Wednesday, August 19, 2009

There should be laughter

A year ago, I blogged about Jon Scieszka's antics at the National Book Festival. Last Christmas, I stuffed a copy of Jon's book, Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka into my husband's Christmas stocking (which I mailed to him in Afghanistan.) Finally, finally, last week, as we drove up for Emily's funeral, I got to read it for myself.

Oh, my freakin' word. I found myself laughing, hiccup giggling, chortling, goofball grinning, and flat-out ENVIOUS of Scieszka's impeccable comic timing.

Here's a taste of the rhythm of his prose as he writes about birth order politics in a family of six boys:

"Jim and I had to sign up for everything. We were Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, altar boys, and choir boys.

Jim (#1) was driven to be first in everything. He was an Eagle Scout, Head Choir Boy, Chief Altar Boy, and class president.

I (#2) made it to Life Scout, just below Eagle Scout. I was in the choir for a couple of years. And I knew our class president.

Tom (#3) was in Cub Scouts for a few years, wearing Jim's pants that were too short for him. He joined the choir for one year. Was an altar boy for another year. And had heard there was a class president."

And then there is the chapter that opens with

"I learned how to cook because I like to stir oatmeal more than I like to pick up dog poop."

And the chapter with a setup like this:

"It was so cold that we had an electric space heater to use sometimes in the winter. The twisty metal coils on the heater had a great orange glow when they got hot. Just like the fires we would build with Dad out at the lake.

I guess that's what made me and Jim think we could put out the heater the same way we put out the fires at the lake---by peeing on it."

I think my favorite story, though, is when Jon has to write down every swear word he knows for his nun teacher. Without really swearing, of course. (Psst! Page 86, if you're furtively reading this book in a bookstore somewhere.)

I know humor has a low-rent reputation as less worthy than literary fiction---a complaint we could air as often as gorilla armpits and still not get rid of the condescending smell. But----agents are dying to represent humorous books. Editors crave them. Kids love them. I love them. In fact, after raving about Knucklehead to my family, I went so far as to declare with bombastic fervor that "EVERY book for kids should have some humor in it."

Recently, as part of a fun meme, I listed 15 movies that "stuck with me." The hysterical Bill Murray classic, What About Bob? was on that roster, right along with Shakespeare in Love. (Wait a minute! SIL is funny too!)

And if I had to list 15 kids' books that stuck with me, you can bet that hilarious books like Scieszka's Knucklehead would get their due. (Maybe because of his tale of a pecan log barfing kitty in a hot car filled with six boys. Now that's sticky.)


  1. I can't really love a book that doesn't make me laugh out loud at least a couple times.

    Knucklehead was on the shelf, so obviously I had to run right over and read the chapter about the swear words. Funny, funny, funny.

  2. Sometimes only laughter saves us. Jon was hysterically funny at the Poetry Blast at ALA, as you can imagine.

    I'm going to have to go get this book now. Thanks for the recommendation!

  3. Read this book last week (on your recommendation). So funny! Felt like it took 5 minutes to read. Thanks!

  4. In defense of laughter! Sara, thanks for sharing your thoughts, and who better than Jon Scieszka to frame them around?

    When feeling like a literary stepchild for being a humorist, I remind myself that laughter may come from the belly, but it stirs the heart on its way out.

  5. I love the title of this one--may make it one of my new year's resolutions! Such an important thing we forget that Scieszka reminds us of!

  6. Thanks for the kind words Sara. I'm glad you are out there spreading more funny around.

    (And I'm a big fan of What About Bob too.)


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