Jon Scieszka's Trucktown Series and His Literacy Program Guys Read
by Steven Williams
Jon Scieszka (rhymes with Fresca and means 'path' in Polish) was born in Flint, Michigan on September 8th, 1954. He grew up in a family with five brothers, an elementary school principal father, and a registered nurse mother. He learned how to make everyone laugh in order to survive the crazy mix of living with five boys in one household. He credits his own unique blend of humor and inventive creativity to an expansive group of experiences and influences including sharing the same birthday with Peter Sellers, Mad Magazine, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, the author Robert Benchley, the author and illustrator Lane Smith, book designer Molly Leach, and Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham. When pressed for a more serious explanation for his ebullient sense of playfulness, Scieszka attributes it to his father's spectacular talent for playing with his children and for teaching them how to play.
Scieszka attended a Catholic school during his elementary and middle school years and then the Culver Military Academy for high school. After high school he studied pre-medicine Albion College in Michigan. After graduating from Albion, Scieszka decided to become a writer instead of going to complete his training as a doctor.For his schooling as a writer, Scieszka moved to New York City and enrolled in Columbia University. After graduation with a master's detree in fiction writing, he stayed in New York City, painting apartments for five years while figuring out what to do next.
Scieszka decided to become an elementary school teacher, working at the job for ten years, but always with an eye towards his goal of becoming a professional author. His favorite and most euduring technique that he developed as a teacher was to present a lesson as a puzzle for the kids to help him figure out. He loved getting the kids excited about stuff and continues to believe that the way to teach children is to get them interested. It was while he was teaching second grade students that Schieszka came to realize that, while he still wanted to be a writer, he wanted most of all to write for children.
Initially, Jon did not have any success getting any of his books accepted by a publisher. It was after Scieszka's wife put him in contact with children's book author and illustrator Lane Smith that things changed for the better. Scieszka's wife and Smith knew each other from their work together on magazines. Smith, now a well known children's book illustrator, had at that time also been making no headway in getting any book of his own published.
The two got together and Scieszka wrote and Smith illustrated Scieszka's first published children's book, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!. It became a surprise hit. The two next put together created another idiosyncratic book for kids. This one, The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales went on to win a Caldecott Honor award in 1993. The Caldecott Honor is given to the runners-up for the Caldecott Medal, a higher honor and the Caldecott Medal is considered the most distinguished American annual literary award given for a children's picture book.
From there Scieszka has gone on to create and act as chief author for the popular Time Warp Trio series and many of the hardcover editions have been illustrated by Lane Smith. Scieszka is also a major author as well as the creator of the new, wildly popular Trucktown series of children's books. The Trucktown series developed out of Scieszka's efforts in promoting literacy, particularly by promoting books that men and boys want to read through his Guys Read nonprofit literacy program.
The intention from the beginning was to have the Trucktown artwork be high quality and consistent. Since Trucktown series was invisioned as a series from, the beginning, it was obvious that no single artist could handle the volume of artwork involved. The solution to this difficulty was to have a team of gifted artists develop the series' style and characters. The results of the chief artists collaboration could then be used as guidelines for rendering the art needed for the entire series. By choosing a group of notable artists' abilities, an high quality of art and design could be produced. The three artists chosen, David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon created the Trucktown style and characters and Keytune Studios in Spain was chosen for the actual rendering of the artwork. To Enhance the consistency of the look and quality of the Trucktown series, the same five rendering artists at Keytune will be painting the illustrations for the entire series.
David Shannon has written and illustrated award-winning picture books including Duck on a Bike, No David (a Caldecott Honor book), How I Learned to be a Pirate, and Good Boy Fergus. Loren Long has received two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators. His first picture book, I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson, won the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' Golden Kite Award for illustrations. His interpretation of Walt Whitman's When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer won a Golden Kite Honor award. He is also the illustrator of Madonna's book Mr. Peabody's Apples and the new edition of Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could. David Gordon is noted for his automotave interpretations of familiar Grimm fairytales: The Ugly Truckling, The Three Little Rigs, and Hansel and Diesel. He has also done concept work for Pixar's Toy Story, Toy Story II, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., and Cars, as well as the Nickelodeon series SpongeBob SquarePants and was involved in the design of the characters for BlueSky's Robots. Gordon has also worked as an editorial artist for Sports Illustrated, Time, Forbes, Atlantic Monthly, and the Wall Street Journal.
Jon Scieszka's Trucktown is a community where everyone is a truck and they all act like four to seven year old kids. The Trucktown characters love to work at the serious business of play. They race around, roar around, get into everything, and try out anything. Scieszka credits kids themselves for giving his core ideas about creating a world where all the characters are as smart and funny and active as little kids themselves are. Scieszka then came up with the idea to anthropomorphosize trucks with the character of little kids and the series was born.
Smash! Crash! (January 2008)Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A hardcover, picture book introduction to Jon Scieszka's 'Trucktown', a place inhabited by trucks that are just like little kids, smart, full of a zest for life, and a deep understanding that play is serious work.
Pete's Party (June, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The first title in the Ready-to-Roll first readers set in Scieszka's Trucktown, a zany world of anthropomorphic trucks, whose distinct personalities and endearing facial expressions have made them a hit with young children. In this story, Jack the red flatbed and Gabby the garbage truck find themselves having to maneuver through a series of swerves, curves, and potholes as they follow a confusing variety of directional signs on their way to a friend's party. The Ready-to-Roll books are designed for independent reading but the written sound effects makes them just as fun to read aloud.
Zoom! Boom! Bully (June, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another title in the 'Ready-to-Roll' first readers from Scieszka's Trucktown series. Every time the trucks have tried to build something, Big Rig comes along, and - ZOOM! BOOM! - knocks it down! This time the trucks watch in alarm as Big Rig knocks down their newest creation, a tiered pile of barrels, crates, and tires covered with cement 'frosting' that they have built as a birthday cake. When Big Rig discovers that the cake is actually meant for him, he still can't resist the urge to ram into the cement frosted 'cake' one final time with a final spectacular ZOOM! BOOM!. Like the other Ready-to-Roll books, Zoom! Boom! Bully is designed as an independent reader but with its onomatopoeic, sound imitating words it is just as much fun for children to read aloud.
Snow Trucking! (September, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. The third of Sciiezk's Ready-to-Roll first readers for his Trucktown series. On Monday it snow it snows, on Tuesday it snows, and so what happens on Wednesday? 'Snow day!' Trucktown has a snow day and Jack, the prankster red flatbed truck, and his other Trucktown friends have some serious fun clearing the streets of accumulated snow. The red flatbed truck and his big-wheeled buddies roll out to play and clear the streets in this energetic story. The anthropomorphic vehicles skate and slide, making a snow truck and throwing snowballs. After all their fun, the streets are clean and they are ready to return to their garages. Like the other titles in the Ready-to-Roll readers, this book is designed both for independent reading and to be read aloud.
Melvin Might? (October, 2008)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations were digitally drawn by Juan Pablo Navas and colored by Isabel Nadal based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A hardcover picture book featuring the Trucktown cement truck. Melvin, an eyeglass wearing cement truck, is a worrier. He is such a worrier in fact that he even worries about getting worried. Jack Truck and Payloader Pete take Melvin and Rescue Rita the ambulance to see an unfinished bridge. Melvin shivers with fear at very idea of trying to jump over the pit below the bridge. He watches as his friends, other less worried trucks, roar down a steep hill onto the unfinished bridge ramp and then fly across the the gap to the other side. Melvin is sure that he can never do such a thing. So he just watches his friends make the jump, too worried to try it himself. But when Rescue Rita falls into the pit, Melvin discovers that he is brave enough after all and is able to make the jump in order to help his friend. This book is notable for its stunning foldout pages showing Melvin's leap to save the day.
Uh-Oh, Max (January, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Max is having so much fun that he keeps getting stuck! Will anyone in Trucktown be able to help him out?
The Spooky Tire (August, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Melvin has a flat tire and needs a new one. He rolls into a spooky junkyard and finds just what he needs: a golden tire! But what happens when a junkyard ghost wants it back?
Truckery Rhymes (August, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. A collection of the tales, rhymes, and honk-along songs beloved by the anthropomorphic truck inhabitants of Jon Scieszka's Trucktown.
Kat's Mystery Gift (October, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Everyone in Trucktown wants to know what is inside Kat's beautifully wrapped box. But will she ever take a peek at her mystery gift?
Melvin's Valentine (December, 2009)
Written by Jon Scieszka, the illustrations are based on characters and environments developed by David Shannon, Loren Long, and David Gordon. Another Ready-to-Roll book in the Trucktown series of first readers. Melvin is baffled by who gave him a valentine. Can he figure out who it is when Rita beeps her way onto his radar?
A short note about Jon Scieszka's Guys Read literacy program
Jon Scieszka started his Guys Read literacy program in about 2005. It was designed from the start as an effort to help boys who are having trouble reading. The essence of the program is connecting boys with the sort of materials they will want to read. Scieszka is convinced that a large part of literacy problems with boys stems from the fact that they are not allowed to read the kind of books that interest them. That and not trying to force them to read a book are the key to his approach. From his experiences as a teacher and raising his own son, Scieszka thinks that some of the best books for catching boys interest are humor, visual storytelling of the sort used in graphic novels, action-adventure, magazines, and age-appropriate nonfiction and he also believes that this sort of reading is just as effective for liberacy as more traditional reading programs.
For kids, Guys Read provides online recommended book picks as well as a searchable database so that they can look for suggestions for books based on their favorite book, author, or subject. Guys Read also supports libriarians' efforts to make reading choices more interesting and accessible to boys with an emphasis on giving boys access to books and other reading material that they might like to read in an un-pressured environment.Resources
Jon Siceszka Worldwide
Ready, Set, Zoom: Trucktown Arrives
David Gordon at KidShannon
David Shannon at Scholastic
David Shannon at Wikipedia
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