The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales was introduced to me as a design student and if I remember correctly, we owned it before we had children. It’s a collection of very short, very silly versions of the classic Fairy Tales: Little Red Riding Hood is Little Red Running Shorts. The Ugly Duckling is The Really Ugly Duckling. The Gingerbread Man is the Stinky Cheese Man. My personal favorite is the Princess and the Pea turned into the Princess and the Bowling Ball.

The stories are not isolated. Characters from one story can show up in another. The Table of Contents arrives late. The narrator takes time out of narrating to be featured in his own story. The whole story feels like it’s in a hurry. If read aloud, it’s a book that makes sense only when you’re looking at the pictures — the text and illustration are so completely interwoven.

Lane Smith’s illustration style is sort-of dirty and messy. Lots of texture. Bits of repurposed material worked into the drawings/collages. Very distinctive. Sometimes I find them a little on the dark or icky side — but my children don’t see them this way at all. My son Ralph studies the illustrations and could easily identify the work of Mr. Smith long before he could actually read.

I think part of the appeal is that parents get a kick out of this book as much as children, and once kids are old enough to get the humor, they feel like they’re sharing some kind of inside joke with their parents.

Jon Sieszka and Lane Smith have teamed up on a number of irreverent or slightly irreverent books and my kids seem to just eat them up. Their picture books are appealing from about age 4. Then, their collaboration on the Time Warp Trio Series with titles like See You Later, Gladiator and Your Mother was a Neanderthal, are perfect early-chapter-book-material for 2nd, 3rd & 4th graders.