This is my all-time favorite picture book. It has a little to do with the amazing Illustrations by Lane Smith that won a Caldecott Honor in 1993. But mostly it is because of Jon Scieszka's wonderfully weird storytelling. I am a huge fan of this particular brand of weird.
If you haven't read The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales before, you are really missing out. The title page has TITLE PAGE in eight hundred point font (or whatever it takes to fill three-quarters of the page with two lines of a bold serif typeface). The dedication page is upside down with the apologetic Jack the Narrator trying to right it. The introduction tells you to stop reading and skip to the good stuff, and includes a Surgeon's General Warning that the stories may be hazardous to your health. Some characters are killed by the Table of Contents. Others complain that the author and illustrator are lazy and don't give them enough stage time.
This book is great for character voices. When I worked in radio, I took a character voice course by Pat Fraley (If you watched cartoons in the 80's you'll appreciate his filmography). I remember almost none of the training now, but what's left shows up when I read The Stinky Cheese Man. My favorite character voice is the Little Red Hen, a slightly gravely nasal voice with huge pitch jumps into shrill territory for emphasis. My second favorite is the Giant. For him, I use a low, choppy and monotone chest voice, something akin to a 1960's robot. Combined with the natural greatness of the story, these voices win giggles from my audience every time.
I also love, love, love the plot. It is so unconventional. It is both an anthology of short stories and a cohesive single story following Jack the Narrator. The turning points in the story still get me, even fifteen years later. And the back cover? Brilliant. There, The Little Red Hen says:
What is this doing here? Who is this ISBN guy? Who will buy this book anyway? Over fifty pages of nonsense, and I'm only in three of them. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."
Yes. Nineteen blahs. How could you NOT read a book that contains nineteen blahs in the jacket copy?