Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series has well-entrenched spot in the pantheon of books worshipped by boys (typically, by strong readers over the age of 8 or 9 and by others over 10). In a sense, it’s life following art: The novels involve a modern 12-year-old who learns that he is the son of a Greek god. And in my suburb, the series (which I haven’t read) may have gotten entire soccer leagues excited about Greek mythology. Meghan Cox Gurdon reviews the latest installment, The Last Olympian (Hyperion, 381 pp., $17.99) in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal, and a teacher gives his view of Riordan in a post I wrote in February.
May 10, 2009
February 7, 2009
Jon Scieszka Courts Preteen Boys in ‘Knucklehead,’ a Memoir of Growing Up With Five Brothers in Michigan during the Baby Boom
One of the country’s most popular children’s authors remembers his childhood
Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing up Scieszka. Viking Juvenile, 106 pp., $19.99. Publisher’s suggested age range: 9–12. See further discussion of ages below.
By Janice Harayda
Jon Scieszka first captured the hearts of preteen boys when he launched his popular “Time Warp Trio” series about three time-traveling male friends whose escapades had wacky titles like Your Mother Was a Neanderthal. Scieszka has since become a supernova in children’s literature: He’s won awards for picture books, seen the “Time Warp Trio” tales made into a television series, and been named the first national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress.
Now he returns to writing for preteen boys in a memoir as fresh and entertaining as his early books for them. The mixed-media cover of Knucklehead resembles that of a graphic novel about World War II: Young Jon emerges with a grin from the hatch of an armored tank – a pint-sized John Wayne in a bow tie – as bombers drop their payload overhead. But Knucklehead is actually an illustrated memoir with 38 breezy chapters, most with just a page or two of text, about growing up Catholic with five brothers in Flint, Michigan, during the baby boom. It teems with photos of the Scieszka family and memorabilia of the era: a Wiffle Ball logo, MAD magazine cover, image from a Dick-and-Jane reader.
Scieszka focuses on the zanier aspects of growing up with five brothers: the matching outfits, the torments inflicted on nuns, the backyard games with ominous names like Slaughter Ball. A photo of a report card shows that he would have started fourth-grade in 1963, but if the death of JFK made an impression on him, he doesn’t say so. And on the evidence of this book, the Elvis and the Beatles never made it north of Toledo, and the annual Michigan-Ohio State game completely escaped the notice of six sports-loving boys living in Flint.
Like many boys of their day, Jon and his brothers reveled in militarism: They played with toy soldiers, shot frogs with BB guns, and made Revell fighter planes from kits. But behind all of their war games lay a glowing love of family that pervades this book. One anecdote involves a family car trip with a cat that ate a Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll with disastrous results. And the incident allows Scieszka to express the closest Knucklehead has to a theme: “Stick with your brothers. Stick up for your brothers. And if you ever drop a pecan nut log in a car with your five brothers and the cat … you will probably stick to your brothers.”
Best line: Scieszka tweaks Dick-and-Jane readers: “When I read the Dick and Jane stories, I thought they were afraid they might forget each other’s names Because they always said each other’s names. A lot.
“So if Jane didn’t see the dog, Dick would say, ‘Look Jane. Look. There is the dog next to Sally, Jane. The dog is also next to Mother, Jane. The dog is next to Father, Jane. Ha, ha, ha. That is funny, Jane.’
“Did I mention that Dick and Jane also had a terrible sense of humor?”
You don’t quite believe that Scieszka thought all of that in the second grade or so, but the comment is funny and perceptive.
Worst line: “Here are me, Brian, Tom, Jim and Gregg outside our house in flint Michigan.” Scieszka is identifying the brothers in order in a picture, but that “Here are me …” is hard on the ear.
Recommendation? A great family read-aloud book. The publisher recommends Knucklehead for ages 9-12, but many 7- and 8-year-olds will enjoy it, too. And the book has high intergenerational appeal, because the pictures of boomer memorabilia may inspire grandparents and others to tell stories of their own childhoods. All the war imagery is historically appropriate and relatively mild in context (in part because the book doesn’t show all the Revell model planes that had swastikas on their wings).
Watch the book trailer for Knucklehead on Scieszka’s blog.
Published: October 2008
Furthermore: Scieszka (pronounced SHEH-ska) collaborated with the gifted artist Lane Smith on the “Time Warp Trio” series and picture books that include The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! and The Stinky Cheese Man. For more on the “Time Warp Trip series,” see the One-Minute Book Reviews post “Beach Books for Ages 7 and Up.”
One-Minute Book Reviews reviews books for children or teenagers every Saturday. To avoid missing these reviews, please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed.
© Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
February 5, 2009
Jon Scieszka first captured the hearts of preteen boys when he launched his popular “Time Warp Trio” series about three time-traveling male friends whose escapades had wacky titles like Your Mother Was a Neanderthal. Scieszka has since become a supernova in children’s literature: He’s won awards, seen the “Time Warp Trio” tales made into a series on the Discovery Kids Channel, and been named the first national ambassador for young people’s literature by the Library of Congress. Now he returns to writing for preteen boys in Knucklehead : Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka (Viking, 106 pp., $19.99), a memoir of growing up with five brothers in Michigan during the baby boom. How does it compare to his earlier work? One-Minute Book Reviews will have a review Saturday.
© 2009 Janice Harayda.
September 26, 2008
March 8, 2008
One of the Year’s Best Books About High School Sports, Mark Kreidler’s ‘Four Days to Glory,’ Returns in a Paperback Edition
Masterly reporting sheds light on an athletic subculture little-known outside the Midwest
You can’t envy parents, teachers and librarians who are looking for sports books for high school students. So many books in the category are cheesy celebrity biographies that foster the worship of false demigods instead of a love of reading or a real understanding of competition. Not Mark Kreidler’s Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland (Harper, 285 pp., $13.95, paperback, ages 13 and up), which recently came out in paperback www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/. Two high school wrestlers prepare to compete in the Iowa state championship in this book of masterly reporting that offers a fascinating portrait of a little-known athletic subculture www.markkreidler.com and www.harpercollins.com. Mary Ann Harlan rightly said in School Library Journal: “Teen wrestlers will appreciate a book that speaks to them and respectfully about them, and sports fans may find a new area to appreciate.”
Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on One-Minute Book Reviews, a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. You can find other reviews in the “Children’s Books,” “Young Adult,” “Caldecott Medals” and “Newbery Medals” categories at right.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
March 1, 2008
Why Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ‘Little House’ Books Aren’t Just for Girls (Quote of the Day / Jonathan Yardley)
Many people think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books as a series for girls. But is it true? Jonathan Yardley wrote about Wilder’s books his “Second Reading” series in the Washington Post and recalled how much he had enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and Little House in the Big Woods as a child:
“What surprises me a bit in thinking back to my own reaction to these books as a boy is that it seems to have made no difference at all that girls, not boys, were at the center of these stories. Most of my favorite books were about boys — Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, Thomas Bailey Aldrich’s The Story of a Bad Boy, Booth Tarkington’s Penrod and Sam — but I remember with great affection, even if I can remember neither the title nor the author, a memoir of a girlhood spent in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, and as my reading habits advanced I thought Little Women a much better book than Little Men, which of course it is.
“I say this not in order to lay claim to preternaturally premature feminism, but to make the point that Wilder’s books are open and accessible to readers of both sexes. The girls whom she portrays are thoroughly feminine, but they also know how to load guns and do chores in and out of the house. Indeed, the chief trouble with the Laura Ingalls Wilder industry as it now exists is that it idealizes the girls of the frontier far more than Wilder did. The front cover of my copy of Little House in the Big Woods shows two cute-as-buttons girls in a bright, sunny woods, wearing clothes that look right out of Ralph Lauren. That may be good TV, but it’s bad Laura Ingalls Wilder.”
To read all of Yardley’s comments on Wilder, click here: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/07/AR2007110702595.html.
(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
December 7, 2007
Looking for a Christmas story for a child who is learning to read?
Henry and his dog, Mudge, celebrate the first snowfall and Christmas Eve in Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days, part of the popular “Henry and Mudge” www.henryandmudge.com series of beginning-reader books for roughly 6-to-8-year-olds, by Cynthia Rylant with pictures by Sucie Stevenson. A review of the book will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews.
For other reviews of children’s books, please click on the “Children’s Books” category under the “Top Posts” lists at right.
(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.