In college, Jon Scieszka was on course to become a doctor, but spent his spare time attempting to write the Great American Novel. He decided to shelve his medical ambitions and take a masters degree in Fiction Writing at Columbia University. Afterwards, he became a teacher in New York. Fans of Scieszka will not be surprised that he was a somewhat unorthodox teacher, who introduced his eight-year-old students to Kafka's Metamorphosis ("They loved it. You'd tell them about this guy who turns into a cockroach, and they'd go, 'No way, man, no way.'") Scieszka's teaching experience prompted him to try writing for children, viewing his new readers as "the same smart people I had been trying to reach... just a little shorter." In 1988, Jon took a year off from teaching and swapped material with the illustrator Lane Smith. The result of this collaboration was The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!. The book was initially rejected by publishers on the grounds that it was too weird/sophisticated. But it was not long before the book made it into print. A decade after its first publication, the book has sold over 4 million copies, been translated into ten languages and been widely acclaimed as a classic picture book for all ages. The next Scieszka/Smith collaboration The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales goes even further to break all the rules - pages are printed upside down, the contents page appears well into the book and the narrators - Jack and the Little Red Hen - skip in and out of well-remembered stories. A few purists were offended but the book won the prestigious Caldecott Honor. With books like Maths Curse and Squids Will Be Squids, Scieszka and Smith continue to stretch our notions of what picture books can be, and what subjects they can address. Anyone picking up a picture book by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, can see that both author and artist trust the intelligence of the readers. The duo have also collaborated on a series of chapter books, which chronicle the adventures of The Time Warp Trio. These have been particularly welcomed as great books for reluctant boy readers.
Gr 1 Up--Victim for centuries of a bad press, Alexander (``You can call me Al'') T. Wolf steps forward at last to give his side of the story. Trying to borrow a cup of sugar to make a cake for his dear old Granny, Al calls on his neighbors--and can he help it if two of them built such shoddy houses? A couple of sneezes, a couple of dead pigs amidst the wreckage and, well, it would be shame to let those ham dinners spoil, wouldn't it? And when the pig in the brick house makes a nasty comment about Granny, isn't it only natural to get a little steamed? It's those reporters from the Daily Pig that made Al out to be Big and Bad, that caused him to be arrested and sent to the (wait for it) Pig Pen. ``I was framed,'' he concludes mournfully. Smith's dark tones and sometimes shadowy, indistinct shapes recall the distinctive illustrations he did for Merriam's Halloween ABC (Macmillan, 1987); the bespectacled wolf moves with a rather sinister bonelessness, and his juicy sneezes tear like thunderbolts through a dim, grainy world. It's the type of book that older kids (and adults) will find very funny.--John Peters, New York Public Library
In this gaily newfangled version of a classic tale, Scieszka and Smith ( Flying Jake ) argue in favor of the villain, transforming the story of the three little pigs into a playfully suspicious, rather arch account of innocence beleaguered. Quoth the wolf: ``I don't know how this whole Big Bad Wolf thing got started, but it's all wrong.'' According to his first-person testimony, the wolf went visiting the pigs in search of a neighborly cup of sugar; he implies that had the first two happened to build more durable homes and the third kept a civil tongue in his head, the wolf's helpless sneezes wouldn't have toppled them. As for his casual consumption of the pigs, the wolf defends it breezily (``It seemed like a shame to leave a perfectly good ham dinner lying there in the straw'') and claims cops and reporters ``framed'' him. Smith's highly imaginative watercolors eschew realism, further updating the tale, though some may find their urbane stylization and intentionally static quality mystifyingly adult. Designed with uncommon flair, this alternative fable is both fetching and glib. Ages 3-8. (Sept.)