by Jon Scieszka
Viking Press, 2008.
hardcover, 106 pages. Juvenile/Non-Fiction.
Requested this from the Library after reading Melissa’s (at “Book Nut”) review; I was looking for a guaranteed laugh. Melissa writes, “It’s a sweet book, full of humor and affection,” and it truly is.
Have you ever:
–Had your brother try to sell you your own shirt?
–Made a list of all the bad words you know–for your teacher, who is a nun?
–Broken your brother’s collarbone playing football–four times?
–Tied your little brother into his bed with your dad’s ties?
Jon Scieszka has. Which is probably why Jon’s dad used to call him and his five brothers KNUCKLEHEADS.
Here is Jon’s side of the story. And here, at last, is the memoir that might answer some of the questions of how the heck does someone think up a story of a little man made of very smelly cheese. ~inside Jacket Copy
Are you curious as to what kind of childhood might inspire a writer and literary activist such as Jon Sciezska? I hope you’ve come across The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. And/or do you know Scieszka’s name as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and his advocacy for the Reluctant Reader? He is also known for his non-profit literacy initiative for boys called Guys Read. As the Publisher comments, “Part memoir, part scrapbook, this hilarious trip down memory lane provides a unique glimpse into the formation of a creative mind and a free spirit.” Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka will likely be the most amusing non-fictional work you’ll read all year. Scieszka would have the reader laugh, share in the affection he has for his family, and reassure the reader that boys given some room to be their wild and dangerous selves can have fantastic results–“a creative mind and a free spirit.” Although, I suppose not everyone is interested in such results.
I think it helps to have siblings, preferably a few male siblings; a childhood where you could run a bit wild around the neighborhood; and/or a relative who had those things and likes to share stories when reading Knuckleheads. The injection of nostalgia is sweet. But the book wherein two chapters end with “warnings” was created with the younger audience in mind. Knucklehead is an autobiography for young readers. Will his stories inspire a bit of mayhem? I don’t know, I kind of hope so. Will it cause boys to feel better about being a boy and make them want good things for themselves? I think so.
Scieszka says he’s flabbergasted by his success, and feels lucky to get up every day and make up wild stories for kids.
“If the day gets really bad, I can always pull out fan mail,” he says with a laugh. “Who else gets mail where kids write to you and say, ‘Dear Mr. Scieszka, We were supposed to write to our favorite author, but Roald Dahl is dead. So I’m writing to you.’ ” ~Jon Vitale (“Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead'”)*
*Jon Vitale wrote about Jon Scieszka and Knucklehead in 2008 for NPR books, “Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead’.” I recommend the nicely written little article wherein Vitale writes,
Dick And Jane never made Scieszka want to read, but Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat and the funny parodies in Mad Magazine did. Later, when Scieszka was a graduate student at Columbia University, he began writing his own fiction. His heroes were Borges, Cervantes and Kafka — writers who played with language and new ways to tell stories.
After he got his degree, Scieszka brought his post-modern sensibility to a Manhattan elementary school, where he was teaching. He remembers telling the second-grade class about Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
“[I said] ‘What if a guy woke up one day and he was a bug? Wouldn’t that be weird?’ and they loved that,” Scieszka says. “And I think that was the trigger that made me think … oh man, here’s my audience. They’re just a lot shorter than I ever thought they might be.”
And I really want you to read the excerpts from Knucklehead. “Chapter 33: Car Trip” had be laughing out loud for several minutes.