Worth the Candle

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales Cover Image
By Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith (Illustrator)
$17.99
ISBN: 9780670844876
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Viking Books - October 1st, 1992

Reviewing a book is customarily an act of making sense, which is why one pretty much has to just toss in the towel when it comes to this book - a glorious compendium of brilliant nonsense. As the book's creators promise: "People used to tell magical stories of wonder and enchantment [called Fairy Tales]. . . Those stories are not in this book."

Indeed, the stories in this book are magical stories of plunder and enhancement, wherein elements of those other stories are recombined and exaggerated and only randomly subjected to the laws of physics. Goldilocks meets not bears, but elephants whose furniture is too dang big to defile. Little Red trades her riding hood for Red Running Shorts. And, as the title tips off, the fragrant gingerbread boy is replaced by a animated round of stinky cheese with "a piece of bacon for a mouth and two olives for eyes" but who still gets baked. (And you were wondering why he ran?)

Jon Scieszka is an author who seems to have been warped as a boy (perhaps when learning to spell that name). Lane Smith is an illustrator whose beautifully surfaced paintings seem to be the work of someone formatively influenced in a funhouse mirror factory. The often-partnered pair (and their frequent designer, Molly Leach, who's married to Smith) are completely reliable narrators when it comes to complete unreliability. Their "fairly stupid tales" feature - in words, art and shape-shifting Bodoni typography - characters who are all id, all the time. This makes them irresistible to young readers, who just might be having pesky superego-developmental troubles of their own.

Stinky Cheese Man (a Caldecott Honor winner) is so popular that it has spawned countless imitations in the past 17 years - most of them not a tenth as good. In fact, the old Candlepicker sometimes worries that kids these days ead fairly stupid fairy tales at the expense of those fairly wonderful originals. But that's a scold's argument of the sort that the Little Red Hen would formulate - and, as Scieszka and Lane would no doubt just quote her, "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah . . . " Better kids should just enjoy The Stinky Cheese Man in the way the lazy dog and the lazy cat and the hen herself might gobble up some freshly baked bread.