Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka
Jon Scieszka has five brothers. Jon Scieszka is a funny writer. Ergo, Jon Scieszka's stories about growing up with his five brothers = funny. Oh yeah - I laughed out loud. I read bits aloud to the librarians in the workroom who wanted to know just what was so damn funny, and they laughed out loud. But we're moms. Moms of boys. We have to think boys are funny, or else go googoo and end up carted away in a van.
And I also believe that Knucklehead will make children laugh out loud. There is fire, there is urination. There is getting away with stuff, and there is not a single one of those Peruvian hats with the pigtails down the side that make everyone - EVERYONE - look like Luke Wilson making his very best confused face.
Sorry. Distracted. Been writing in a coffee house lately while my house gets some work done. ("While we're in there fixing the deviated ceiling, how about we give you a whole new kitchen at the same time? Wouldn't you like your kitchen to look like... THIS?" I believe that's also how my mother's cousin Margaret got Patty Duke's nose.)
Back to Knucklehead. Funny, definitely funny. Very reminiscent of Bill Sleator's Oddballs, also a collection of funny stories from the author's childhood, many involving mud. And while the author packs in plenty of forbidden fruit, like how to construct a mortar ("Don't try this at home" - yeah thanks, Mr. Ambassador. My kids get ahold of this and we can say bye-bye to the attic window! (If we're lucky.)), there are also tons of positive messages about the joys of playing outside, the glories of Go, Dog. Go!, the good things about grandparents, Reading Is Fun, and... the value of military academy. Also, the chapters are short enough and the reading level low enough to hand it to, oh, grade 2 and above.
But the thing is, I have never successfully gotten a kid to read Oddballs. The fault in the case of that book may lie with the cover, which is I think more appealing to grownups who like Joseph Cornell and Robertson Davies than it is to kids. But it may be the nostalgia. It may be that kids just aren't as interested in true-life stories that aren't recognizable to them.
If it's the cover, the Scieszka book is going to go better: the cover of Knuckleheads resembles a pulp comic book, with 9-year-old G.I. Jon popping out of a tank turret. But if it's the nostalgia... listen, I'm only ten years younger than our Ambassador, but the world described in Knuckleheads already feels like my parents' generation. Men in skinny ties, nuns in habits with full wimple.
On the other hand, the family that took us in and fed us last night mentioned that they are reading Knuckleheads together, and laughing their butts off. Specifically, the Crossing Swords chapter was mentioned, and I'll say this: "Crossing Swords," in which Scieszka describes how he and his brothers could turn even going to the bathroom into an opportunity for imaginative play (and hoo boy is that the most sedate description you'll ever read for that particular activity!), may well establish this book as the passed-around page-marked Diary of a Wimpy Kid for this year. I'll even go so far as to call those few pages Jon Scieszka's ticket to immortality, and that's saying something.
Certainly we'll be mentioning his name as we mop up the bathroom floor - here's to you, Mr. Ambassador!