Oh we love us some Jon Scieszka around here (author of many fabulous books like the True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told by A. Wolf, and the Stinky Cheese Man)! We jumped at the chance to meet him at a book signing when we were in CA last fall. Every once in a while, it's a little disappointing to meet an author in person because they don't live up to the expectations of them that you've dreamed up in your head. That was not the case with Scieszka; he was EXTREMELY personable and funny in real life.
First off, how to pronounce his name; Scieszka rhymes with Fresca. At the time he was touring for his book Cowboy & Octopus so he read it aloud to the crowd. In reading this book on my own, I thought it very funny, but a little over most kids' heads, but it had all the tiny members of his audience rolling. He explained that he created this book because some of his favorite books were books about two friends like George and Martha, Frog and Toad so why not Cowboy and Octopus. An interesting fact I didn't observe the first time that I read the book is that Cowboy and Octopus are supposed to be clipped from something else so in each illustration they always look the same. It's really fun to page through the illustrations and see how Lane Smith Managed to pull that one off.
And speaking of Lane Smith, Jon pointed out that Lane Smith turns his illustrations over to his wife, Molly Leach, who is in charge of book design (end papers, where the text goes, the title page, etc.). Talented family, eh?
Other interesting tidbits? Jon grew up with five brothers who all blamed each other for everything that went wrong. he thinks if the wolf had a brother of a dog to blame, the True Story of the Three Little Pigs never would have taken place. Jon's favorite book beginning is The Frog Prince Continued.
Now Jon is working on an autobiography, but it's about his youth, not his grown-up years. He says he'll be including things like the time his big brother Ted was left to babysit and Jon and his brothers used his dad's ties to tie Ted to the bed.
A new author introduced Jon, so new in fact that his first book hasn't been released yet. Jon says to watch for Billy Twitter's Blue Whale Problem by Mac Barnett because Mac is one of the funniest people he knows.
Two big things involving Jon have happened since this book talk. First was the release of Smash! Crash! the first book in Jon Scieszka's Trucktown Series. Jon has been a big part of the movement to get more boys to enjoy reading because the statistics of how many boys give up reading for fun and flounder in their reading comprehension are dismal. He even started the site http://www.guysread.com/ and he wrote the Time Warp Trio series just to appeal to boys at that key age. Now Jon is starting younger with his new Trucktown picture book series. Studies show that both most boys prefer reading non-fiction, but most teachers want them to read literary fiction so both of Jon's series strive to meld non-fiction with literary fiction and provide kids with fun storylines chock full of interesting information. The publishing work is all abuzz about the Trucktown series, because it really is the first of it's kind. Jon has a deal for over 50 books in many different formats over the next three years so keep an eye out for picture books, board books, easy readers, and pretty much anything else that you can think of. But how will one illustrator possibly illustrate over 50 books in 3 years? Well, they won't. Three illustrators (David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon) collaborated to created the car characters and their world and came up with the illustrations for the first book. Word is from here on out they will be working with a team of digital artists to create illustrations for the other books while maintaining their hand-painted appearance. Should be interesting to see how it all works out.
Oh, I said two big things, didn't I? Well, a few months ago, Jon was selected by the library on congress to be the first ever Ambassador of Young People's Literature. Fancy title, huh? Well this teacher turned author really cares about kids and works hard to help each of them harbour a love of literature so the title is well deserved.