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Children’s book showcase

Children’s book showcase: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the fifth book in my collection of inspiring children’s books. This time it’s going to be one of my personal childhood favourites – a book straight from the 90s!


The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith and designed by Molly Leach

Badge of greatness for the hilariously odd stories and extraordinarily entertaining design



“A long time ago, people used to tell magical stories of wonder and enchantment. Those stories were called Fairy Tales. Those stories are not in this book. The stories in this book are almost Fairy Tales. But not quite. The stories in this book are Fairly Stupid Tales.”

The memory of my dad reading this book to my 7-year-old sister and my 9-year-old self is one of the clearest childhood memories I have about books. The reading experience of this one was quite special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was written in English, so my parents simultaneously translated it to us. Secondly, the stories were so amusing and the design was so playful that I can still vividly picture us sitting on a bed looking at the graphic details and laughing at them together. This book has been incredibly dear to me ever since – so much so that it’s pretty much impossible to look at it objectively without walking down the memory lane!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is a collection of parodies of popular children’s stories. The stories are tied together through some reappearing characters and the narrator Jack, who introduces the stories and deals with the rest of the cast. 

The stories in the book are extremely funny to begin with, but they would not make such a strong impact without the expressive illustrations AND the design. It’s typically said that it’s the combination of text and illustrations that either makes or breaks a children’s book. However, in this case the design plays a key role as well, bringing all the different elements together into an all-around amusing entity. In fact, the author of the book, Jon Scieszka, wrote an insightful article called “Design Matters”, which shows first hand what a difference Molly Leach’s designs made for The Stinky Cheese Man and some other books.

And what about the characters? Well, they exaggerated and very outspoken, both in text and images. There’s dissatisfied, nagging Little Red Hen and a truly crazy-looking Ugly Duckling, just to mention a few. Created by an acknowledged illustrator Lane Smith, the characters show a range of strong emotions from fearful to angry, disappointed, greedy and surprised. It’s very interesting to observe how Lane Smith has translated these feelings into the illustrations using a variety of techniques from painting to collage. And here’s a fun fact: Lane Smith and the book’s designer Molly Leach are actually a couple, who have collaborated on many of the books written by Jon Scieszka. Quite a super trio, I would say! When asked about their working process, Lane answered: “Jon writes a story, gives it to me, I work out the art, give it to Molly, she works out the type then we all get together and tweak stuff. Then we turn it in.” (Quote from www. blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings)

I keep on finding myself drawn to books that are charmingly absurd. This is a realization that has led to some self-reflection: when I am working on my own story ideas (yep, I’ve got a couple!), I tend to be Very Serious about it. Naturally, I want to bring my stories to life in the best way possible, which often leads me to just thinking and doing research instead of actually creating anything. It feels my stories are in danger of becoming watered-down by my over-analytical approach. I should definitely try to keep the process more light-hearted and leave some space for absurdities. After all, I can relate to this thought of Lane Smith:

“I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books.” Quote from www.lanesmithbooks.com

Children’s book showcase: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

Tadaa, it’s time to introduce the fourth book in my collection of inspiring children’s books: a book written and illustrated by Peter Brown (who has sort of become my illustration hero).


Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Badge of greatness for the expressive illustrations and visual storytelling


One day at a children’s book shop, a beautifully green cover caught my eye. My hand reached for it, and almost immediately after opening the book it became clear: I would need this title to be part of my children’s book collection!

Now that book is in my bookshelf, and it is called Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. It’s a story about a tiger, who gets bored with the conventional life in his conventional hometown, where he lives with animals, who embrace being proper. Mr. Tiger begins to express his wilder side and little by little builds up the courage to break free from the rules of convention. The wild behaviour of Mr. Tiger affects the entire town and eventually leads to everyone questioning the way they have been living. It’s a beautiful, uncomplicated story about being yourself and accepting others as they are.

Story-wise, the text has been kept straight-forward and minimal, making the book an ideal read even for small children. However, whilst the text is simple, the book offers plenty of variety when it comes to visual storytelling. Peter Brown has certainly stepped away from the conventional (pun intended!) text-between-images kind of layout that so often dominates children’s book design. Creative use of the gutter, playful speech bubbles and fully illustrated spreads with no text at all carry the plot in a visually strong manner, highlighting the turning points in the story.

The illustration style in the book is absolutely wonderful. I love the contrasting combination of geometrical shapes, straight lines and soft, organic paint textures. The book’s colour palette is also cleverly aligned to the different elements in the story; grey shades add to the feeling of convention, lush tones of green express the wilder side of things and the bright orange colour of Mr. Tiger sets him apart from the other characters. Brown has also done a great job at keeping the characters fairly simple whilst still managing to add life and a range of expressions on their faces.

All in all, Mr Tiger Goes Wild is an admirable example of how much design thinking and research there is behind a well illustrated story. I highly recommend watching this film clip of  Peter Brown himself sharing some of the process behind the book:

Author and Illustrator Peter Brown On His Process.

Children’s book showcase: Astronautin rusinapulla

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present you the third book in my archive of inspiring children’s books: a rhyming Finnish poetry book (which unfortunately hasn’t been translated to English) written by one of my favourite children’s book authors, Jukka Itkonen.


Astronautin rusinapulla
Loosely translated: Astronaut’s Raisin Bun
Written by Jukka Itkonen, illustrated by Matti Pikkujämsä

Badge of greatness for playful rhymes and matching visuals


astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaI love, love, love rhymes, and when I first came across the children’s books of Jukka Itkonen, it was literally literary love at first page. The prolific Finnish writer has written multiple rhyming poetry books for children under different themes, and now I will present you one of them: Astronaut’s Raisin Bun. The theme of this collection of poems is food: where it comes from, who makes it and how it is eaten. The poems introduce a number of different characters and their food-related stories. There’s a picky eater, a real culinarista, a secret agent and a pizza baker, just to mention a few. The characters are exhilaratingly recognisable and the choice of words in the poems are sure to give the reader – young or old – the giggles.

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaInstead of focusing on fantasies (although Astronaut’s Raisin Bun does feature a superman), the books of Itkonen tend to give a witty spin to perfectly normal things, portraying them from a humorous point of view. As you might remember from the previous book feature, I’m a huge fan of writers who have this kind of realistic yet amusing approach to their stories. 

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaWhen it comes to illustrations, Astronaut’s Raisin Bun is not the only book that Jukka Itkonen and the illustrator Matti Pikkujämsä have collaborated on. And if you ask me, that’s no wonder – the raw brush strokes of Pikkujämsä go really well with the uncomplicated, humorous text. Also the typographic choice of hand-written titles combined with a typewriter font compliments the style of the book well. All in all, I think the written and visual elements of the book compliment each other beautifully, making a great, coherent package.

astronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaastronautin-rusinapulla-lasten-lorukirjaMy favourite poem in the book is about a grandma, who reminisces her childhood in a pizzeria. It was so wonderfully fun that I had to make my own grandma read it, too! To give you a taste of the poems in the book, here’s a snippet of it (in Finnish):

Isoäiti pizzeriassa

Muistot tulvii mieleeni,
ja kerron vähän tästä
minun lapsuudestani
ja maalaiselämästä.

Ennen vanhaan eläminen
oli erilaista.
Ei meille ruokaa lennätetty
kaukaisista maista.

Kirnupiimää hörpittiin
ja syötiin piirakoita.
Ja kun kermaa kirnuttiin
niin siitä tuli voita.

Vanhat ajat, niistä kyllä
riittäis kertomista.
Tarjoilija, olkaa hyvä,
tuokaa pizzalista.

Oh boy. Did I already mention how much I love rhyming poems…?