|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Everyone loves a good fairytale. Unfortunately, these aren’t good fairy tales. These are downright stupid fairy tales, or should I say fairly stupid tales? I don’t know. My head hurts. Runaway Gingerbread Men who are really Stinky Cheese Men. A really weird Cinderella. A really, really Ugly Duckling. I think you get the gist. Jon Scieszka is either a truly talented storyteller, or one deranged author. In his parody of several well-known fairy tales, Scieszka uses his gift of shaping language into a style all his own. Puns, sarcasm, irony, and satire flow like water as he retells these tales for a modern, more worldly audience. Just when you couldn’t stand to hear the story of the Little Red Hen one more time, you don’t have to. Scieszka takes care of that pesky, do gooder for you. No worries. Unless of course that is if you wanted to read a few fairy tales. If you do, check in with one of the Grimm brothers. If you want a good laugh, and a book written in an altogether unusual, yet amusing style, keep reading.
If it sounds like Scieszka’s stories appeal to your ears, then I’m sure you’ll find that Lane Smith’s illustrations even more alluring. Unlike most picture books where illustrations compliment the texts, without Smith’s illustrations to reinforce the silliness of Scieszka’s text, there would be no book. Not only do Smith’s illustrations support the text, they act as the actual framework which holds the stories and book together. Readers could not see just how ugly the Ugly Duckling is or what a Runaway Stinky Cheese Man looks or smells like (believe me, you really don’t want to know) without Smith’s comical, insightful artwork.
Just as Smith’s drawings reinforce Scieszka’s stories, they also function to extend and develop the plots of the stories as well. As characters walk in and out of their own tales, Smith’s artwork allows the reader to keep track of the various storylines as they become players in each other’s tales. Without the artwork acting as a type of scorecard, they plot twists would become almost too much to keep up with. I also don’t believe Scieszka’s stories would be nearly as funny without Smith’s fantastic drawings. They would probably sound more like some guy who’s writing book reviews about fairly stupid tales. Wait, that’s me.
For many years I’ve used another book of Scieszka’s and Smith’s in my classroom to teach point of view. Those persnickety porkers and poor wayward wolf have been friends of mine for over twenty years. Surprisingly though, I never picked up The Stinky Cheese Man until now. Perhaps I didn’t think this could live up to the other. Perhaps I didn’t realize the style of the texts was so similar. Perhaps I didn’t want to read a book with stinky cheese in the title. Perhaps I didn’t realize I was getting myself into a volume of fractured fairytales. What I do realize is that The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales not only serves to amuse, but fills that rare space in literature where adults and children can have fun reading together for the sheer joy of reading, but then also go away from the reading with different appreciations of the text. Being able to relate the stories and art on differing levels to differing ages is quite impressive. It’s like there’s a Stinky Cheese Man for everyone! Barf.
Scieszka’s comical and amusing stories, along with Smith’s clever and somewhat offbeat illustrations, breathe new life into a collection of timeless, yet worn, stories. By lampooning the tales and creating intriguing artwork to accompany them, the duo support each other and succeed in creating a most unusual, yet entertaining collection of slightly, if not fairly, stupid tales. Wait.... What’s that smell?
Citation: Scieszka, J. (1992). The stinky cheese man and other fairly stupid tales. New York, NY: Viking Press.