Off the Shelf: The Stinky Cheese Man

I’m a big fan of fractured fairy tales. I mean, fairy tales are really easy targets. So many of them have plots that don’t make sense or they involve such ridiculous situations that it’s almost too easy to poke fun at them. Unless you’ve studied children’s literature or folklore. Then you, at least, have some framework for them. If you’re like the rest of us, you’re left wondering things like “Why does Rumpelstiltskin want first-born children?” and “How could the glass slipper have fit only Cinderella’s foot?”

Storytellers launch successful book series and TV franchises when they try to fill in the holes in the plot and puzzle the characters’ motivations.

That’s why I’m glad “The Stinky Cheese Man” doesn’t take itself too seriously. Do you remember this classic book?

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This one dates all the way back to 1992. It contains 10 (well, yeah, 10) re-told fairy tales and fables that basically make ruthless fun of the originals.

It’s narrated by Jack the Giant Killer.

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See the evil look in his eye?

Jack tries his best to steal the show, but the real star of this book is the artwork. Here’s Chicken Licken squalling that the sky is falling…

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…but she’s really just been hit by a number from the Table of Contents…

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…which falls and squashes her and her companions.

Some of the stories are fairly faithful to the originals, except for one detail. Take, “The Princess and the Pea” for example.

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Here’s Little Red Running Shorts and the Wolf. They actually refuse to tell their story when Jack spoils the ending upfront.

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Here’s the Ugly Duckling.

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He grows up into an actual ugly duck instead of a swan. (Unfortunately, this is one of life’s brutal truths.)

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Here’s the Giant threatening to grind Jack’s bones for his bread. Gross. But I do love the Giant’s huge triangular schnoz.

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Some of the tales are amalgamated abominations of several stories mixed into one. Cinderumplestiltskin is one example.

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Throughout the whole book, the Red Hen keeps interrupting asking who’s going to help her plant the wheat, harvest the wheat, grind the wheat, make the dough, bake the dough, etc…

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Another thing that’s great about this book is the crazy text. I’m sure the layout designers got a rare taste of freedom since they pretty much broke every design rule ever made. Here, for example, the Giant is huge, so the font for his words is correspondingly huge.

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Ah, here’s the Stinky Cheese Man (the Gingerbread Man’s alter ego).

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Ironically, nobody ever wants to actually catch the Stinky Cheese Man. They all basically run in the opposite direction.

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Even the Fox, who eats anything — even grandmothers — gagged on the Stinky Cheese Man. Don’t you love how the Fox’s teeth curl up and around? Ha.

There are a lot of books like this one, but the illustrations here are seriously fantastic. Lane Smith, the artist, has won “a lot of gold and silver stuff” according to his bio on the back jacket flap.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

How old do you think a kid should be before he or she starts reading fractured fairy tales like these? When do they actually get it?

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