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Top 100 Picture Books #91: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

#91 The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1992)
21 points

I found this when I was in high school (I have much younger siblings, which was probably how I was getting access to picture books in those days) and laughed so much I took it in to share with my friends at school. There we were, a bunch of high schoolers backstage at musical rehearsals, reading a picture book aloud to each other and snorfling a lot. My favorite Scieszka. – Amy M. Weir

Never met a kid who didn’t love this book. – Becky Fyolek

And the man of cheese stank takes a hit!  A big hit, it seems.  Down from #36 on the previous poll he sinks down down down to #91.  How to account for this?  One might wonder if the Stinky Cheese Man now has so many imitators that he’s near forgotten today.  A generation of writers is cropping up who grew up on Scieszka and Lane’s classic.  Klassen and Barnett.  Rex and Brown.  Little Stinky Cheese Man is still here, but will he continue to fall in the future?  That’s the question.

I think my encapsulation of The Stinky Cheese Man is best said by people other than myself.  Read this Jon Scieszka article from the Horn Book about design for starters.

And here’s a plot synopsis from Amazon: “If geese had graves, Mother Goose would be rolling in hers. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales retells–and wreaks havoc on–the allegories we all thought we knew by heart. In these irreverent variations on well-known themes, the ugly duckling grows up to be an ugly duck, and the princess who kisses the frog wins only a mouthful of amphibian slime. The Stinky Cheese Man deconstructs not only the tradition of the fairy tale but also the entire notion of a book. Our naughty narrator, Jack, makes a mockery of the title page, the table of contents, and even the endpaper by shuffling, scoffing, and generally paying no mind to structure. Characters slide in and out of tales; Cinderella rebuffs Rumpelstiltskin, and the Giant at the top of the beanstalk snacks on the Little Red Hen. There are no lessons to be learned or morals to take to heart–just good, sarcastic fun that smart-alecks of all ages will love.”

What’s funny to me is that back in the day Publishers Weekly was NOT  charmed, “Grade-school irreverence abounds in this compendium of (extremely brief) fractured fairy tales, which might well be subtitled ‘All Things Gross and Giddy.’ . . . The collaborators’ hijinks are evident in every aspect of the book, from endpapers to copyright notice. However, the zaniness and deadpan delivery that have distinguished their previous work may strike some as overdone here. This book’s tone is often frenzied; its rather specialized humor, delivered with the rapid-fire pacing of a string of one-liners, at times seems almost mean-spirited.”

Didn’t really matter since it got a Caldecott anyway.

Booklist was a little more positive with its, “Every part of the book bears the loving, goofy stamp of its creators, and while their humor won’t appeal to everyone, their endeavors will still attract a hefty following of readers–from 9 to 99.”

Kirkus liked it a bit more still: “Parodic humor here runs riot…irrepressibly zany fun!” (parodic?)

And School Library Journal followed all this up with, “Clearly, it is necessary to be familiar with the original folktales to understand the humor of these versions. Those in the know will laugh out loud.”

I can’t resist.  The musical I talked about earlier?  Well, here’s some shaky camera work of it:

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I’m never sure if it was cause or effect.

    When this book showed up among my four slightly left-of-center young children it was instantly venerated to biblical heights.

    Now I don’t know if that was because it spoke to their sideways look at the world or if it played a major role in creating the slightly left-of-center adults they are today.

    Will someone please answer in the affirmative and tell me that out there somewhere is a plush or plastic action figure of Mr. Stinky Cheese?

  2. I wonder if we’ll see other (perhaps newer) Scieszka books on the list. I’m regretting a bit that I didn’t put The True Story of the Three Little Pigs on my list (but some titles had to go)–and if it doesn’t make it, I might regret it even more! That’s one of my standard titles when asked to read at a literacy night or an elementary class. Even if many of the students have read it/heard it (and I’ve never encountered a class or group in which several children know it), they are excited to hear it again.

  3. David Ziegler says

    While happy to see it on the list, I wa hoping to see this fave of mine go higher, not lower. This was also a staple for me for older kids’ storytimes or on school visits. Could the drop be due to less familiarity with the classic folk and fairy tales? I hope not.

  4. My son won a 6th-grade storytelling festival by telling “The Stinky Cheese Man.” He was awesome, if I do say so myself, but that was because he highlighted stellar material.


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