The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

While you were laughing with the rest of your third-grade class as Chicken Licken got crushed under the table of contents, your parents and teachers were quietly patting themselves on the back. The twisted and subversive nature of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales tricked an entire generation of grade school children into discovering that reading could be, in fact, kind of fun.

Written by the American children’s book author Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales was a postmodern and slightly bent reimagining of popular fairy tale stories including Little Red Riding Hood, the Princess and the Pea, and The Tortoise and the Hare. The collection was published in 1992 by Viking and went on to win the New York Times award for Best Illustrated Book. Smith was also honored with a Caldecott honor for his evocative and humorous illustrations. Narrated by Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, The Stinky Cheese Man characters interact directly with their reading audience and stumble into or intrude on one another’s sections. In that sense, the book’s structure resembles more of a theatrical play than a traditional book which made it especially fun to read aloud.

Because of books like The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and television shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, an entire generation of young people were introduced to the surreal and bizarre world of post-modern storytelling. While the themes explored in the collection were actually a lot more complex than most adults realized at the time, any intellectualism was offset by entertaining and gross characters like an animated hunk of smelly cheese who frightens the other characters away with his horrible stench. While we may never know the true impact that these grotesque and subversive characters had on our developing minds, it’s safe to say that they left a lasting impact.

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