Todah Rabah! Thank you very much, Jon Scieszka

January 4, 2010

He (Rabbi Tarfon) also used to say,

“It is not your obligation to complete the task,

but neither are you at liberty to desist from it entirely…”

Pirke Avot 2:16

My favorite quote from Pirke Avot, above, seems to have been written about Jon Scieszka, author The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, who in January 2008, became the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. According to the press release at the time, “The position was created to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education, and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” As with all things Scieszka, he took this role very seriously and immediately began his campaign to get children excited about reading, with a special emphasis on boys. He has been untiring and unwavering in his efforts.Tomorrow, January 5, 2010, we will learn the name of our new National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. In honor of Jon Scieszka’s unparalleled accomplishments over his term, those of us who are part of the kidlitosphere, have decided to say thank you in our own ways on our individual websites.

When my son, Aaron, was a baby, my husband, Mark, worked at home. He would take any, and there were many, opportunity to walk with Aaron – around the neighborhood, to the grocery store, to the local deli for breakfast, wherever. Carrying Aaron in the snuggly or the baby backpack, he would talk to him throughout their walk. This was not “Baby Talk.”  Real adult conversations would take place, about baseball, politics, local, national and international news, whatever was happening in the world. Of course, Aaron, being an infant, would not contribute much, but Mark, just kept talking. I remember on one of our visits home, my mother asked me, “Who is he talking to?” I answered, “Aaron.” Her eyebrows rolled up into her hairline and she just shook her head. More proof that her son-in-law was indeed a nut.

Jon Scieszka writes children’s literature the way my husband speaks to children. He knows that they understand more than adults give them credit for understanding.  He knows that if they don’t understand something, they will ask a question about it.  My children have been reading Jon Scieska’s books since he first wrote The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! in 1989. When The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales followed, I thought, “Oh boy these guys (I include Lane Smith, the illustrator here) are really on to something. Their books are funny, my son loves them, my husband loves them, I hope they can keep them coming.” Well, they did and they have. Grateful parents everywhere are weeping with gratitude.

Moving ahead about 20 years, Forwordsbooks is online with the mission of finding Jewish values in secular children’s literature. As I reread the Scieszka bibliography, I am struck by the common thread that runs through all his picture books from the first, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! to the latest, Robot Zot. While every book is unique in its presentation, each takes a life dilemma (e.g. Math in Math Curse), circumstance (e.g. friendship in Cowboy & Octopus) or classic story (e.g. Aesop’s Fables in Squids will be Squids: Fresh Morals for Modern Fables) and stands it on its head. There is nothing traditional, ordinary or expected in any one of Jon Scieszka’s books. Every book is hysterically funny, and therein lies the not so hidden secret of his success. As the kids are laughing at what seems to be the craziest thing they have ever read, they are also taking in the not so subtle messages that Math is everywhere so studying is important, friends tell each other the truth and you should always call home if you are going to be late – Jewish values all.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not point out that the Torah portion for this week is Sh’mot (meaning names in Hebrew.) I had to laugh when I saw that it provides a way too easy d’var Torah, Torah study,  about the difficulty of pronouncing the list of Hebrew names at the beginning of Sh’mot versus pronouncing Scieszka (“it rhymes with Fresca”). This is the place in Torah where we hear about Moses in the basket, read about the burning bush and learn that God’s name is “ehyeh asher ehyeh / I am that I am.”  With the Scieszka bibliography in mind, my head is filled with wild variations of these Exodus stories told from crazy points of view. What must Moses’ staff have been feeling? “I’m a staff-I’m a snake-I’m a staff. Can’t you make up your mind?”

Is there a Scieszka virus caused by an overdose of reading too many of his books at one time?

Todah Rabah, thank you very much, Jon Scieszka for all you have done and will continue to do for children all over the world. A grateful nation of children’s literature lovers applauds you and wishes you many blessings in the days ahead.

Happy Reading,

Kathy B.

PS to see what other bloggers around the kidlitosphere are doing to honor Jon Scieszka today visit A Year of Reading the individuals who had this great idea.

© Kathleen M. Bloomfield January 4, 2010

The books reviewed in this post were either part of my personal collection or borrowed from my public library.

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5 Responses to “Todah Rabah! Thank you very much, Jon Scieszka”

  1. Kathe says:

    A beautiful tribute to a wonderful author and ambassador for young people’s literature. I went on a job interview, and they asked me my dream job would be. I told them I wanted Jon Scieszka’s job.

    And stop breathing my air, you knucklehead!

  2. Lovely tribute! Thanks, Kathy.

  3. Jon Scieszka says:

    Thanks for the great tribute, Kathy. I love the connections you make to Jewish values. I’m forwarding this on to all my Jewish pals, telling them that Rabbi Tarfon and I are working the same beat.

  4. Mary Lee says:

    Kathy,
    This was one of my favorite tributes of the party. Your unique perspective is an important one — values (Jewish and otherwise) can be found in all kinds of literature!!!

  5. [...] you return to the tribute to Jon Scieszcka that I posted on Monday, you will see that I received three comments. Two were from colleagues of [...]

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