreaming and goofing around instead of paying attention and correcting his homework like he was supposed to, because his dog ate it and he didn't have time to run out and buy new paper and do it over again before his bus came to pick him up in the morning." Smith reinforces the zany humor of the text with fresh, inventive mixed-media illustrations in his signature style. All manner of insects and animals frolic across the pages in a wacky, but endearing, parade of personalities.
There are actually lessons to be learned from the little grasshopper that forgets his homework assignment (moral: There are plenty of things to say to calm a hopping mad Grasshopper mom. 'I don't know' is not one of them.); the young walrus who answers the phone when her mother is out (You should always tell the truth. But if your mom is out having the hair taken off her lip, you might want to forget a few of the details.); and from the rest of the critters who inhabit these pages. The writing, illustrations, and design (by Smith's wife, Molly Leach) are so captivating, however, that fun definitely comes first and lessons are meant to be taken lightly.
SUMMER READING IS KILLING ME! (1998)
Laurie Miller Hornik (review date May 2004)
SOURCE: Hornik, Laurie Miller. Review of Summer Reading Is Killing Me!, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Book Links 13, no. 5 (May 2004): 35.
Gr. 2-5—In the earlier Time Warp Trio books, "the book" and its accompanying green mist are simply the trigger mechanisms for time travel; however, in Summer Reading Is Killing Me!, "the book" transports the three boys not through time, but into a land filled with characters from the school's whole summer reading list, grades K through 8. Here, the boys meet Frog and Toad; a girl who is a conglomeration of every protagonist in every book about a girl that the boys have never read; as well as many others.
IT'S ALL GREEK TO ME (1999)
Linda L. Plevak (review date October 1999)
SOURCE: Plevak, Linda L. Review of It's All Greek to Me, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. School Library Journal 45, no. 10 (October 1999): 126-27.
Gr. 3-5—Hey, are you ready for this? [In It's All Greek to Me, ] Joe, Fred, and Sam are transported back in time to Mount Olympus while performing in a school play about ancient Greece. Needless to say, they aren't much of a threat when they try to use their cardboard thunderbolts on Cerberus. Instead, the boys use their wits, and a Ding Dong in the case of the three-headed dog, as they quickly slip in and out of danger. Children who know Nike is the Greek goddess of victory will double over with laughter when Sam Orpheus, friend of Nike, introduces his chums as Fred Cyclops, follower of Reebok, and Joe Paris, cohort of Fila. Humor continues as the friends help hide a nervous Zeus, who is worried that his wife, Hera, will blab to the other gods if she finds out he lost his thunderbolts. Dionysus wants to party and Ares wants to fight, but the real trouble starts when Zeus challenges Joe to give his golden apple to the fairest of all goddesses. This entry in the series is guaranteed to sail off of library shelves. Purchase extra copies for teachers to use in their units on Greek mythology. A handy description of the gods, goddesses, and other monsters who rule Olympus is included.
Linda Perkins (review date 15 November 1999)
SOURCE: Perkins, Linda. Review of It's All Greek to Me, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 96, no. 6 (15 November 1999): 628.
Gr. 4-6—Once again the Time Warp Trio goes by the book and winds up face to snout with Cerberus [in It's All Greek to Me ]. As the three-headed dog snarls at them, narrator Joe explains their arrival in Hades. They had planned to return "The Book" right after their school "Greek Mythology Musical," but once again the green mist transports them "farther and stranger than we'd gone before." On Mount Olympus, the trio trades snappy one-liners and insults with the gods, and confront such legendary monsters as Typhoon and the Chimera. The resolution comes quickly and conveniently, with the boys awaiting their next adventure. For some kids, this will be a stretch, but the usual smart-guy humor will draw them in. A list of gods and monsters is appended for quick referral, with such explanations as "Aphrodite: Goddess of love and beauty, and she knows it." Scieszka and Lane Smith, who has illustrated all the books in the series, have devised a nifty formula, and they deserve credit for leading kids "farther and stranger" than they would ordinarily go.
SEE YOU LATER, GLADIATOR (2000)
Kate McLean (review date November 2000)
SOURCE: McLean, Kate. Review of See You Later, Gladiator, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. School Library Journal 46, no. 11 (November 2000): 133.
Gr. 2-5—Joe, Sam, and Fred didn't mean to open Joe's magic book again, but while they were wrestling, they bumped into the bookcase and now they are back in the golden age of Rome, trying to do as the Romans do, as gladiators. Will their moves, culled from hours of watching WWF, impress in the Coliseum, or are they history? Fear not—the boys triumph in the arena, using their cleverness and ingenuity against tridents and swords. Scieszka has an ear for the fast-paced language and sense of humor of school-aged kids and [See You Later, Gladiator ] continues to illustrate his talents. McCauley's black-and-white cartoons are a perfect match for the action-packed text. This is an excellent addition to the series and fans of the "Time Warp Trio" will shout "thumbs up" for these three wouldbe gladiators.
BALONEY (HENRY P.) (2001)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton (review date 30 April 2001)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Jason Britton. Review of Baloney (Henry P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 18 (30 April 2001): 76.
This book's gleaming silver cover and little green namesake signal intergalactic adventure. Fortunately, Scieszka and Smith (Squids Will Be Squids ) prefer innovation to UFO clichés, and this tale of an alien truant [Baloney (Henry P.) ] is also a language game. Lime-colored, freckled Henry P. Baloney is late for class and faces "Permanent Lifelong Detention" from Miss Bugscuffle. He concocts an excuse that spools across the pages in emphatic, italicized capital letters. "'I would have been exactly on time,' said Henry. 'But . . . I misplaced my trusty zimulis. Then I . . . um . . . found it on my deski.'" Smith's airbrush-speckled collages zoom from a closeup of a pencil to Henry leaning over a kidney-shaped desk; thus, "zimulis" and "deski" enter the vocabulary. Henry goes on to describe being crowned "kuningas" of another planet and almost getting shot with a "blassa." A "Decoder" at the back of the book reveals that all 20 unfamiliar terms are either non-English (the Dutch "speelplaats" means "playground") or wordplay ("flying saucer" becomes "sighing flosser"). Contextual cues allow readers with no prior knowledge of Italian, Latvian or Polish to comprehend Henry P.'s hyperboles: "I jammed the razzo controls with my zimulis so I could land behind szkola and still be on time," says Henry, and Smith pictures a rocket console, a variety of dials and Henry's pencil. Amateur linguists will have a field day exploring this non-nonsense. All ages.
Mary Ann Carcich (review date May 2001)
SOURCE: Carcich, Mary Ann. Review of Baloney (Henry
P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 134-35.
Gr. 1-5—A small green alien would have been exactly on time for class, he explains to his teacher, except for the fact that he misplaced his zimulis (pencil) . . . and so begins a hoot of a tall tale "received and decoded" from deep space by Scieszka with "visual recreation" by Smith, his cohort in hip hilarity. [Baloney (Henry P.) ] could be the story of any Earthling student with a vivid imagination who needs to come up with "one very good and very believable excuse." In short action-packed sentences, Henry describes an adventure involving a torakku (truck), razzo (rocket), funny piksas (pictures), and a narrowly avoided zerplatzen (you guessed it!) all over the speelplaats (playground). The trusty zimulis makes several appearances throughout the fast-moving narrative, culminating in a final (dis)appearance at story's end. The "outer space" vocabulary is culled from languages from Dutch to Welsh, with a few transpositions and spoonerisms tossed in. A handy word decoder is included. Smith's intricate illustrations/assemblages work perfectly with bold white-on-black text blocks. This title continues the slightly subversive bent of other Scieszka and Smith collaborations like Math Curse (1995) and Squids Will Be Squids (1998) with its silly yet sly wit and clever styling. Wrapped in an eye-catching, high-tech silver cover, Baloney is sure to fly off the shelves and out the pordo (door) of your library.
Deborah Stevenson (review date May 2001)
SOURCE: Stevenson, Deborah. Review of Baloney (Henry
P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books 54, no. 9 (May 2001): 352.
Teachers never believe perfectly good reasons for tardiness, and Baloney (Henry P.) 's Miss Bugscuttle is no exception. Little green Henry earnestly details how it all starts with his misplaced pencil, and the ensuing drama sends him in a rocket ship to a distant planet, where he almost becomes the inhabitants' dinner but ends up being shipped back on a school-destroying mission; he then finds himself plummeting towards his home planet at a Henry-smashing rate. No fears about excess substance here, but youngsters will snork appreciatively at cartoon-concept touches (Henry saves himself from smithereens by recalling he hasn't yet learned the law of gravity, so he can't obey it; he aborts the mission of destruction by using his pencil to erase it). The souped-up alien vocabulary adds another layer of amusement; Scieszka borrows words from all over (the "Decoder" glossary cites well over a dozen languages), creating an alien vocabulary that kids will enjoy puzzling out, and he tosses in a homegrown variation or two (the "sighing flosser" will be particularly well received). The Sputnik-hip type weaves through the art like comicbook text, its slanting white capitals (alien words in yellow) standing out against black backgrounds. The alien universe is a bit airier than Smith's usual dark, edgy milieu, and strong geometric shapes give a certain gravity to the proceedings; Henry P. himself, with his shiny black eyes, is so evocative of retro animation that he occasionally borders on the staid. There's still plenty of conglomerate weirdness in the visuals, however, and the combination of far-out tale and groaningly corny ending (Henry P. can't write it all down because he can't find his pencil) will endear this to its audience.
Michael Cart (review date 15 May 2001)
SOURCE: Cart, Michael. Review of Baloney (Henry P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Booklist 97, no. 18 (15 May 2001): 1751.
Ages 6-9. Tardy to school once too often, young Henry P. Baloney is facing permanent detention unless he comes up with a good excuse [in Baloney (Henry P.) ]. He comes up with a doozy that starts with his having misplaced something called a "zimulis." Somehow this leads to his jumping into a "razzo" and blasting off to the planet "Astrosus," where he has a close encounter of an extremely alien kind. Though it's obvious from the outset that green, bug-eyed Henry comes from another planet himself, every Earth kid will immediately recognize a soul mate in this extraterrestrial truth-stretcher and tall-tale teller. As for Henry's funny vocabulary, all of those odd locutions—from aamu to zimilus are real words that former teacher Scieszka has gleefully borrowed from such languages as Finnish, Italian, Latvian, and Latin. Definitions are offered on a concluding "Decoder" page. Meanwhile illustrator Smith has been having equal fun stretching the visual truth to create a vision of space that is not only artfully outer but also utterly outre. The result is wacky fun for everyone. And that's no baloney!
Ben Macintyre (review date 20 May 2001)
SOURCE: Macintyre, Ben. "Zerplatzen on the Speelplaats." New York Times Book Review (20 May 2001): 31.
[In the following review, Macintyre compliments Scieszka's "pleasingly subversive" Baloney (Henry P.).]
[In Baloney (Henry P.), ] Henry P. Baloney, a small alien with a green quiff like an off-color Tin-tin, has a problem: he is late for school, again, and Miss Bugscuffle is going to give him Permanent Lifelong Detention unless he can come up with a very good and very believable excuse. Baloney is up to the task, for in addition to being an inventive excuse producer, he speaks—or at least peppers his speech with words from—Latin, Finnish, Swahili, Polish, Dutch, French, Esperanto, Melanesian pidgin, Welsh and Inuktitut, among other tongues. He also transposes letters to create new words, and serves up the odd spoonerism.
What follows is a fantastic fabulation, in which Henry loses his zimulis (pencil, in Latvian), heads off in a torakku (truck, Japanese) to szkola (school, Polish), but ends up on a razzo (rocket, Italian) and only narrowly escapes being zerplatzen (splattered, German) all over the speelplaats (playground, Dutch). Miss Bugscuffle is understandably impressed.
Baloney is the latest anarchic invention of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, authors of such hugely popular works as The Stinky Cheese Man and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Adults may find the hybrid locutions of Henry P. Baloney a tad confusing at first—this reader certainly did—but for children learning to read, they offer a vital discovery: words do not have to be learned letter by letter, but can be deduced from context, sound and shape. Every word has cousins in other languages, and none is completely alien. You don't actually have to speak Uqbaric to know what is going on when Henry has an enormous blassa pointed at him on the Planet Astrosus. For a new reader, there is delight and reassurance in the discovery that a story can be understood without knowing the precise meaning of every word.
Scieszka has an ear for the sort of slapstick that every 8-year-old boy adores. Henry knows the Welsh word for "noise" (twrf, of course), but he also mixes up the Astrosus word for "thank you" with the word for "doofbrain." Words are like that.
The message of the book (apart from the importance of keeping a complicated whopper in mind for teachers at all times) is that mysterious words are not frightening but fun, weird-sounding collectors' items to be stashed away or flung about or mashed into one another to turn flying saucers into sighing flossers.
Smith's collage-style illustrations are retro-stylish and wacky enough to keep pace with the text, colorful explosions of shapes, letters and what appear to be used bus tickets.
The story line, however, does not quite live up to the concept, for the words used to describe Baloney's odyssey through space and language are rather more interesting and unexpected than anything that actually happens to him. It ends with a sotto twrf, more than a zerplatzen.
There is something pleasingly subversive, though, about this bug-eyed linguistic space creature, who adapts the words to the excuse as he goes along. Parents may find the Scieszka-Lane approach to be light-years away from the way they were taught to read, by memory more than intuition. There are whole universes of language out there, and galaxies of words in the strangest constellations to be discovered. Language, as Henry P. shows, isn't rocket science but a journey through the infinite, and anyone who says otherwise is talking baloney.
Jennifer M. Brabander (review date May-June 2001)
SOURCE: Brabander, Jennifer M. Review of Baloney (Henry P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Horn Book Magazine 77, no. 3 (May-June 2001): 316-17.
[In Baloney (Henry P.), ] Henry P. Baloney, a little green alien, tells his teacher an exciting tale when she demands to know why he is late for school. Henry sounds like Dr. Seuss: "I jammed the razzo controls with my zimulis so I could land behind szkola and still be on time." But these aren't made-up nonsense words—they're not even green-alien lingo. An afterword explains that this story, transmitted through space, was decoded and found to be "written in a combination of many different Earth languages including Latvian, Swahili, Finnish, Esperanto, and Inuktitut." A "decoder" at the back lists each word, the language, and the corresponding word in English—although the meanings are clear from context and the computer-aided illustrations of a friendly Martian zipping through a world of rockets, flying saucers, and ray guns. Wordplay is rampant: the title refers to our hero and to his tale (both are pure baloney), and hidden among the Italian, Dutch, and Polish words are some English words in disguise (a couple of transpositions and a Spoonerism). The book will spark discussion about language—where do words come from anyway? When kids venture to ask why piksa, Melanesian Pidgin for picture, sounds so much like its English counterpart, or why the Japanese term for truck, torakku, closely resembles the English word, they are simply being linguists in the making—no baloney.
Teri S. Lesesne (review date September 2001)
SOURCE: Lesesne, Teri S. Review of Baloney (Henry P.), by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Voices from the Middle 9, no. 1 (September 2001): 68-9.
A new picture book by the talented team that brought us The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs is always cause for celebration. This newest collaboration [Baloney (Henry P.) ] presents the story of Henry
P. Baloney who must come up with yet another excuse for why he is late for class. His fanciful tale contains many words that will sound strange to students. A handy decoder at the back of the book will provide answers, that is, if your students cannot use context clues to figure out that "deski" is Swahili for desk and "szkola" is Polish for school. Not only will this book be useful for teaching the use of context clues, its simple pattern will serve well as a model for student writing. Smith's fantastic illustrations only add to the good time you will have sharing this book with your classes. If the zany humor appeals to your class, find copies of The Stinky Cheese Man, the Time Warp Trio adventures (especially Summer Reading Is Killing Me ), and other books by this dynamic duo.
SAM SAMURAI (2001)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 September 2001)
SOURCE: Review of Sam Samurai, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Kirkus Reviews 69, no. 18 (15 September 2001): 1367.
Guys writing poetry? What a radical concept. Horsing around over a homework assignment, the Time Warp Trio inadvertently utters a haiku near The Book, and is "flushed down four hundred years," to ancient Japan where, after heroically wiping out an empty suit of samurai armor, nearly getting sliced into sushi by plug-ugly samurai Owattabut (guess why) and meeting their own granddaughters (see 2095 ) paddling along on a temporal jaunt of their own, the three entertain the great Ieyasu Tokugawa himself with a string of haiku that propel them back to Brooklyn—but merit only a C-from their teacher, Ms. Basho. Aswirl with mini-lectures and crumbs of general information about Japanese poetry and society, the arbitrary plot line [of Sam Samurai ] and wiseacre dialogue will elicit the usual rumbles—of laughter, that is. It's not the freshest of the Trio's escapades, but the author plainly isn't ready to throw in the bowel-er, towel, quite yet.
Elaine E. Knight (review date November 2001)
SOURCE: Knight, Elaine E. Review of Sam Samurai, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. School Library Journal 47, no. 11 (November 2001): 136.
Gr. 2-5—The Time Warp Trio is off again! This time [in Sam Samurai ], Sam, Fred, and Joe are working on a haiku writing assignment when they accidentally trigger their time travel Book and are transported back to old Japan. According to the rules, they can't return to the 21st century until they find the Book in the past. Unfortunately, it tends to hide in difficult and dangerous places—and important features like its "Auto Translator" keep malfunctioning. Posing as itinerant entertainers, the three friends encounter the warrior samurai Tada Honda, his cruel war leader Owattabutt, and even their own great-granddaughters who are time-traveling from the future (and who have a much more advanced understanding of the process). Haiku verses are sprinkled through the text. Elements of Japanese history blend with wild anachronisms and off-the-wall humor in an adventure that will be welcomed by children. The short text and snappy humor make the story a good choice for reluctant readers.
Gillian Engberg (review date 1 November 2001)
SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of Sam Samurai, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Booklist 98, no. 5 (1 November 2001): 475, 479.
Gr. 4-6—In their latest slapstick historical journey, the Time Warp Trio spins back to seventeenth-century Japan [in Sam Samurai ], mixing with Samurais and royalty for more nail-biting adventures, near catastrophes, and raucous humor. But there's a new ingredient in this title: poetry. The fun of making up haikus plays a large role here, and even readers sworn off poetry will find themselves captivated by Scieszka's use of haiku and haiku-esque observations in the text, particularly towards the end. The blend isn't always seamless and sometimes it's contrived, but Scieszka makes it work by keeping the laughs and the irreverence high—tough to do with spare, reverent poetry. Fans of the series won't be disappointed, and teachers looking for poetry materials may also find classroom ideas here.
HEY KID, WANT TO BUY A BRIDGE? (2002)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 January 2002)
SOURCE: Review of Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 1 (1 January 2002): 51.
Fred, Sam, and Joe once again time-travel with the help of The Book. Only this time [in Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? ], they are traveling with a purpose: to get to 2095 again and visit with their great-granddaughters who have The Book in their possession. Inspired by David Mullany's 1952 invention of the Wiffle ball, the trio wanted to go into the future, see what had been invented, and return to the present and be inventors themselves. Of course, things do not turn out as the boys plan. They blunder back to 1877 and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and are inexplicably joined by their granddaughters from the future. In a confusing and fast-paced romp, the boys meet an annoying, babbling Thomas Alva Edison and Brooklyn Bridge engineer Washington Roebling. This current offering lacks the satirical humor of many of the books in this series. Perhaps it is time for the trio to take a break.
Todd Morning (review date 1 February 2002)
SOURCE: Morning, Todd. Review of Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Booklist 98, no. 11 (1 February 2002): 939.
Gr. 3-6—The boys of the Time Warp Trio are back [in Hey Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? ]. This time the Book transports them to another time, but pretty much the same place as they end up in their hometown of Brooklyn in 1877. Through the usual complement of plot twists, the boys meet up with their granddaughters (first encountered in the earlier title 2095 ), and later Thomas Edison joins the gang. The group ends up on a tower of the Brooklyn Bridge as it is being constructed and also participates in a baseball game that's played with older, slightly different rules. They also discover what the old neighborhood once looked like, with the expected emphasis on the steaming leavings of the ubiquitous horses. Fans of the Trio will enjoy this latest installment, even if the shorter length and less exotic locale keep it from reaching the level of inspired fun found in some of the other titles in the series.
VIKING IT AND LIKING IT (2002)
Kirkus Reviews (review date 1 September 2002)
SOURCE: Review of Viking It and Liking It, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 17 (1 September 2002): 1320.
Another adventure in history by the boys in the Time Warp Trio. This time [in Viking It and Liking It ] they are back to the days of the Vikings, around the year 1000. Scieszka's boys are wrenched from a video game called NFL Smash where players can make up their teams, smash the opponent, and do victory dances in the end zone. Joe, Sam, and Fred enjoy trash talking that comes with the territory. "Your team is so ugly, they have to sneak up on their mirror" and "Your team is so dumb, they went to the library for a book of matches." Ridiculous and predictable adventures, ample lame jokes, and silliness punctuate the tale. A skald (or poet, if you are a little rusty on your Viking myths) narrates each battle or challenge with a short poetic recitation. The trash talk of the moder football game is picked up as Leif Eriksson and his enemy, Grim Snake-in-the-Grass, fight with words and real weapons. Their two skalds, Bullshik and Fulluvit (say it aloud), only act as a humorous diversion from the weak plot. When the boys get into the poem-telling act, their creations are exactly what will cause adult eyes to roll and little boys' chuckles to begin: "Abracadabra / clink think / Nose picker / butt kicker / Zim zam / drink!" Scieszka fits in some interesting reference to the Valkyries, Valhalla, and the fortune-telling properties of runes among all the silliness, and manages to sneak in a lesson about word origins tied to the Norse gods. Light fare at best, Bullshik at worst.
Karin Snelson (review date 1 December 2002)
SOURCE: Snelson, Karin. Review of Viking It and Liking It, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Booklist 99, no. 7 (1 December 2002): 668.
Gr. 2-4—The twelfth installment in Jon Scieszka's popular Time Warp Trio series [Viking It and Liking It ] catapults Fred, Joe, and Sam straight from Fred's room in Brooklyn into a Viking adventure. This time, the magic of Uncle Joe's mysterious time-travel book is triggered by Sam chanting the word "Thursday" over and over. Who knew the cosmos would interpret "Thursday" as the Norse god Thor's day and send the trio back to 1000 A.D.? As ever, the scrappy threesome finds big trouble in the form of a boatload of Vikings from Greenland, complete with Leif Ericksson; an annoying official poet (or skald) aptly named Bullshik; and a new diet of roast walrus and whale blubber. The snappy dialogue and classic boy humor in this series of chapter books guarantee chuckles from the most reluctant readers-and the generous type size and McCauley's comic illustrations don't hurt either. As a special bonus, readers will learn which other days of the week were named after Norse gods and get tips on creating a Viking name (or nickname) of their own.
Pat Leach (review date January 2003)
SOURCE: Leach, Pat. Review of Viking It and Liking It, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. School Library Journal 49, no. 1 (January 2003): 111.
Gr. 3-5—The Time Warp Trio takes a surprise time hike back to A.D. 1000 [in Viking It and Liking It ]. There, Joe, Fred, and Sam get to know some Vikings up close and personal. Outfitted only with a zebra-striped bedspread and their brains, the boys find themselves in the midst of a family rumble between Leif Eriksson and Grim Snake-in-the-Grass. As ever, their wits serve them well, and the friends recognize the Viking version of the Book when they need it most. Scieszka works his usual quirky magic with bits of actual information inserted among the wisecracks, and McCauley's cartoons parallel the unlikely plot. This wacky combination of story and art is just right for newly independent readers who enjoy a good joke.
ME OH MAYA (2003)
Kay Weisman (review date 15 September 2003)
SOURCE: Weisman, Kay. Review of Me Oh Maya, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Adam McCauley. Booklist 100, no. 2 (15 September 2003): 241-42.
Gr. 2-6—Scieszka's ever-popular Time Warp Trio is off again [in Me Oh Maya ], this time to Chichen Itza, Mexico, circa 1000 C.E. Joe, Sam, and Fred land in the middle of an ancient ball game, similar to basketball. Unfortunately, an evil high priest, Kakapupahed, is determined to sacrifice the kids to appease the harvest gods. Joe, Sam, and Fred have other ideas, of course, and with the help of the high priest's nephew, Jun, the three manage to embarrass and depose Kakapupahed, save their own lives, and return safely to Brooklyn. As in the earlier titles, this story is full of improbable situations, anachronisms, bad puns, and silly high jinks—in short, all the qualities that have endeared the author to young readers for so many years. At the same time, Scieszka manages to work in a fair amount of information about Mayan culture, especially the calendar and number system, without ruining the story. McCauley's black-and-white art is appropriately goofy. For series fans as well as newly independent and reluctant readers.
SCIENCE VERSE (2004)
Diane Roback, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean (review date 2 August 2004)
SOURCE: Roback, Diane, Jennifer M. Brown, and Joy Bean. Review of Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 31 (2 August 2004): 70.
Here [in Science Verse ] the science instructor takes over the role assumed by the math teacher in Math Curse, as the madcap collaborators deliver another riotous lesson. They cover such topics as the human body, black holes, dinosaurs, atoms, planets and the beginning of the universe, courtesy of Santa's big sneeze ("Merry big bang to all! And to all-Gesundheit!"). A wide-eyed, bespectacled boy laments that Mr. Newton has "zapped [him] with a curse of science verse." Some of the liveliest poems can be sung to popular tunes: "Glory, glory, evolution. / Darwin found us a solution" inspires a hilarious time-lapse art panel beginning with a stooping ape sporting the hero's red bow-tie up to how he appears today. Sprightly spoofs on well-known poems also abound, such as ditties based on nursery rhymes and a nutrition-oriented spin on Jabberwocky, "Gobblegooky" ("Oh, can you slay the Gobblegook, / Polyunsaturated boy? / 3,000 calories! Don't look! / The sugars! Fats! Oh soy"); Smith pulls out all the stops with the collage monster he unleashes, a horned, six-fingered beast bearing lecithin, phosphoric acid and the like. As their fans would expect, Scieszka and Lane lean toward the outrageous; alongside a picture of an electrified person-cum-skeleton sticking a fork in a toaster runs this limerick: "There once was a man of science, / Not one of your mental giants. / He decided to settle / The question: Does metal / Fix an electrical appliance?" An accompanying CD of author and artist reading the poems adds another dimension of frivolity. Students attracted to this zany classroom will be thrilled by the book's closing hint of an art lesson next on the agenda. Ages 7-up.
Kirkus Reviews (review date 15 August 2004)
SOURCE: Review of Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 16 (15 August 2004): 813.
In 1995, Mrs. Fibonacci laid a Math Curse ; this year [in Science Verse ], it's Mr. Newton who says, ". . . if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything." What follows is a madcap collection of science poetry that lampoons familiar songs ("Glory, glory, evolution") and poems ("Once in first grade I was napping"). The whole lacks the zany unity of its predecessor, opting for an impressionistic tour of scientific terms and principles; the illustrations are less integrated into the text as well, if individually often quite inspired (a set of antiqued nursery rhyme panels are just perfect). Some of the poems rise to the level of near genius ("'Twas fructose, and the vitamins / Did zinc and dye [red #8]"), while others settle for the satisfyingly gross ("Mary had a little worm. / She thought it was a chigger"). If this offering falls short of the standard set by Math Curse, it will nevertheless find an eager audience, who will hope that the results of Mr. Picasso's curse will soon be forthcoming.
Carolyn Phelan (review date September 2004)
SOURCE: Phelan, Carolyn. Review of Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Book Links 14, no. 1 (September 2004): 17.
Gr. 3-5—In [Science Verse, ] this worthy companion volume to Math Curse (1995), a boy sits in science class listening to his teacher drone on about "the poetry of science," when he is stricken with a "curse of science verse." Every thought comes to him in rhyme, and not just any rhyme, but parodies of famous poems and songs. Not just any parodies, but hilarious ones, particularly for those familiar with the originals, from Kilmer's "Trees" and Poe's "The Raven" to "I'm a Little Teapot" and "Eenie, meanie, mynie, mo." Clever and often droll, the verse ably juggles facts, meter, and rhyme schemes and usually reflects a student's point of view: grossed out by the human body, bored by yet another year of dinosaur study, more concerned about writing down the right answer than getting at the truth. Smith's multimedia collage artwork, incorporating drawings, paintings, and printed materials, is sophisticated yet accessible. The CD that comes with the book includes a reading (sometimes singing) of the verse, along with several poems that didn't make it into the book. A beautifully designed book—intelligent, irreverent, inviting, and downright irresistible.
Cait Goldberg (review date 25 September 2004)
SOURCE: Goldberg, Cait. Review of Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Science News 166, no. 13 (25 September 2004): 207.
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Peter D. Sieruta (review date September-October 2004)
SOURCE: Sieruta, Peter D. Review of Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Horn Book Magazine 80, no. 5 (September-October 2004): 574-75.
Nearly a decade ago, Math Curse introduced a kid whose every thought turned into a mathematical problem. Now [in Science Verse ] things go from "add" to "verse" as a teacher's comment ("if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything") causes a boy to "start hearing everything as a science poem." Smith's illustrations—painterly despite the high camp—feature the bespectacled, bow-tied narrator trailed by apes in a "dawn of man" parade ("Glory, glory, evolution. / Darwin found us a solution"), looking aghast at the inside of his body ("I think that I ain't never seen / A poem ugly as a spleen"), and confronting a monster composed, collage-style, of the additives found in a box of breakfast cereal. The vulnerable figure of the Poindexterish boy-poet provides a unifying focus for Smith's witty diversity of styles. Scieszka's clever verses, which pay subversive tribute to poets such as Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, and Robert Frost ("Astronaut Stopping by a Planet on a Snowy Evening" ), relate simple scientific concepts about topics such as precipitation, the food chain, and atoms, while demonstrating a neat awareness of how kids think. What grade-schooler won't appreciate "Dino-sore," a poem about a student's boredom over yet another teaching unit on prehistoric creatures? ("Every year the scene repeated. / Third grade, fourth grade, we were greeted / With that torture just completed. / Yes, we've heard of carnivores.") Also included is a CD of Scieszka and Smith reading the verses, comically acknowledging the poets whose work they've lampooned, and reciting a few bonus poems not contained in the book.
SEEN ART? (2005)
Carol Ann Wilson (review date May 2005)
SOURCE: Wilson, Carol Ann. Review of Seen Art?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. School Library Journal 51, no. 5 (May 2005): 96.
Grade 3-Up—The collection at the recently reopened Museum of Modern Art in New York City forms the framework for this cheeky foray into contemporary art appreciation [Seen Art? ]. While trying to find his friend in Manhattan, a boy asks a passerby, "Have you seen Art?" and sets off a chain of events that propels him through the museum on an unexpected journey of artistic discovery. Once inside, every variation of his "where is Art?" request compels helpful museum-goers to respond in a more esoteric fashion as each visitor briefly introduces the works of his or her favorite contemporary artist to the narrator. After a thorough, eye-opening tour, the boy finds himself back where he started. But now when he is asked, "Did you find art?" he resoundingly replies, "YES!" And, on the final page, he does; Art is waiting for him outside the museum doors. The unusually long and narrow shape of the book and the stylized characters echo the modern-art theme while the muted background tones are an effective foil for the well-reproduced if sometimes diminutive artwork. The hip, first-person narrative is deliberately repetitive but becomes somewhat tiresome as the book's length appears to be determined more by providing a broad overview of the museum's holdings than by a compelling plot. Pair this with Anthony Browne's The Shape Game (Farrar, 2003) before a museum visit or as part of an art appreciation unit. For anyone planning a trip to MoMA with a youngster, this is a provocative read.
Publishers Weekly (review date 2 May 2005)
SOURCE: Review of Seen Art?, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith. Publishers Weekly 252, no. 18 (2 May 2005): 198.
"It all started when I told my friend Art I would meet him on the corner of Fifth and Fifty-Third," says the narrator of this homage to the redesigned Museum of Modern Art [Seen Art? ]. The boy naively asks pedestrians if they have seen his friend Art, and when everyone quizzically replies, "MoMA?," he decides this "must be a secret code word." He follows their directions into a glass-and-concrete building, where he's directed through the galleries by patrons with varying definitions of "Art." Along the way, readers glimpse actual MoMA highlights, reproduced in miniature on the narrow, horizontally oriented pages by Scieszka and Smith (most recently paired for Science Verse ). The boy eyeballs Van Gogh's Starry Night, then goes on a whirlwind non-chronological tour from Magritte and Dali to Klee and Calder, from Meret Oppenheim's fur teacup to Dorothea Lange's photograph Migrant Mother; he even sits on a Verner Panton chair ("Ahem. No sitting on art," says a museum guard). The narrator—a budding critic with a squiggle of hair and dots for eyes—complains that the iconic objects are "Not exactly the Art I was looking for." But by the end, his eyes look like saucers and he wears a dizzy, dazzled grin. The book design ranges from honey-toned cosmetic-counter hues to elegant grays to collage cacophony, suggesting the many moods inspired by such an overwhelming selection. The Art joke wears a bit thin, but MoMA admirers and The Stinky Cheese Man fans get a package deal. All ages.
Halls, Kelly Milner. "When Picture Books Grow Up." Book Links 12, no. 5 (April-May 2003): 51-2.
Discusses how picture books are sometimes directed at older readers, using several of Scieszka's works as examples.
Marcus, Leonard S. "A Collaborative Effort." Publishers Weekly 248, no. 29 (16 July 2001): 84-7.
Explores the collaborative relationship between Scieszka, his primary illustrator Lane Smith, and their editor Molly Leach.
Maughan, Shannon. "You Go, Guys." Publishers Weekly 248, no. 19 (7 May 2001): 41-2.
Article about Scieszka's reading program for boys titled "Guys Read."
Scieszka, Jon, and Mary Berry. "'In Need of a Good Book': An Interview with Jon Scieszka." Teacher Librarian 28, no. 1 (September 2000): 55-7.
An interview with Scieszka.
Scieszka, Jon, Lane Smith, and Leonard S. Marcus. "Talking with the Creators of Baloney (Henry P.)." Parenting 15, no. 4 (May 2001): 24.
An interview with Scieszka and his illustrator, Lane Smith, about the creation of Baloney (Henry P.).
Additional coverage of Scieszka's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Vol. 21; Children's Literature Review, Vol. 27; Contemporary Authors, Vol. 135; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 84; Literature Resource Center ; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Ed. 2; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults Supplement, Ed. 1; St. James Guide to Children's Writers, Vol. 5; and Something about the Author, Vols. 68, 105.