Author Archives: Kristi Fleetwood

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Published in 1992, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales won the New York Time’s “Best Illustrated Book” award and was named a Caldecott Honor Book.   The illustrated book follows Jack as he attempts to piece together the book. Frequently, the book breaks the fourth wall, as Jack and some of the characters are directly aware that they exist in an illustrated book that is currently being read. Most importantly, the book is a parody of popular fairy tales.

For example, the first story is “Chicken Licken.” From the beginning, the story seems no different than the traditional tale. Chicken Licken runs around town telling everyone that “The sky is falling!” Opposite of the first page, Chicken Licken is drawn large and green with far apart eyes, glasses, and a mouth open in clear panic. A tile with the number “12” bounces off his head. However, “the sky wasn’t falling. The Table of Contents was. It fell and squashed everybody” (Scieszka and Smith). Over two pages, we can see parts of Chicken Licken, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosy, Cocky Locky, and Foxy Loxy peeking out from underneath the crumpled table of contents, a cloud of dust surrounding them.

Throughout the book, The Little Red Hen appears abruptly, complaining about the disappearance of the other characters who were supposed to help her. Rather than getting any work done, she gets eaten by the Giant that Jack faces off against. Her words often appear in large red font, abrasive in comparison to Jack’s small black font. Jack has just put Giant to sleep when Little Red Hen appears; her large red font wakes Giant. Excited by the bread she is complaining about, he sits up, wide eyed. On the next page, Giant holds a sandwich with feathers sticking out. Little Red Hen’s legs poke out one side of his mouth while he cleans his teeth with a feather. Jack smiles as he runs away on the facing page.   The Little Red Hen repeatedly disrupts Jack’s ability to put together a cohesive book; by putting her end on the page facing “The End,” there is a certain humor to her death.

As Mcgillis points out, “children’s humor depends largely on the body. Not entirely, but largely. Slapstick, caricature, parody, the grotesque, ridicule, and the improbable in human predicaments concern the body, and so too does nonsense” (McGillis 258). He goes on to mention the importance of names and size in relation to that humor. Regardless of what aspect of the body, there seems to be a subversive act to the humor.  With The Stinky Cheese Man, fairy tales are parodied, where classic elements are subverted, critiquing the moral message of the original tale.  There is nothing to gain from the individual stories. “Chicken Little” is often a moral tale of courage (or if the fox ends up eating Chicken Little, it is a tale about not believing everything you are told). That moral is removed when the Table of Contents crushes everyone. Similarly, “Little Red Riding Shorts” ends with Little Red walking away with the wolf annoyed that Jack ruined their story by giving it all away in advance. There is no moral to gain from walking in the woods alone.

While The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales actively works against moral lessons, the book does have a didactic element. Through Jack’s constant missteps, the reader learns about the elements of book: narrator, characters, title page, table of contents, etc. An element that is kept in the play version, but now it’s the elements of the play that are being interrupted and misplaced. (Also, I think the play is really interesting since it’s children’s bodies that are performing the stories from the book, but we can talk about that more in class).


If you’re not familiar with the book, check out this website.

Discussion Questions for Skim

  1. At moments in the text, Kim (Skim) disappears into lines.  What is the significance of her disappearance in those moments?  When does shading put her firmly on the page?  How are these moments contrasted?
  2. The novel starts with Kim’s diary entry: “Dear Diary, Today Lisa said, ‘Everyone thinks they are unique.’ That is not unique!!”  The entry sits on top of a white page that is split in half by leaves blowing in the breeze.  Rather than introduce us to the main character, the novel introduces us to her regurgitation of someone else’s words.  What is the significance of hearing before seeing the characters?  Why do Lisa’s thoughts seem more prominent than Kim’s, whose “That is not unique” is written below, like an afterthought?
  3. The novel begins with Kim and Lisa as friends and ends with Kim and Katie as friends.  How do their friendships differ?  How does GCL function?  Is there a female care community present?  What defines “true” friendship?
  4. The novel is decidedly female.  Men play secondary, fleeting parts in Kim’s narrative.  What is the effect on the narrative?  On the characters?
  5. Kim catches Katie vandalizing the GCL board, suggesting that this is not the first time she has done this.  Later, the photo of John on the GCL board is seen with “fag” written on the forehead.  Is Katie implemented in this act?  If so, how does that change her relationship with Kim?  Is there relationship merely friendship or more?  [Also, is the heart symbol Ms. Archer draws on both their casts a beacon of their connected nature, or simply, a mark to show that Ms. Archer has given both of them extra (and inappropriate due to her position and age) attention?]

Secondary Source for Skim

For next week, I wanted to attach the following two articles.  However, I know we are asked to only attach one, so I will be mostly talking about “Affect and the Body,” but I will be pulling in references to “Ideological Interpellation.”

When reading Skim, I was torn about where I wanted to take discussion.  Female friendship and care communities present an interesting point of discussion in relation to Kim and Lisa, Kim and Katie, GCL, and the girls’ school.  But also, bodies and eating disorders play a significant supporting role in the female characters’ development.  Since we have an interesting article on female friendship, I decided to go with body, eating disorders, and identity.

In Patti Luedecke, “Affect and the Body in Melville’s ‘Bartleby’ and Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s Skim,” Luedecke explores the way body, consumption, affect, and identity work together in both texts.  By juxtaposing “Bartleby” to Skim, she allows different perceptions of body, identity, and race to be discussed across time, culture, and genre.


Affect and Body in Bartleby and Skim


How to Be Yourself- Ideological Interpellation, Weight Control, and YA Novels


Blog Post on Wonder

  1. What roles do race and class play in the socioeconomic dynamics of August’s middle school?  August is Jewish and Brazilian and  Summer is biracial.  Jack is white, but he lives on the “wrong” side of Broadway.  In comparison, Julian is white and extremely rich.  Is there a message of universal understanding of oppression?
  2. What rhetorical strategies are used to display disability?  Was this a conscious choice?  Was it well executed?  Did it add to the story?  Specifically, I’m thinking of Justin never using capital letters (and we can also talk about how August never gives physical descriptions, whereas Via gives lengthy descriptions).
  3. Mr. Tushman knows about the bullying, but he chooses to ignore it (this is reminiscent of Dumbledore knowing about how the Dursley’s treated Harry, but didn’t do anything about it).  Why did he do this?  Is the reasoning of “knowing oneself” and “personal growth” enough to not intervene? [I know the other post raises a similar question, but I want to reiterate it here because I think it’s an important issue.  Why must adults let children suffer in order for them to “succeed”?]
  4. Speaking of bullying, this novel is taught in middle school to start a conversation about bullying.  Do you think this is an effective lesson?  Or, is it completely ignoring the larger bildungsroman of multiple characters by focusing on Auggie’s “disability?”  Are we, then, promoting a form of ableism by focusing on the “disability” over all else?
  5. Speaking of ableism, the novel was written by an able-bodied woman whose child reacted negatively to someone else’s facial abnormality.  Does this change the way we view the narrative?