Let me start by saying we love Jon Scieszka, and are big fans of his brand of humor. "Math Curse" is one of my son's favorite books (I reviewed this for Amazon), and I have a great deal of respect for him as an author and as an ambassador for children's literature. And I think that is what makes me all the more disappointed in the stories he chose as the editor for "Guys Read: Funny Business". The majority of the stories were not very funny, and some were down right disturbing with the violence and choice of material that was portrayed. The back flap of the book says, "Jon founded Guys Read to encourage a passion for reading among young boys, with the philosophy that boys love to read most when they are reading things they love", and to me that is an excellent mission statement for a series. However, I do not instill many of the values in my children that were written about in these stories, and I am not going to give this book to my 10 year old to read. Here is a sampling of the short stories Scieszka hopes will tickle the funny bone of your 8-12 year old boy:
1. In the story "Will" by Adam Rex, the author has the hero of the story refer to teachers as "...a bunch of stupid, brainless, blouse-apes" and tells of a story recounting a time in the past, when Will's brother was in the fifth grade and he and a couple of other friends discovered a magic tree house that could travel through time and had taken all kinds of funny adventures. "But in high school they lost interest in time travel and it mostly became a magical place to smoke...". Very nice indeed. A fine lesson to teach 10 year old boys! Smoking in a tree house.
2. In the story, "What, You Think You Got it Rough", the author spends many pages talking about a grandfather who beats his grandchildren with a switch, and has the aforementioned grandfather retell a story to his grandson about the day his father taught the family a lesson about appreciating all he had done for them by ripping off fake nipples from his chest, only to have one of his children eat them (he used the end pieces of hot dogs for the nipples). To wit, a sassy Chester asks his grandfather what he intends to do with the switch to which the grandfather replies, "What'm gonna do with this stick? I'm gonna smote you, that's what. And I know you ain't got no idea what that word means, so I'm gonna demonstrate, and I'll bet by the end of this demonstrating "smote" is one word you won't soon be forgetting". Papa Red didn't even need to move his wheelchair. He sat there and commenced wailing on Chester from ten feet off! The way he was swinging that switch, Papa Red looked like he was a conductor from the Flint Symphony Orchestra waving a baton during some big, busy, rushy song like Beethoven's Ninth. Every time the switch hit Chester it would go, "pie-ow!" and Chester would yelp like a Chihuahua. I know I should've tried to stop Papa Red but the way that switch was ripping through the air, I figured I didn't want to be any part of what they call "collateral damage." "Momma must have heard the crack of six or seven "pie-ows!" and six or seven of Chester's screams before she finally came to see what the commotion was about. She's not as worried about collateral damage as I am and took two good whacks before she snatched the switch away from Papa Red." And as Papa Red retells the story of the day his father pretends to pull the fake nipples off his chest, he recounts, "Would a bum risk this for some trifling, low-life babies?", referring to his ungrateful, young children. Goodness, it just warms my heart to hear a grandfather talk like this to his grandson, and hit his grandchildren like he did. Just really, really heartwarming stuff...I wonder if Disney will option this book for the movie rights?
UPDATE: Since I first reviewed this book, I did give my 10 year son the book to look at and asked him to read this story from it. This is the one he chose. When I asked him what he thought about the story, he said, "the grandfather is really mean, and it wasn't really nice that he kept hitting the kids." When I asked him if he thought the story was funny, he said no, the thought it was a mean story and he did not think it was funny at all.
3. In the story "The Bloody Souvenir", Jack Gantos writes this treasure for your young reader. A mischievous boy heads to the Emergency Room with his mother, and the following dialog ensues. "Well...I said, getting ready to tell him (the doctor), when I made a mistake and glanced at my mom. That big fist of hers was still making circles above her shoulder, and she was squinting at me like she wanted to split my skull. One wrong word and I knew she would knock me to the other side of the room." And on their return trip to the ER, "I got in to the car as if I were taking a ride to where I would met a firing squad. The whole way there she drove with one hand on the wheel and the other balled up into a red fist and aimed at me...". And earlier in the story he writes about two boys, who were always up to dangerous pranks, in this exchange, "Gary wanted to have a cigarette-smoking contest to see who could suck through a pack the fastest, and I stood up and said, "No way am I doing that!" "Why not?" Gary asked, and took a quick step toward me as he reached for his knife, which was tucked into his back pocket. "Because smoking will kill you, I smugly replied. "Ask anyone." "What if I kill you first?" he suggested, and opened his knife, which was sharp as a razor. "What is worse? A knife through the neck or a pack of smokes? Answer me that, brain-boy". Random Question: Is that funny? Don't you think 8 year old boys will roll on the floor with laughter after reading that? This book is supposed to be filled with funny stories targeted to kids that might still be in second grade, and I fail to see why a story like this was added to a book for this age group.
Do 8-12 year old boys really find humor in this type of writing? I'm pretty sure most of the boys I work with in my son's guided reading groups at school would not. Humorous writing to me includes books like Dan Gutman's "My Weird School Daze" series or Jeff Kinney's "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series, or most books written by Andrew Clements. They have good, clean humor, not angry, fist waving mothers and grandfathers beating their grandchildren with a switch. I just do not understand why stories like these are considered humorous. I personally do not think that these are the types of things that boys in elementary school need to be reading about, let alone offering them as the types of stories to hook young boys on reading. We don't need anymore glorified violence aimed at boys this age group, and many of the stories this book felt more like gratuitous violence than the humor that was intended.
On a positive note, there were some cute short stories included in the book, but they were few and far between. Kudos go out to Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka for a 5 star story called "Dear Lady Author" that has a student writing to an author to help him with a teacher mandated research assignment, and played out in my mind exactly as I imagined it must be like for authors bombarded by these mind-numbing requests, along with a surprise twist of an ending, and to "A Fistful of Feathers" by David Yoo that has a young boy outsmarting a maniacal turkey that quickly became more the family pet and less the family's Thanksgiving dinner. "Best of Friends" by Mac Barnett was a pleasant, age appropriate story about a boy who will do just about anything to make the rest of the kids at his school like him, including the whopper of a lie he concocted in which he tells his classmates that has won tickets to tour the Nestle Quik Chocolate Milk factory and can take just one friend with him to "ride down the chocolate slide". A bidding war ensues as each child tries to become his best friend, and the outcome is pretty predicable, but it teaches kids a thing or two about friendship and the lengths children will go to in order to like and be liked on the playground of middle school madness. Jeff Kinney's story was not included in the uncorrected proof, though it should be in the final version, so there is nothing to report about his offering to the book. I can only hope it follows the humor of his "Wimpy Kid" offerings, which my son thoroughly enjoys. The rest of the stories were mildly interesting, but none that I found to be all that humorous.
My hope is that if there is a follow up to Guys Read, the authors and content chosen for the book are more kid friendly, and that it is a book you can feel good about letting your child read. I did not feel good about this particular installment in the Guys Read series, so the book will be donated to my local library, and not put on my son's bookshelf. The idea of writing good books with interesting authors for this age group and demographic has such potential, and the need is definitely there, unfortunately, this one did not hit the mark. I am hoping for much better things in the next installment.