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Friday, November 11, 2011

Spotlight on Jon Sciezka: Author

My mother-in-law first introduced our family to Jon Sciezka's work when she gave us a copy of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which we all loved.  Many, many years later, my son Ben and I stumbled across Sciezka's Smash! Crash!, the first book in his Trucktown series.  Ben became an instant fan.  While looking for more Trucktown books at the library, I discovered a whole shelf full of Sciezka's other work and began checking it out.  He has since become one of our family's favorite authors.

Sciezka's work is often wacky or off-beat, and is always filled with humor!  Here are a few of his books:

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, illustrated by Lane Smith, 1989... Everyone knows the story of the three little pigs.  But do you know the true story?  (Or, at least, the story according to the wolf?)  Alexander T. Wolf shares his side of the story, claiming the whole fiasco with the pigs was just a big misunderstanding.  This silly book is one we love to read over and over again!

The Frog Prince, Continued, illustrated by Steve Johnson, 1991...  This is another of my favorite books by Sciezka.  In this one, we find that "happily ever after" might not be all it's cracked up to be.  The honeymoon is over for the frog prince and his princess, and they are finding it difficult to handle their differences.  The prince decides he was better off as a frog.  He heads out into the world, looking for a witch to turn him back into one -- easier said than done.  Along the way, the frog prince realizes that he does love the princess.  The story ends unexpectedly, but happily, once again.  I love the hilarious illustrations as much as the story!

The Book That Jack Wrote, illustrated by Daniel Adel, 1994... With a blend of twisted humor and parody, this is what happens when nursery rhymes go awry. 

Math Curse, illustrated by Lane Smith, 1995...  A young girl's teacher tells her class, "You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem."  And so it begins.  Soon the narrator is seeing math problems everywhere -- some logical and others utterly nonsensical.  Even readers who hate math will find this book amusing!

Squids Will Be Squids, illustrated by Lane Smith, 1998...  I checked this book out from the library for the first time just a few weeks ago, and laughed out loud as I read it to myself.  Later, my son Nick read it aloud to his little brother.  As I worked in the next room, I could hear them both giggling and guffawing at every page.  This book is filled with the goofiest (yet insightful) fables and "morals of the story" that I've ever heard.

Baloney (Henry P.), illustrated by Lane Smith, 2001...  A young alien must come up with a good, believable excuse for being late to szkola.  Sciezka combines over 20 different Earth languages (including Finnish, Swahili, Latvian, and Inuktitut) to create Henry P.'s alien language.  A decoder at the end of the book reveals each word's origin and meaning, but contextual clues help readers to make sense of the story without use of the decoder.

Science Verse, illustrated by Lane Smith, 2004...  In this companion to Math Curse, a boy's teacher tells his class that "if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything."  This book is filled with hilarious science poems, parodying the styles of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, Lewis Carroll, and many others.  A CD accompanies this book, featuring Sciezka himself, along with illustrator Lane Smith.  The two recite the poems in the book and banter back and forth -- it is a delight to listen to, just as the book is to read.

Seen Art?, illustrated by Lane Smith, 2005...  A boy looks for his friend in New York City, asking passersby, "Have you seen Art?"  Not understanding what he means, the strangers direct him to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art.  Here he finds art in all different media (miniature reproductions appear on every page), and by the end of the book, he has found Art, as well.

Smash! Crash! (also published as Welcome to Trucktown!), illustrated by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon, 2008... I have already written about this book and the Trucktown series here.

Robot Zot, illustrated by David Shannon, 2009...  One of Ben's all-time favorite books, this one cracks us up every time we read it!  A robot from outer space is determined to conquer Earth.  The only problem is his height --  he's barely a few inches tall.  He lands in the kitchen of a house, where he bravely battles a toaster and other appliances.  When he meets a pink cell phone toy (who he believes must be the Queen of All Earth), he heroically comes to her rescue.

In addition to all of his picture books, Sciezka has also written several books for middle grade readers, most notably The Time Warp Trio series: Knights of the Kitchen Table (1991), The Not-So-Jolly Roger (1991), The Good, The Bad, and the Goofy (1992), Your Mother Was a Neanderthal (1993), 2095 (1995), Tut, Tut (1996), Summer Reading is Killing Me (1998), It's All Greek to Me (1999), all illustrated by Lane Smith, and See You Later, Gladiator (2000), Sam Samurai (2001), Hey, Kid, Want to Buy a Bridge? (2002), Viking It and Liking It (2002), Me Oh Maya (2003), Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci (2004), Oh Say, I Can't See (2005), Marco? Polo! (2006), all illustrated by Adam McCauley.

The Time Warp Trio revolves around three friends, Joe, Sam, and Fred.  Joe's magician uncle sends him a mysterious book for his tenth birthday.  The boys quickly discover that The Book has the ability to transport them to various places and times throughout history and literature.  So far, I've only read the first four books in the series, but it's easy to see why this series appeals to so many young readers, especially boys -- these short volumes are entertaining and action-packed.  In 2005, a television show based on the books debuted on Discovery Kids.

For more information about Jon Sciezka and his wonderfully wacky books, please check out the following websites of his:  Jon Sciezka Worldwide, Guys Read, Time Warp Trio, and Trucktown (the latter two sites also contain fun games for kids).  Also, don't forget to look for Sciezka's work in libraries and bookstores!

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