Saturday, September 5, 2009


Biblio Bits Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka, Viking, 2008 (ISBN 9780670011384)

Reading Level/Interest Age 600/9-14

Genre Nonfiction, memoir

Plot Summary
Growing up in a family of 5 brothers (with only male pets!), Scieszka has many funny tales to share about his youth with readers. Although the subtitle alludes to some embellishment on the author's part, there are so many anecdotes that seem to ring true to life. There is a lot in this volume that has to do with living in a large family (sharing Halloween costumes and hand-me-downs) and growing up during the 1950s. Profiles of Scieszka's parents and grandparents, the disappointments of sending away for a toy from the back of a comic book, and the problems of having teachers who are also the wives of God (the nuns at his Catholic school) are sure to amuse readers of all ages. In lieu of illustrations, the book has many black and white photographs from the Scieszka family album.

Critical Evaluation
Short and funny chapters make this an obvious choice for reluctant readers, in addition to an eye-catching cover that looks like a comic book. It makes a fantastic read-aloud---if you don't mind pausing for your audience to get over their fits of giggles. A special favorite with my own family (35, 34, 10, 7) was the one where the boys were in a hurry to get out the door to church, so they decided to economize on time and encircle the toilet en masse. This meant that some of the shorter guys up front ended up getting peed on. Our second favorite was when the family cat ate a candy on a car trip and the brothers had a total barf-o-rama in the back seat. Scieszka has crafted an author autobiography, with all the right details, that kids will actually read. It seems like one that will be recommended by word of mouth!

Reader's Annotation
A kaPOW! of an author autobiography that gives the real scoop on what life is like in a family of six boys---smelly, funny, loud, and potentially hazardous!

Author Information
Appointed as the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature in 2008, Scieszka is the popular author many children's books, including the Time Warp Trio series. He studied creative writing at Columbia University in New York and was employed as a teacher at Trevor Day School, a private elementary school. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children. Information about his family and growing up in Flint, Michigan can be found within the pages of Knucklehead. (Author information in this biography was obtained at the author's website here and here.)

Challenge issues
There's bathroom humor here and no mistake! There are questions about God and religion that kids think about, told in a humorous way, which might offend the religious reader. There are also descriptions of the dumb things kids do (with warnings not to try these at home), like letting their younger brother eat a cigarette butt.

Booktalking Ideas
Author memoirs and autobiographies, stories about childhood, and funny stories are all natural themes for booktalks in which this title might be included.

Curriculum Ties
Again, not to be repetitive, but the obvious tie is to autobiography, mainly because it shows that even the smallest anecdotes can feature in an autobiography and be funny and poignant, adding to a portrait of a subject, time, and place.

Why this book?
In addition to being a great book for a reluctant (probably boy) reader and an excellent family read-aloud, this book might appeal to a reader from a small family to see how the big families get along. Funny, funny, and funny, with the family photos to prove it (like the sweater that is passed through the brothers and featured in several school pictures of different brothers).

ALA Notable book 2009, Maine Student Book Award reading list 2009-2010

Rockport Public Library owns?

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