TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka (Pronunciation: Shess Ka) was born in Flint, Michigan. He graduated from Albion College with a B.A. degree in 1976. He had been studying a pre-medicine course and was accepted at Johns Hopkins Medical School, but he was also accepted at Columbia University for their School of the Arts graduate writing program. He and his wife, who is an art director, decided upon Columbia and he earned his M.F.A. degree in 1980.

He has had various jobs, such as painter and carpenter. He had originally intended to be a writer of novels. Then was "sidetracked," as he puts it, by teaching first and second grade. For many years he was an elementary school teacher at The Day School in New York City.

Scieszka came to write books for children by "hanging out with second graders," he told Stephanie Zvirin in a Booklist magazine interview. The children in his class wrote stories and read a lot, and after he met illustrator Lane Smith, he decided to take a year off from teaching and try to write his own books. He painted an apartment for a lawyer who, when he learned that Scieszka wanted to write, offered him an empty office to work in. For a year he used the office like an artist's studio in which to write.

During this year he wrote The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and he and Smith collaborated on a dummy book, with the art and text roughly sketched in. Because of the unusual nature of the book, which was a parody of fairy tales, it was rejected by several houses, but he knew children would like it. "Turning something upside down or doing something wrong is the peak of what's funny to second graders," he told Zvirin.

Regina Hayes, an editor at Viking, knew and liked Lane Smith's artwork, but didn't have a story for the illustrations. Smith showed Scieszka's manuscript, and Viking published it. It sold out in the first few weeks. It offers an alternate, comic explanation of the story's familiar events, as told to Scieszka by "A. Wolf."

In The Stinky Cheese Man, also illustrated by Lane Smith, the table of contents falls and crushes everyone, and a title page is filled with the text of a discussion of assorted fairy tale characters, in different type fonts and sizes. The book was designed by Molly Leach. Critic Roger Sutton described the book as having a "new sensibility," stating in a review in The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books that children can appreciate the parody of the tales. They can "cherish Cinderella," he writes. "The fondness for the first is the only thing that allows us to laugh at the second."

Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith collaborated on six other books, including the "Time Warp Trio" series, which includes The Knights of the Kitchen Table, The Not-So-Jolly Roger, The Good, the Bad, and the Goofy, Your Mother Was a Neanderthal, and 2095.

Scieszka wrote another book that expands and distorts a fairy tale, The Frog Prince, Continued. It was illustrated by Steve Johnson. His Math Curse, illustrated by Lane Smith, was conceived as a way to write a funny book about math, and it was inspired, he says, by the way some of his "less accomplished" students viewed the world of mathematics.

The Stinky Cheese Man was named an Honor Book in the 1993 Randolph Caldecott Medal awards, given by the American Library Association. It was also named an ALA Notable Book of the Year, and a 1992 Best Illustrated Book of the Year by The New York Times. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs won the Silver Medal from the New York Society of Illustrators. The Book That Jack Wrote and Math Curse were named Book-of-the-Month Club selections, as were three of the Time Warp Trio books.