Sunday, January 18, 2009


When I was growing up the term "knucklehead" was commonly applied to kids in general, but most often, I suppose, to boys. My father often referred to my brother as a knucklehead. I always figured that what something that was unique to my neck of the woods but not the rest of the world. Now I find out that it was also a term that was used in Flint, Michigan, in about the same time that it rang in my ears in Huntley, Montana.

How did I learn this nugget of truth? I just finished reading one of the best memoirs I have ever found--Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka. With lots of family pictures and other memorabilia of life in the 1950s and 60s, each chapter relates some wonderful memory of this man who is now the first National Ambassador for Children's Literature. (This gives him a job of championing children's literature throughout the nation.) He says he is attempting in this book to answer the question of why he decided to become an author. Perhaps he answers this question, but mostly he entertains.

My first reaction upon completing this book was to think about my own childhood. Let me begin, then, by apologizing to my brother Karl for not being a boy. Scieszka was one of six boys. My poor brother just had a little sister to harass, but no on with whom he could bond as boys surely do. He never played football with me so he never got to break my collarbone. Scieszka participated in games that resulted in four broken collarbones for his little brother Gregg. Brother Karl never got to play any of the great (that depends on your perspective here) bathroom related games that Scieszka played with his brothers. Karl did introduce me to some great swear words--but, of course, I have forgotten all of them.

Jon Scieszka clearly had an interesting (and completely normal and happy) childhood. It is difficult to predict what the current generation will find the most humorous, but there will surely be snorts of laughter rising from faces hidden deep in this book. It is written for grades three to seven, but should be read by everyone. You can learn more about Jon Scieszka at his official site which has information about his books and a generous dose of Scieszka humor.

What are his other books you ask? Well, they include The Time Warp Trio series, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man, The Math Curse, Science Verse, and Baloney, Henry P. among many more. I know very few people under the age of 20 who have not read at least one of these books. If you haven't read them, now is a good time to give them a try.

The Time Warp Trio series keeps growing with books for recently established readers who want to travel back in time with a trio of wild and crazy boys. Even their titles are good for a life because they often contain a pun like The Not-So-Jolly Roger or Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs lets the wolf finally tell his side of the story and is a favorite picture book that is remembered and enjoyed well into middle school and beyond.

The Stinky Cheese Man is another favorite, especially of boys who like the almost potty humor of it, that keeps being read long beyond the many other picture books have been discarded.

The Math Curse shows how math is a part of everything we do and how, if one is to dwell on it too much, it can take over your life.

Science Verse gives a scientific bent to favorite poems and familiar songs. It is one of my favorites to dig out and relearn the great verses that also confirm scientific facts that I may have forgotten.

Baloney, Henry P. is great not only for the tall, tall tale it tells, but for all the words from other languages that are quickly learned while reading it.

Knucklehead is the story behind all of this humor. So, all you knuckleheads should get your hands on it as soon as you can. You will be wiser for it.

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