This summer, All Things Considered is on the hunt for great reading recommendations. In our third installment — you can find the first here and the second here — children's book author Jon Scieszka shares some kid-friendly selections with NPR's Audie Cornish. Click the audio link above to find out what Scieszka loves about these books:
Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman
Dory Fantasmagory: Dory Dory Black Sheep (and the Dory Fantasmagory series) by Abby Hanlon
The 52-Story Treehouse (and The Treehouse Books series) by Andy Griffiths and illustrated by Terry Denton
Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever. edited by Betsy Bird
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
So how is that summertime reading working for you? Well, it might be a little challenging if you've got kids around. But, hey, you can toss them a book too. And if it's a funny one, they might even enjoy it. Joining us with summer reading recommendations is Jon Scieszka. He's the award-winning kid's author and editor of the "Guys Read" book collections. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
JON SCIESZKA: Wow thanks, Audie. I like that intro.
CORNISH: Oh, very nice. Well, I really sold it now.
SCIESZKA: Yeah, hard. I want to listen. Oh, wait. I'm talking about it.
CORNISH: Yeah, no. That's good. So there's something in the premise of that intro, which is that, like, maybe kids don't want to read. Do you still feel that way?
SCIESZKA: Yeah, you know what? There's that classic thing of so much competing for their interests.
SCIESZKA: But that's why I love funny books. It's all about - just like instead of telling kids like, hey, reading is magic. Reading is wonderful.
CORNISH: That doesn't work anymore?
SCIESZKA: No, that never worked. In fact, that makes them suspicious - rightly so.
CORNISH: Right (laughter). Magic - come on.
SCIESZKA: It's like, oh, wait. This is good for me.
CORNISH: Yeah, exactly.
SCIESZKA: And I don't believe in that. But when you say something like, hey, how about a book like "Vegetables In Underwear," they'll go like what. What did you just say?
CORNISH: Which is the actual title of an actual book you are suggesting to us.
SCIESZKA: Yeah (laughter).
CORNISH: I'm so excited. Tell me.
SCIESZKA: The best thing about it is it's just "Vegetables In Underwear." And it's pictures of vegetables in different underwear.
CORNISH: How does that even work - like a carrot?
SCIESZKA: They're kind of beautifully done by this guy I know Jared Chapman, who's the illustrator. And he just figured out how to put underwear - like little tighty-whities on broccoli...
SCIESZKA: ...Which is so good. Or the potato has underwear that doesn't quite fit, which Jared says is kind of autobiographical. But my favorite is on the actual hardcover, the case. The little pea is just running around throwing his underwear over his head. He's not even wearing it.
CORNISH: Now, my understanding of babies is that they kind of crack themselves up. But is there like - how soon can we start tickling a baby's funny bone?
SCIESZKA: Oh, at birth.
CORNISH: Really? It wasn't that funny at the time, Jon Scieszka.
SCIESZKA: Oh, yeah. Maybe that's a guy saying that.
CORNISH: A little later.
SCIESZKA: A little later - good call. Actually, that's an excellent tip. Wait a little bit. But, man, I don't know. I've got a granddaughter who's like 9 months old or so now. And she is out there. She just finds stuff really funny.
CORNISH: I want to move on to early readers. You've brought us two titles. One I'm going to have a tough time pronouncing. So I don't know how a little kid is going to do it - "Dory Phantasmagory."
CORNISH: And another one called "52-Story Treehouse."
SCIESZKA: Yeah. The great thing about both of those is they're both series, which I also love to connect kids to, because once they get started with something they like, you just give them more of the same.
CORNISH: So they're bingeing basically - is what you're telling me.
SCIESZKA: And I've had kids come back and ask like, do you have another book just like that but not exactly. And "Dory Phantasmagory" is this great little - it's a story of this kindergarten girl with imaginary friends. And she's just the funniest little character. And she's just all crabby - even about learning to read. One of my favorites is she gets a new book. And it's just like a farm animal book. The cows love to eat grass. They're happy. And here she is sounding it out. The cow love-ee (ph) to ee-at (ph) at ga-ga-something (ph), garbage? Hai-pee (ph), what the heck is hai-pee? (Laughter) And it's just like this great representation of what kids do when they're trying to read. It's impossible.
But it's really fun. And I've had a bunch of like first graders just take off with that - same with the "Treehouse" book. Little second and third graders come up to me and just say, oh, man, you got to see all the stuff in the treehouse. It's these two guys with the most amazing treehouse in the world. And they just keep adding stuff to it. And now they're up to like - they've gone through all the different stories. They keep adding 13 more. So we've done 13, 26, 39, 52, 65, 78. And now we're at 91 - "The 91-Story Treehouse."
CORNISH: Nice, there's going to be some parents out there who thank you for handing them this series.
SCIESZKA: Yes, keep this. And it's a big thick book too, so kids just feel so good about having read it. Like, they say, I just read a 200 - no - a 350-page book.
CORNISH: Well, that is legit impressive frankly.
SCIESZKA: Heck, yeah. I'm impressed.
CORNISH: Now, you also have a collection called "Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever." And that's a compilation. Lay it out for us. What age group is this for?
SCIESZKA: That's probably older. I would say like third, fourth, fifth grade, sixth grade on up. And it was put together by one of the most spectacular children's book people Betsy Bird, who used to be the children's collection librarian here in New York Public Library. She's now in Chicago. But she just knows tons of artists and writers and illustrators. She just realized - like kind of trying to confront that old saw that like, you know, women aren't that funny. She said, oh, yeah, they are. I got some.
CORNISH: Oh, god, does it start that early?
SCIESZKA: Yeah, it kind of does.
CORNISH: I thought I was pretty funny back then (laughter).
SCIESZKA: I know. And Betsy is hysterical herself. So she collected all her - like her funny pals. I mean, one of my favorites in here is a graphic novel piece by Lisa Brown, who's done some beautiful picture books too. And it's just like seven things that I thought were funny. But most of them happened to her brother, like the time he got the Tic Tac stuck up his nose.
CORNISH: Is this a younger brother because that feels like it - of course.
CORNISH: Of course.
SCIESZKA: He had to go to the doctor.
CORNISH: Well, this is a great start. Jon Scieszka, thank you so much.
SCIESZKA: Oh, my pleasure.
CORNISH: John Scieszka is author of, among others, the "Frank Einstein" series and the classic "The Stinky Cheese Man And Other Fairly Stupid Tales." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.