One-Minute Book Reviews

June 28, 2008

William Steig’s ‘Spinky Sulks’ – A Tale of One Boy’s Grand Funk

The author of Shrek! also wrote picture book about a boy who can sulk even in a hammock on a beautiful summer day

Spinky Sulks. By William Steig. Sunburst, 32 pp., $4.99, paperback. Ages 3 and up.

By Janice Harayda

Not long ago, I mentioned the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on this site to an English professor and mother of two, who asked immediately if I had written about the late William Steig’s priceless Spinky Sulks. I said I hadn’t, partly because the book wasn’t quite old enough: Spinky Sulks came out in 1988, and the “Classics” series typically covers books published at least 25 years ago. And Steig wrote and illustrated so many good picture books that if I had to pick just one, I might choose Brave Irene, the story of an intrepid girl who doesn’t let a blizzard stop her from keeping her promise to her seamstress mother to deliver a dress to a duchess.

But if Spinky Sulks hasn’t been around quite long enough to qualify as a classic and doesn’t involve the high drama of Brave Irene, it is the hilarious story of an epic bad mood. Spinky is a boy who can — and does — sulk in a hammock on a beautiful summer day: His bad mood is so extreme, it borders on a parody of a sulking. That’s partly what makes his story so funny: Steig exaggerates enough so that children can see the humor in Spinky’s mood but not so much that he ridicules their feelings.

Spinky resists efforts to cheer him up — including his brother’s, “You were positively right! . . . Philadelphia is the capital of Belgium” — until he finds a way to lift his gloom on his own. In that sense, the book is a bit subversive. Steig doesn’t say so directly, but Spinky figures out how to do something that all parents want their children to learn to do: to tame their emotions in ways that suit their temperaments — even if you won’t find their methods recommended by Penelope Leach.

Published: 1988

Furthermore: Steig, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, also wrote Shrek!. Spinky Sulks has won honors that include New York Times Outstanding Book and American Library Association Notable Book designations. Steig won a Caldecott Medal for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, a Caldecott Honor award for The Amazing Bone and Newbery Honors for Abel’s Island and Dr. De Soto. The site has reading guides to Brave Irene, The Amazing Bone, Doctor De Soto, and Amos & Boris.

Your public library has this book or can get it for you on an interlibrary loan for free or a nominal charge. Most libraries with children’s departments also have other good books by William Steig.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. Oh, we have this book in my library’s curriculum collection – I’ll have to read it. My favorite Steig book is “Pete’s A Pizza.” Pete is in a bad mood (Spinky’s cousin?) because it is raining and he can’t play outside. His dad cheers him up by pretending to make him into a pizza. Great story and illustrations by Steig!

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — June 28, 2008 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  2. That’s a great tip. I thought I knew of most of the Steigs, even if I haven’t read them all, but Pete’s a Pizza is new to me.

    Pete does sound like Spinky’s cousin. But the book about him could also be a kind of rough draft of Spinky. So often writers do one book on a subject and realize either that they didn’t quite say what they wanted or just had more to say, so they do another. In any case, the parents of children who liked Spinky now know where they can go for more …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 28, 2008 @ 4:31 pm | Reply

  3. Except Spinky would be the rough draft of Pete – “Pete’s a Pizza” was published in 1998.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — June 28, 2008 @ 7:06 pm | Reply

  4. Which means that “Pete’s a Pizza” might be even better (and, possibly, available at more bookstores and libraries).

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — June 29, 2008 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

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