Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka, 106 pp RL 4
In 2005 Jon Scieszka mobilized his efforts to address the growing number of boys who were having trouble reading and getting worse at reading. He founded the Guys Read, a web-based literacy program for boys that, above all else, is a collection of titles that will help boys become readers by helping them find the books they want to read. That same year he also published Guys Write for Guys Read, a collection of reminiscences, stories and art work contributed by luminaries from the world of children's books and beyond with all proceeds going to the website. Scieszka assembled an amazing group of guys including Neil Gaiman, Eoin Colfer, Brian Jacques, Stephen King, Daniel Pinkwater, Jerry Spinelli, Tony Di Terlizzi, Dav Pilkey, David Shannon, Chris Van Allsburg and Mark Teague. Ultimately, I think this book is most attractive to adult lovers of kidlit, however, the brief biography and selected bibliography included with each short piece should be enough to hook one or two young readers and turn them on to some new books and authors.
In 2008 Scieszka published Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka. Scieszka has a lot going for him as a writer - he is both funny and weird. But, what he really has going for him is the fact that he is one of SIX brothers. The second oldest of the six, the Scieszka boys grew up in Flint, Michigan in the 50s and 60s, which was still a time when a kid could say, think and do so many things that are off limits to most kids today. Add to the mix a dad who is an elementary school principal, a mom who is a registered nurse and a Catholic school education that included a nun named Sister Chopper, and you are guaranteed snorting and laughing every page. Despite this, as a woman, I felt less than qualified to do this book justice. Especially since my husband, who got his hands on the book before me, was laughing his head off throughout while also regaling us with snippets from the book, most of which included tales of urinating and injury. So, for the first time ever, I have invited a guest reviewer in to share his thoughts on a book. Take it away, Bill -
Wow, what an honor to be invited in. When I picked up Knucklehead, I couldn't put it down. In much the same way that Michael Chabon captured essential maleness in his essays in Manhood for Amateurs (written for adults), Scieszka's rollicking accounts of growing up with six brothers was touchingly real. Some of the episodes he recounts - of family vacations, dirt-clod fights, Cub Scouting, parochial schooling - had me laughing out loud then reading the key passages to my family. Scieszka compiles an amazing narrative of growing up in a large family and its attendant joys and sorrows. As moving as it was to relate elements of my growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, attending Catholic school (for only one year in my case), and adventuring in empty lots and streams with my friends, it was even more meaningful to get a glimpse into growing up in a house full of brothers. I have a younger sister, and an often-absent father, so reading about the adventures of Jon and his five brothers was personally revelatory. It also gave me insight into the lives of my sons, whose dynamic often resists outside analysis. As rewarding it was for me to read it, the true joy was when my older son picked it up and was laughing out loud within minutes. Knucklehead at once captures the specifics of the Scieszka family as well as touches some universals of growing up male. As Scieszka puts it, "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." In all, Knucklehead is an enjoyable, educational, memory-provoking and possibly enlightening read. A must for any man (or boy) or any one who has one (or more) in their lives. Scieszka expresses better than I can some of the essential points of guyness, childhood and adult.
So, there you have it. A guy's perspective on this book. And, I think we would both say that, while a boy between the ages of 8 -14 or so would definitely enjoy reading this book, the real pleasure come in reading it out loud to a group of increasingly astounded listeners.
Message for Mr Scieszka regarding your skill at targeting reluctant boy readers: I have to add that, as of this writing, my 12 year old son who only loves books of scientific and historical nature with lots of pictures (ie: anything published by DK) and who now refuses to read fiction not just because he "doesn't like it" (how, I ask you, how is it possible to NOT LIKE FICTION???) but because he knows how deeply his preferences upset me, claims he has been reading Knucklehead out of boredom. HA! I know that answer was also meant to upset me. I know that he is reading Knucklehead because he is actually enjoying it. And, while it is not fiction and it does have a lot of pictures like the reference books he usually reads, I consider this a huge victory thanks to you!
For adults who enjoy this sort of nostalgia, I might also recommend, Bill Bryson, who can make just about any topic entertaining, has a memoir that our whole family enjoyed listening to. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid also takes place in the mid-west, slightly less than a decade before Scieszka begins telling his story.