the creator of the Stinky Cheese Man, and other great non-edible books
Jon, boys are crazy about your books. Do you consciously write with a guy audience in mind? At every level, your work pulsates with humor: wry, warm, witty, ribald, slapstick. Is the humor an extension of your own childhood or personality, or a sly means of getting guys to read your books?
I think my writing comes out of mix of growing up as a guy with five brothers (no sisters) and teaching elementary school for ten years. I don't consciously write for guys. It just kind of comes out the way it does. But I am conscious of trying to reach every kid in a class. I want those kids dozing in the back row to hear my stories and sit up and say, "What was that? What happens next?
What were you like as a kid? Did you read a lot? What kind of books did you read? Did you like to read or did you read because you had to for school? Did your mom and dad read aloud to you as a kid?
I was definitely a reader as a kid. Early on, I found things I liked to read because my mom and dad read me books like GREEN EGGS AND HAM, GO DOG GO, CAPS FOR SALE, MIKE MULLIGAN . . . We had to read Dick and Jane readers in school, and I thought those were just bizarre
The first book my husband bought with his own money was "The Greatest Heroes of the NFL." What was the first book you bought with your own money?
The first things I bought on my own were comic books. I bought Fantastic Four comics, Spiderman, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, and Mad Magazine..
You taught elementary school for years, did you see a difference between boys and girls reading abilities and habits?
That's part of what led me to start my literacy program for boys, GUYS READ. The most obvious difference between boys and girls was in the different kinds of stories they liked to read. And not many of the boys preferences -- non-fiction, humor, action -- was included in required reading.
My son reads a lot and reads everything, fiction and nonfiction. My husband reads mainly non-fiction. He reads a few books a year, but devours magazines and newspapers, and reads a great deal online. Because he does not read loads of books he considered himself a nonreader. He thinks my son is the reader in the family. Do you think that is a fair assessment? Do guys read more non-fiction than fiction? Should we make generalizations?
I think a lot of guys, boys and men, prefer to read non-fiction over fiction. But we shouldn't call these guys non readers. We should expand our notion, especially in school, of what is "legitimate" reading.
Do you think the differences in guy and girl reading are nurture or nature differences?
That's a very complex question. And I think part of the problem is that we haven't done enough hard research on what makes the differences. I suspect that it's a combination of nature and nurture. Biologically speaking, boys are slower to develop than girls. That puts them at a disadvantage learning to read in early elementary. But then our society also tells boys that it's not masculine to express and discuss feelings. . . the heart of most literary fiction. The fact that 75% of elementary school teachers and librarians are women has to have some influence on what boys think about reading.
So, what is Guys Read, is it an organization, an initiative, a slogan? And why did you start it?
Guys Read is a literacy program for boys. It's a call for people to become aware that boys are having trouble reading, and to look into this problem. The heart of the program is the idea that maybe we can motivate boys to read by giving them books and other texts they will want to read.
Where can kids and adults find out more about Guys Read?
GUYS READ is at www.guysread.com. The first website that's up now is a good place to learn about what's going on and get tips on what boys like to read. And this summer, the new website is going to be up with a recommendation feature that runs on Amazon software. You tell the GUYS READ guy what author or book or kind of book you like -- the website will tell you what other books guys liked that are similar to your favorite.
What can parents and teachers do right now, to get guys reading? What can Dads do?
1. Expand your idea of what reading is. Include non-fiction, humor, magazines, graphic novels . . . 2. Ask your boys what they like to read. 3. Let your guys make a GUYS READ bookshelf. 4. Men must get involved as real role models. We have to show guys reading is important, not just tell them.
Do you have any new books coming out? I hear there is a TV program based on your Time Warp Trio series? Is it on the air?
I'm putting together an anthology of 75 writers and illustrators who guys really like. It's going to be called GUYS WRITE for GUYs READ. And all kinds of great writers have written about what being a guy was like for them. Illustrators have found drawings they did as a boy and drawn new versions of the same. Lemony Snicket, Gary Paulsen, Avi, Jack Gantos, Eoin Colfer, Walter Dean Myers, Dav Pilkey, Chris Van Allsburg, Stephen King, Matt Groening, writers from Sports Illustrated and Esquire magazines, and a whole mess of other guys have contributed.
Lane Smith and I also have a new book, SCIENCE VERSE coming out in the fall. It picks up where MATH CURSE ended. A kid in school has everything turn into a science poem. I took old favorite poems and rhymes and songs, and turned them into poems like:
Glory glory evolution,
Darwin found us a solution.
Your mama is that shape,
And your knuckles always scrape,
'Cause Grandpa was an ape.
Lane and I had the greatest time putting this together. We also recorded a CD of all of the poems that will be included in the back of each book. And yes, the Time Warp Trio TV show is finally going to go on the air, Saturday morning on NBC. Fall of 2004 or January 2005. 26 shows.
Summer is just around the corner. Can you recommend a great read for boys in middle grades for fun summer reading?
Anthony Horowitz's new Alex Rider adventure, EAGLE STRIKE is great -- British spy kid. The CIRQUE DU FREAK series by Darren Shan has gotten a lot of recommendations. And so has Eoin Colfer's three ARTEMIS FOWL books. Any of those should be entertaining.
Click here for a list of some of Jon's all time favorite books.
Some of our favorite Jon Scieszka books are:
Squids Will Be Squids
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!
The Stinky Cheese Man
The Frog Prince Continued
The Book That Jack Wrote
Baloney (Harry P.)
And his Time Warp Trio Books are loved by all readers, especially boys:
It's All Greek to Me
The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy
Your Mother was a Neanderthal
Knights of the Kitchen Table
The Not-So-Jolly Roger
Summer Reading is Killing Me!
See You Later, Gladiator
Hey Kid, Want To Buy a Bridge?
Viking It and Liking It