• Happy birthday Johanna Hurwitz (Busybody Nora).
  • On the day in 1547, Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) is baptized in Alcala de Heraves, Spain. Read Don Quixote.
  • Washington Monument opens to the public in 1888. Read Mystery at the Washington Monument by Ron Roy, illustrated by Timothy Bush.
  • It’s Curious Events Day. Read Curious George by H. A. Ray.

Just when I think I can’t be surprised about the existence of a holiday, one comes along that amazes me. Today we celebrate Moldy Cheese Day. Molds play an important part in the production of delicious—but often stinky—blue cheeses like Roquefort and Gorgonzola. Even the milder Brie and Camembert get created by the introduction of a mold, a member of the Penicillium genus. But I digress; this column has been devoted to books, not molds or cheeses.

In 1992 I was Editor in Chief of the Horn Book Magazine when the most talented new duo of the decade, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, published their second book, one deliciously entitled The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. In it the creators play with everything from the title page to the bar code, and they give us fractured versions of classic fairy tales. “Little Red Riding Hood” becomes “Little Red Running Shorts” with quite a few liberties taken, and “The Gingerbread Man” becomes “The Stinky Cheese Man.” As the introduction announces with pride: “The stories in this book are almost Fairy Tales. But not quite. The stories in this book are Fairly Stupid Tales.”

The Stinky Cheese Man completely divided the Horn Book review staff. Some thought this book too sophisticated for children, relying as it does on an understanding of the story being spoofed. Others thought it hilarious on every page and spot on for the audience. At that time, we held review meetings where everyone came to the office to argue about which books would appear in the next issue. I sent people back to their libraries and classrooms, to try out the book with children. Those who were dubious to begin with said children found it confusing. Those who loved the book found a ready audience. As is so often true, research with children sometimes tells us more about the researcher than the child. At that point I realized that I was witnessing the kind of controversy that greets classic children’s books as they come into the world.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales would make a great impact on children’s books in the nineties, solidify the position of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith as children’s book geniuses, and keep children laughing for at least two decades. Every part of the book entertains; as a whole, it works brilliantly in its combination of design, art, and text.

The book won a Caldecott Honor for Lane Smith. Although Lane is, and continues to be, one of the most original and talented illustrators of his generation, he has never received the Caldecott Medal. I’ve always thought that fact a great miscarriage of justice. Well, maybe in the future. But in the meantime on Moldy Cheese Day, you can do no better than pick up a slice of Stilton and read The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairy Stupid Tales.

Here’s a page from The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales:


Originally posted October 9, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Fairy Tale, Humor
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales


  1. Barb says:

    They are a brilliant duo, but I am completely distracted by your book for tomorrow.
    I had Michael Dorris as a professor and found the class unforgettable, but I can no longer read his books because in this case I can’t separate the artist from the art.
    So I’m quite curious how you’re going to treat this.

  2. Anita says:

    Barb: Glad you want to read the essay. The short answer is that I look at the art.

  3. This is my ALL TIME FAVORITE! I have been carrying around a copy of this since I was a senior in high school. I got to meet Jon Scieszka at the LA SCBWI conference this summer, and I truthfully told him this book influenced both careers I have had: a librarian first, and a graphic designer second. This one is next to Go, Dog. Go! On my bedside table. :) Thanks for this!

  4. suzi w. says:

    I love these guys. I had a chance to write about Jon Scieszka at the PLA conference in Boston in 2006, he did one of those lunches. I remember him talking about when he was a 2nd grade teacher and the assignment was to write as a character in a fairy tale. His favorite one (and mine) was simply these words, “It was dark.” Jon pressed the boy, which character is this? The answer is priceless: the pea in The Princess and the pea.

  5. J.P. Blasko says:

    As a kid, I heard adults express concern that this book was in some ways too advanced for kids, and I never knew what they meant. (This was before I learned about metafiction). But I still though the book was hysterical. 20 years later, when I pick up this book, I read it differently than I did before, and get many of the jokes that are there for adults, or even for people who are more intimately familiar with publishing and design rules – and it’s stil hilarious! I think even if children aren’t getting all the jokes, any book that can make me laugh out loud as a child and an adult is pretty notable.

  6. Rachel G says:

    I’m so happy to see this on your blog! I absolutely loved this book when I was a kid, along with their other book “The true story of the three little pigs.” I couldn’t even tell you how many times I checked those two books out of the library!

  7. Tayyab Saeed says:

    Ah, the book I had been waiting for for so long! Well, well, well, it’s a nice surprise!

  8. Whitney says:

    This is one of the books I stole away with me when I left home. The most surprising part being, this is one of the books they Let me steal away-there were others I was refused. I couldn’t believe they’d just let such a hilarious work out of their hands. But hey, who am I to complain-I caught The Stinky Cheese Man!

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