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The Study of Poetry and Literature for Children & Young Adults

Traditional Literature

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Sciezka & Lane Smith
Whoppers, Tall Tales and Other Lies: Collected from American Folklore by Alvin Schwartz
A Weave of Words: An Armenian Tale Retold by Robert D. San Souci, Illustrated by Raul Colon
Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella by Susan Lowell, Illustrated by Jane Manning


Scieszka, Jon. 1992. The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales. Ill. by Lane Smith. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0590476769


The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieska & Lane Smith is an interactive collection of fractured fairy tales. These twists on the old fairy tales contain absolutely no moral lessons to be learned. Yet they have earned many awards, to include the Caldecott Honor Book, ABBY Honor Book, School Library Journal Best Books of the Year, Publishers Weekly Top Selling Kids Books of All Time List, and ALA Notable Children's Book.


The book jumpstarts with a rant by the Little Red Hen followed by Jack, (of Jack and the Beanstalk fame), narrating. Jack walks, gallops, crawls and races us through very different versions of the traditional fairy tales all the while pursued by the Little Red Hen, anxious to tell her tale. Luckily the Giant (of the Beanstalk) makes her into a tasty snack along the way.


Although the book states that the illustrations were rendered in oil and vinegar, they are predominately mixed media which dominate the pages only to be overcome by the ridiculously incongruous use of type. The type runs all over the pages, changes font size and is even upside down at points. It is so unique and intertwined with the illustrations that it is actually an illustration!


Kids love this book; I read it to a group of fourth graders who howled in delight when the Stinky Cheese Man (think Gingerbread Man) tried to get anyone to chase him. The illustrations are so vivid you can almost smell the stench. Even the cow’s eyes rolled back in her head and her tongue appeared to stretch a good three feet in disgust. The sentence from the book, “If we catch him, our teacher will probably make us eat him….” led to a very interesting discussion on how to make stinky cheese. I probably should have sent a note home warning the parents!


 It reminded me of a cartoon I watched as a child, I believe on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’s Fractured Fairy Tales. I loved the idea then but had to let go of the grownup in me to enjoy it this time. On the third reading, I found it hilarious. Jon Scieszka and illustrator Lane Smith, who also created The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, succeed with another hilariously warped version of the stories we grew up with.


Stephanie Zvirin, reviewer for Booklist, said about The Stinky Cheese Man author and illustrator “…while their humor [Scieszka and Smith] won’t appeal to everyone, their endeavors will still attract a hefty following of readers---from 9 to 99.”



Zvirin, Stephanie. 1992. The Stinky Cheese Man and other fairly stupid tales. (book review). Booklist. September 1992, p. 56.





Schwartz, Alvin. 1975. Whoppers, Tall Tales and Other Lies Collected from American Folklore. Ill. by Glen Rounds. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0937315759

Whoppers, Tall Tales and Other Lies Collected from American Folklore’s preface explains that “the book is a pack of lies…about something that never happened and never would. And each is the work of a liar who lied just for the fun of it.” Imagine the irresistible appeal of being able to lie as exuberantly as possible just for the fun of it.


This is the fifth book written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Glen Rounds they have collaborated on. Some of the whoppers are funny immediately, some really aren’t and others need to be repeated a couple times to make sure it really couldn’t be true. For example:


“The hogs on this place are so thin and scrawny; they have to stand in the same place twice to cast a shadow.”


I shared this collection with five third graders and they commenced to making up the biggest most amazing lies they could think of. They were thrilled with the prospect that “tall tale lying” as one boy entitled it, couldn’t get them in trouble. I then had to backtrack and lay some ground rules for telling tall tales. “To be used for entertainment only, not to get yourself out of trouble.”


The book covers every possible aspect of tall tales from the weather to animals and insects to ordinary people and objects, including a man who ran so fast he not only ran out of his clothes but his underwear too! The illustrations follow the story and are in simple pen and ink sketches yet convey the comedic meaning immediately. The man who painted a dog so realistically that it bit him is portrayed as jumping backward while the dog leaps off the canvas, fangs at the ready.


This collection is recommended for anyone who is having a hard day and needs a smile or a huge belly laugh as the people in this book definitely have had worse days and managed to tell tales about it!




Lowell, Susan. 2000. Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella. Ill. by Jane Manning. U.S.A.  HarperCollins. ISBN 0060274668


Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella is a delightful turn on the traditional telling of Cinderella. Take a pretty little girl with a mean stepmother and stepsisters made to work all day around the ranch and add a wacky fairy godmother with attitude and a golden six gun.


The fairy godmother makes her entrance as Cindy Ellen weeps because she can’t go to the rodeo with her stepsisters. When asked by Cindy Ellen to help her go to the rodeo, the fairy godmother responds,


“Magic is plumb worthless without gumption. What you need first gal, is some gravel in your gizzard. Grit! Guts! Stop that tomfool blubbering, and let’s get busy. Time’s a wastin’.”


So, in addition to the “creamy white Stetson, golden buckskin chaps and spurs set with diamonds as big as sugar lumps,” Cindy Ellen learns to believe in herself. She goes to the rodeo, wows the audience and the rancher’s son Joe Prince with her confidence and rodeo abilities and then rides home before midnight. The scene is repeated the next night for the square dance, Cindy Ellen is warned,


“Remember Miss Cindy, pretty is as pretty does, magic can backfire…”


After dancing with the handsome cowboy all night, Cindy barely leaves by the last stroke of midnight leaving behind a tiny spur with a big diamond on it. Joe Prince travels the countryside searching for the mystery cowgirl. When trying the spur on one of the sisters, who jammed her feet into too small boots, the spur fit for a second before “the boot split open, and her toes popped out like puppies from a basket.”


Cindy of course appears, the spur fits and they live happily ever after. What is interesting is Cindy’s family moves to town, the stepsisters marry city slickers and everyone lives happily ever after.


The illustrations are bright watercolors. Each two page spread has a full page illustration on one side and illustrations wrapped around the text on the other. The pictures are part of the story; the facial expressions are so descriptive the reader will smile. When Cindy’s spur fits, her stepsisters and stepmother glare from the opposite page while her horse laughs with delight.


This is a wonderful story especially for a little girl who might need a little dose of gumption and grit. The prose is very descriptive and actually almost sing-song in parts. It is filled with colloquialisms, rodeo terms and western phrases but with the vibrant illustrations, the reader knows exactly what is happening.


I brought home a large stack of Cinderella versions from the library to choose for this assignment. This one was picked because my daughter liked Cindy’s spirit and that Cindy had her own horse.


Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella isn’t the best, most thoughtful version of Cinderella available but it does show that with a little gumption, things can work out in the end.




San Souci, Robert D. 1998. A Weave of Words, an Armenian tale. Ill. by Raúl Colón. NY  Orchard Books. ISBN 0531300536


A Weave of Words, an Armenian tale retold by Robert D. San Souci and beautifully illustrated by Raúl Colón is a wonderful work of art. The story begins a bit like Beauty and the Beast with spoiled lazy Prince Vachagan and a beautiful hardworking Anait, daughter of a peasant. The prince meets her when out hunting, falls in love with her beauty and wisdom and asks for her hand in marriage. Anait refuses upon learning that the prince can not read or write and has no trade or skill. Prince Vachagan responds, “But one day I will be king!” Anait replies wisely, “Times change. A king may become a servant.” She asks that to prove his love he should learn to read and write and be able to create a handiwork of his own.”


Prince Vachagan returns to his palace, unable to forget Anait, he learns to read and write and through much perseverance to weave. They were married, and it became Anait’s turn to become the student. She learned to ride and use a sword and assisted her husband in governing the kingdom.


When trouble in the east threatens their kingdom, Vachagan, now king, rides out, dressed as a hunter, to investigate. He is taken prisoner by an evil dev and only saved from death because he claims to be able to weave carpets of great value. When one of his carpets is taken to the queen to purchase, she reads the message woven into its border and sets out to rescue her husband. After a horrific battle where Anait fought boldly even when her soldiers retreated, Vachagan is rescued.


The lush illustrations created with watercolor washes, etchings, colored and litho pencils enrich the well written text. As the storyline unfolds the illustrations mirror the action. The colors become more golden as the couple joyously marry and subtly change with shades of red and browns as Vachagan is imprisoned by the evil dev and chained in the cave. These mixed media illustrations are multi layered with a depth that draws the reader into the story as the words flow in harmony alongside.


The text ends with the grateful and happy couple exchanging “as many kisses as pomegranate has seeds.” And also with a wish for the reader—


“So they attained their heart’s desire, and may you likewise attain yours.”