Sunday, February 22, 2009

81 (2009 #6). Knucklehead

by Jon Scieszka

Subtitled “Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka,” this is a memoir of childhood by the Library of Congress’ first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature,children’s author Jon Scieszka. I checked it out from the local library because it was being touted for possible Newbery honors back in January. Jon grew up as the second-oldest of six brothers in a Polish Catholic family in Flint, Michigan, in the late 50s and 60s, and his father used to call them all knuckleheads.

After reading the 106-page, heavily-illustrated Knucklehead, one can see how Scieszka came up with books like The Stinky Cheese Man, Math Curse, Squids Will Be Squids,, and Baloney (Henry P.). With its comic-book-like cover, Knucklehead is aimed more at ages 9-12, also the target of Scieszka’s “Time Warp Trio” series (which now have comic-book-like covers on reissue paperbacks, in keeping with the Discovery Kids TV series of the same name).

However, I wonder if the real audience of this book is anyone who, like Scieszka (who is two years older than me), was a child in the late 50s and 60s, who also has brothers or sons (if you have only sisters and daughters, you might not get some of the humor). There was SO much in this book I could relate to – the nuns at Catholic School (and pagan babies), big families with hand-me-down special outfits and Halloween costumes, “Dick and Jane” readers, broken collarbones (my baby sister!), and playing in sewer pipes and ravines (OK, it was the neighborhood ditch in my case, but the same in that I wasn’t supposed to play there). I suspect my brothers (aka Cousin Weak Eyes and Brother Bad Aim) could relate to even more, particularly the bathroom “sword fights,” plastic army men, and model airplanes. As the oldest of five Catholic-schooled children myself, I think I remember my dad referring to all of us as knuckleheads, and I remember vacations with all seven of us piled in a station wagon.

With 38 two-to-four-page chapters and numerous family photographs, clip art, period pictures, and other relevant illustrations (report cards, x-rays, etc.), the book is an easy read for reluctant readers, and would also be a great read-aloud for any age. I can really see Boomers like me reading this to our kids (or grandkids!). Not surprisingly, it should especially appeal to boys. Scieszka also founded the non-profit literacy initiative, GUYS READ.

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