Berney 5th graders Rheis Hair, Alleah Sedwick and Tori Matlock from Deborah Schade's class sat down with Walla Walla Kids Read visiting author Jon Scieszka for a student-led interview.
JS: Now where do you get your ideas?
RH: Uh, we'll be asking the questions here Mr. Scieszka...
JS: Oh, oh, I'm sorry, excuse me (hearty laughter). That's right. I got confused.
TM: If you could go anywhere in the whole wide world to brainstorm and write your books, where would it be?
JS: Wow! I think I would go to Walla Walla, Washington. It's one of the best spots, because it's got great wine, great fishing and crazy kids.
AS: Do you think you could ever figure out all of the math in the book you wrote "Math Curse"?
JS: Mmm ... maybe. Because some of them are unfigurable. Especially that one "What is the bus driver's name? True or false?"
RH: What inspired you to write "The Stinky Cheese Man"?
JS: I love fairy tales. And then my daughter's favorite story when she was growing up was "The Gingerbread Man" and she made me read it like a bazillion times 'til I just freaked out.
AS: This is like the slightly twisted version.
JS: Yes, this is exactly like the slightly twisted version.
TM: If you could choose to be a character out of any of your books, who would it be?
JS: I think I would be the guy from "Knucklehead" (Scieszka's autobiography). The second-oldest guy? That really good-looking guy. Stinky would be bad. Nobody likes him.
TM: If you had to be locked in a room with one of your brothers for two days, who would it be?
JS: Oh, that's terrible, two days? Probably Jeff, 'cause he's the littlest one. I could beat him up. So he's pretty strong now, maybe I should go with Brian. 'Cause Brian's the funny guy. I think Brian; yeah, I'll go with Brian.
AS: Is there something you wish you could have added to any of your books after they were published?
JS: Yeah, you know, more I think that I'd like to leave some stuff out, because sometimes when I re-read the story it seems like it's going on too long. But for something like "Stinky" and "Three Pigs" I kind of love exactly how they turned out.
RH: So what inspired you to be an author?
JS: I think just liking stories, cause I loved reading when I was little. I still do. Just read a bunch of stuff. And then teaching school for ten years. I taught first grade through eighth grade. What grade are you guys?
JS: Ah. The weirdest grade. You're stuck in between second grade and like eighth grade. But all those grades I taught kind of made me realize that they are my audience. They're like the perfect good audience. So you guys are a good inspiration.
AS: If you could fly back in time to one of the chapters in "Knucklehead" which chapter would it be?
JS: (Laughs.) I think I would go back to when we were like throwing dirt clods at Tom's head. 'Cause that was always fun, playing war. 'Cause they would make this great "poof" right on his head.
AS: What is one of your memories of childhood that you did not include in "Knucklehead"?
JS: Whoa. Yeah there are a lot of tricky ones, there's a lot of stuff that I didn't put in there, just 'cause it's even weirder than what's in there. Our best memory is like in the summertime and we would be on the lake and we would just stay on the lake all summer and fish.
TM: In "Squids Will Be Squids" did you write any of the morals based on real-life situations?
JS: Yes. In fact those are all based on my kids and their friends. I have two kids: my daughter Casey and my son Jake. And a lot of those are about Casey's friends. So even the squid is like this very annoying friend of hers. Don't tell her 'cause she doesn't know. And then the grasshopper is my son Jake who'd never do his homework until the last minute and then we'd find out he had a million things to do. And the elephant is actually me, who never calls until it's too late...All of those are from real life, which is kind of fun.
AS: What is your favorite type of cheese?
JS: I really do like all kinds of cheese.
AS: Stinky ones, primarily?
JS: Yes, I like lots of stinky ones like blue cheese. Well, though I also just like plain old American cheese, 'cause I got hooked on that as a kid. My mom would make me American cheese sandwiches.
AS: Did you have a certain type of cheese imagined for "The Stinky Cheese Man?"
JS: You know, I think I imagined something like a really nasty blue cheese. And then when I went on a book tour we went to some bookstores that would bring out really bad smelling cheese. And it was a terrible idea, because after about two seconds, the whole store smelled like someone ... had an accident. And people would walk into the store and say, " Your store smells awful ..." They didn't know it was supposed to be "Stinky Cheese."
RH: What would you say would be the best part about spending the summer in the mountains?
JS: I think just being able to get away and not think about all the other stuff that goes on...
RH: Same here.
JS: So do you get out once and a while and go fishing?
RH: Yeah. Me and my dad love to fish. That would be kind of my dream to just be able to go out in the mountains.
JS: That's exactly what I did growing up in the summer. We'd just be on the lake all summer long and just be fishing.
TM: Which one of your books took the longest to write?
JS: Probably "Math Curse." Because I was thinking about that one for a long time, but I couldn't really figure out a funny way to do a math book. In fact, when I told my editor I was going to make a math book, she kind of freaked out. She said, "Uhh, that's not funny." So that took like four or five years, just messing around with it.
AS: And it's pretty confusing; that'd be confusing to write.
JS: Once I thought of the idea of those problems, then it all kind of came together. And I thought, "Oh, I can just make up really hard problems, and that'll really drive people crazy."
AS: So you said you have two kids. Which one...
JS: Which is the nice one?
AS: Which one reminds you most of yourself when you were a kid?
JS: Well, it's kind of half-in-half. 'Cause my daughter Casey is a writer. She just published her own book because she traveled around the world. She lived in China for a while, then she lived for a while in West Africa. So she wrote a book about that. But then my son Jake also reminds me of me 'cause he's like wrestling around and wrestles Casey. He's a hockey player. He grew up playing hockey in high school and college. So it is kind of half-and-half. That's a good question!
RH: How did your mom and your parents react when they saw that you had ruined all of your model toys by setting them on fire and burning them?
JS: I don't think my mom noticed until later, like when she read "Knucklehead." 'Cause she said she found out a lot of things that she didn't know about before.
RH: Well, at least you're out of the house now!
JS: That's right! 'Cause we were just out in the backyard, or we'd go down to the park in the woods and she didn't know we were just lighting them on fire and blowing them up. And especially she didn't know we were lighting things on fire in the basement.
TM: Are you glad you were one of the older children in your family or not?
JS: I'm definitely glad I was one of the older ones. 'Cause I actually got clothes and food. 'Cause the little guys, they sometimes got our coats and our pants. In fact actually have some pictures of Tom and he's got our old Cub Scout pants, and they're like they're this high (gestures to mid-shin), and they're faded and not really blue anymore. So definitely better to be one of the older guys.
AS: So all of the bad things you did, when you wrote down all of the curse words and bad words on paper...
JS: (Grimacing) You guys really read "Knucklehead" closely, didn't you?
AS: ... And all of the bad things you did, like setting things on fire and putting "out" the heaters, do you think an average person's life would be the same as yours? As odd as yours?
JS: That's a good question. Because right at first, I had to write a book for my editor, and she said, "Why don't you just write those stories, about you and all your family?" And I said, "Nah, I think a lot of people have stories like that." And she said, " I don't think they do." So I don't know that they would have been exactly the same. 'Cause there was a bunch of weird stuff that happened. But you know as I've gone around and talked to kids at schools, I've heard some really great weird, fun stories from them. Like of different games they played. One little girl told me about a game she would play where they called it Tom and Jerry, like the cartoon cat and mouse. So one person got to be Tom, and they'd get the broom and everyone else would be Jerry. They'd turn off the lights in the living room and Tom would try to hit everyone with the broom.
RH: So how did your brother react when he was old enough to realize that you named him after Frank so you could use his toy guns?
JS: Well I don't think he knew that until he read the book also. He found out a lot of stuff. But he's a pretty calm brother. So he didn't react too much. And actually, Fred our next door neighbor, really liked it.
TM: If you were to be in one of the "Time Warp Trio" series books and were to fly back in time, which one would you want to be in?
JS: I think I'd like to go back to the Stone Age and hang out with the cave people. "Cause then you could be really smart. Like one day you could say, "I just thought up fire." Or "I just thought up the wheel. How about that?" You could be like the most famous caveman ever. They'd think you were brilliant. "I thought up a paperclip. I thought up a toothbrush."
AS: What book did you have the most fun writing?
JS: I had the most fun writing "Knucklehead." Just 'cause it was easy and I got to pick from all of the different weird stuff. I talked with my brothers and had them send me pictures. I'd talk to my mom about stuff. So that was like a whole bunch of weird stories. That was a lot of fun.
RH: Was it always your dream to be an author?
JS: No, I was thinking about being a lot of other things when I was growing up. When I was teaching school was when I realized, "That would really be fun." I was writing stories but not getting them published because nobody really liked them. And then I realized I should write for kids. And since then, it's the greatest job. 'Cause I just get to go around and make up stuff and get paid for it!
Special thanks to Michelle Shaul, Walla Walla Kids Read school liason and Green Park school librarian, for helping to prepare our student reporters.