Sunday, March 15, 2009

What a bunch of knuckleheads!

In this hilarious memoir of his childhood, children's book writer (not to mention the Library of Congress's first national ambassador to children's literature) Jon Scieszka recounts his childhood as one of six brothers growing up in Michigan in the 1950s and 60s. The book is divided into short chapters, each centered on a theme or specific event, which always includes plenty of photographs and illustrations.

He talks about the relationships among his siblings, events at his Catholic school, how he came to love reading (despite "those weirdos" Dick and Jane), and why, when his teacher asked, "What's so funny, Mr. Scieszka?" his response was a "life-choice fork in the road" for him. Thank heavens for his readers that he made the choice he did!

I loved so many things about this book, its honesty, its humor, its focus on memories of events that readers will certainly relate to. Adult readers will appreciate the reminiscences of things that Jon didn't question at the time, yet looking back on them realizes were a bit unusual and recognizes the humor in them.

There's the chapter about his cub scout field trip to the hospital where his mother (the den mother for the troop) worked as a nurse. "We didn't know where other cub scouts went on field trips, so we just went along." Jon thinks they might get to see some cool stuff, like an x-ray machine, or maybe doctors performing surgery. But what he didn't really understand was that his mother was a prenatal nurse. So the boys got a lecture about the first nine months of life. "I had no idea what she was talking about. I was looking around for an X-ray machine." Finally when the boring talk was over, one of the boys found the models and handed one to Jon, saying, "Here's all the guts." When he handed it to Jon, it fell apart:
A little baby popped out and bounced on the floor. We suddenly realized we were playing around with models of the insides of pregnant ladies. We freaked out and didn't touch anything else in the room for the rest of the field trip.
This memoir has taken its place among my very favorite biographies that I recommend to children at my library, who come in every year looking for something not too objectionable for their biography assignment. And since the usual "rule" for that particular assignment is that the biography must be 100 pages or more, I was delighted to see that Knucklehead is 106 pages long. Its wide margins, large font, many pictures and illustrations, short chapters and laugh-out-loud humor will make it appealing to reluctant and willing readers alike.

Click here for a wonderful article about Scieszka on NPR, followed by an excerpt of several chapters from Knucklehead (including one of my favorites, about the cat, the car trip and the pecan nut log. My iced tea almost came out my nose when I read that one!). My favorite Scieszka quote from the article:
"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 Scieszka is dedicated to promoting literacy among young readers, particularly boys. If you haven't seen his wonderful website, Guys Read, or read the eponymous anthology, they are definitely worth your time.

Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories about Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka (Viking, 2008)

Also reviewed at:
Ms. Yingling Reads: "Jon Scieszka's memoir was the most hysterical thing I have read in a while. The only problem I have with it is this: Why has this man not done a fiction series of books for middle school boys just like this?"
The Reading Zone: "This is a fantastic book for reluctant readers and readaholics. And for anyone who has grown up with younger brothers and sisters and done all of those things your mom would die over if she found out about."


  1. I had never heard of this! It sounds awesome. Thanks for adding to my wishlist yet again... I can always count on you for that :P

  2. you'll probably get another bad blogger point for this one ;) It sounds fantastic!

  3. Nymeth - right back atcha! I do think you'll love this - I'll be waiting to hear what you think!

    Chris - Yay! I love being a bad blogger, heh heh. You will definitely enjoy this one - save it for when you need a good laugh, because you'll be sure to get it! :-)

  4. I'm not sure why I haven't snatched this one up. I have loved every Jon Sciezka book I've ever read and I'm sure his bio is every bit as entertaining. I need to go right now and add it to my library queue.

  5. Oh, Carl - you are in for a treat! Can't wait to hear what you think. I gave it to my husband to read to the girls when I'm working evenings at the library and miss out on the bedtime reading, and they are all loving it!

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  8. Glad you enjoyed this one. I can't wait for the middle grade book Jon's writing now. Hey-- do you know of any good bloggers who concentrate on books for middle school boys? I'm trying to get together a list over at my blog. Thanks.

  9. Ms. Yingling - Oh, I didn't know he was working on a middle grade one. Hooray! Nothing comes to mind immediately as far as bloggers who concentrate on books for middle school boys, sadly. I think of the ones I read regularly, yours offers the most, and Jen Robinson of course reviews a good mix including those. I'll email you if I can come up with anything more helpful.


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