Reading a book by Jon Scieszka is a little like walking through a house of mirrors at the fair. The story sounds similar to things you’ve read before … yet just a little off. In some spots, you do a double-take and reread the page. (Kind of like sneaking another peek at your image in that wavy mirror.)
Besides growing up in a houseful of boys, Jon had another good training ground for his writing: 10 years of teaching 1st through 8th graders in public school. It was during those years that he realized how smart kids are … and that they were the perfect audience for the strange stories he was always writing!
The first of those “strange stories” – and the one I’m most familiar with – is The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. The author, A. Wolf, has decided it’s time the public heard HIS side of what happened with those three pigs and their houses.
Published by Viking Books in 1989 (after MANY rejections from publishers who thought the story was just a little too different), the book went on to become a best-seller. Big time, too. Over 3 million copies of the book have now been sold, and it’s been translated into 14 different languages.
He obviously had confidence his stories would sell … if they got published. He and illustrator Lane Smith created a product they were proud of. And Jon’s persistence has paid off with successful sales for each of his books.
He recently created a series of curriculum-style books for preschoolers called Trucktown.
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Jon Scieszka was born on Sept. 8, 1954, in Flint, Michigan. He was, in his own words, “the second-oldest, and nicest, of six Scieszka boys – no girls.”
He had a normal childhood and was lucky to have two parents who were involved with their children’s upbringing. (His mother – a registered nurse – once took Jon’s Cub Scout den on a field trip to the prenatal ward. His father was an elementary school principal.)
Jon didn’t start out wanting to teach. He actually thought he’d be a doctor someday. Until he went to college, where he focused on English as well as science. After graduating, he decided to move to Brooklyn and pursue a writing career.
Before hitting the “big time” with his books, Jon spent five years painting apartments in New York City. That’s when he started teaching. But he knew he had a serious chance for literary success when he saw his stories illustrated by Lane, whom he met through his wife, Jeri (a magazine art director). Jeri had seen Lane’s magazine illustrations and thought his style was perfect for Jon’s writing.
The combination of Jon’s and Lane’s quirky humor has resulted in books that have been entertaining millions of young people (and their parents) for 25 years now.
Jon’s second book, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, is a spoof on fairy tales and the art of book design.
Math Curse tells the story of how one girl figures out a way to break the “math curse.” For example: “Why do 2 apples always have to be added to 5 oranges? Why can’t you just keep 10 cookies without someone taking 3 away? Why?”
Squids Will Be Squids is based – very loosely – on Aesop’s Fables. The premise of the book is that it’s OK to gossip about someone if you change them into an animal when you tell your “story.”
The Time Warp Trio series (which includes over 30 titles) was influenced by Mr. Peabody’s “Wayback Machine” on the old “Rocky and Bullwinkle” show. The Trio series was also turned into a TV series (2005-2006).
Passing It On
Jon loves being interactive – with adults as well as with kids. Browse through the pages of his Guys Read website and you’ll see examples of some of the creative ways he inspires others.
For instance, he’s devoted one web page to TONS of resources for teachers, including lesson plans, and links to books and websites. (Click the “Time Warp Trio site” link.)
Another page shows a world map displaying the locations of all Guys Read chapters (over 160!) – including three in Europe, four in Australia, one in New Zealand, one in South Korea, and one in Bahrain! And a LOT in the United States.
Yet another page is filled with free downloadable resources.
One page, Books for Anyone Who Cares About Guys, is a gold mine of information for those who want to explore the reasons so many boys struggle with reading in today’s world. Included are details about books like:
Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices
by Ralph Fletcher, 2006
Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys: Literacy in the Lives of Young Men
by Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey Wilhelm, 2002
Good writers like to read.
Encourage young people to become readers by following these four tips that Jon Scieszka shared in an April 2008 interview with Martha Stewart.
- Broaden the definition of reading. Don’t overlook nonfiction and humor.
- Embrace other technologies. Use TV, video games, and the Internet. Suggestion: Have them read a book that was made into a movie, and ask them to evaluate the differences.
- Be a good role model. Be a reader yourself, and leave reading material laying around. Create a comfortable reading area in your home.
- Avoid the reading “death spiral.” Don’t let kids start thinking of themselves as non-readers. Let them see that reading can be fun. Books should NOT be associated only with schools and tests.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Persistence, humor, going to great lengths to inspire others
The main character in this latest book of Jon’s is a boy (Frank) who wants to win the local science fair so he can use the money to save his grandfather’s fix-it shop from local developer T. Edison. The result: two “self-aware” robots called Klink and Klank.
The pictures, diagrams, and goofy things like knock-knock jokes help make science more attractive to young people. (According to the illustrator, this book is the first in a series of six.)
Think of Mother Goose combined with trucks, and you pretty much have the idea behind this book. Because Jon does such a great job with the rhymes, 43 out of 45 reviewers on Amazon gave the book 5 stars! One little boy even recites the rhymes while he plays with his monster trucks.
When was the last time you injected humor into a blog post? Do you remember reading posts written by someone else that made you laugh? Chances are, those are the ones you can’t forget.
“Standing out in the crowd” is one argument for including humor in your blog.
HEALTHY COPY TIPS
KNOW YOUR TOPIC.
The secret to boosting online authority is not really a secret at all … at least not for those already gaining an audience for products and services on the Internet.
But for those who are new to the Web, here’s the #1 THING to keep in mind, no matter what type of writing you’re doing:
Know your topic . . . and know it well. (Liking the topic helps, too.)
For more tips, take a look at this article on “5 Ways to Boost Your Online Authority.”
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“Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds. A sense of humor is just common sense, dancing.” – William James
This article originally ran in the September 2014 issue of The Write Stuff.