"review" · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

beware: today is chu’s day

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay 15: Chu’s Day

by Neil Gaiman, illus by Adam Rex

Harper (HarperCollins), 2013.

chu cover and page“When Chu sneezed, bad things happened.” This is the first line of the story, and I’m hooked. What sort of bad things happened? As the story progresses I add: and how bad could it possibly be? Why are this cute little panda and his parents so concerned?–and they are seriously concerned. You notice, on the book’s cover, the blush and expression of apology and horror on Chu’s face and posture. That is what comes after he sneezes. From the start you get the sense that the results of Chu’s sneeze is going to be embarrassing, horrifying (if you distinguish the two), and going to require an explanation.

chus day2

When Chu is winding up to sneeze, “aah-aaah- aaaah-,” he is relegated to white space, removed from his detailed setting, a potential little explosive on the page. The detail in the settings are not only a pleasure to explore, but juxtaposed with the white we get a building of tension. These are highly populated spaces and what will happen if Chu sneezes? We can imagine varying degrees of the sort bad things that could result from Chu’s sneeze. Will he make a loud, disruptive noise in a library; blow snot all over a book; blow a book across the room; or knock an elephant of his perch? 


The timing for this kind of story is crucial and Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex, unsurprisingly, nail it. The serious tone supported by the worried pandas and the relative realism employed in the illustrations play into the ridiculous fun of a book about a boy’s potential, I mean, sneeze. Chu’s Day has a pleasurable wind-up and its suitably thrilling end.

With two veteran storytellers who are known for their humor, imagination, and originality at its helm, you can bet Chu’s Day will carry just the right note beginning to end.

{images belong to Adam Rex}

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

moonday on thursday

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Seven: Moonday

by Adam Rex

Disney/Hyperion Books, 2013.

moonday coverWhat do you do when the moon lowers itself into your backyard?
When mornings are replaced by perpetual night,
and people sigh-sleep in their eyes.
What do you do when the tide comes in,
and all the neighborhood dogs won’t stop howling?

You take the moon for a ride.

Adam Rex creates a fantastic tale that is both imaginative and beautiful; one that blurs the line between dreams and reality.–publisher’s comments

Moonday is a lullaby, a dreamscape, a quietude, a meditation. This is a perfect bedtime read. And perhaps it will prove a viable alternative to that well-timed and -traveled route to lull the little one to sleep. (Natalya and I had a route for a time, once upon a time.) Send them off to bed wondering if the girl in the story only dreamed her moonday, or if it really happened.

moonday page8-9flatFor all its dreamlike qualities, the whimsical is restrained in order to allow for that blurred line with reality. The story moves through the moon’s strange phenomena (minus lycanthropy) and pulls away just as it bumps against the “1+1=moon.” Of course, the book is left to the reader as to what appears bizarre (aka the stuff of dreams) and plausible (the stuff of waking), e.g. the mother. Goodness knows that the depiction of the yawn that “swayed up the block” exhibits verisimilitude.

The illustrations begin in the tone-setting sepia and violet prints of a town from the top of a hill. The pages are black with white type, and the first image for text is a small centrally located frame. The scale of the paintings, following the moon, waxes and then wanes. We close with a double spread of the town awash in pink at sunrise. The realism in the medium and Rex’s attention to details collide with the improbability of that moon, or is it the moon’s presence that troubles our assumptions of reality. Moons are for dreaming, for magic, for inventors like Méliès who redefine possibility. I’m sure you will not find Moonday shelved under inspirational, but I find it a lovely work to dream by, to lull by, and to accompany a hot mug of cider before bed.


7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast featured Adam Rex and Moonday. See their post on the creation of this book. …&… Kirkus Reviews‘ starred review.


Adam Rex answers “Why Picture Books Matter,” Picture Book Month (Nov 2012), an excerpt:

PBMLOGO-COLOR_HIGHRES-300x300Picture books are important because people of every age deserve a medium whose primary aim is not to educate, or cajole, or sermonize; but rather to connect, to touch and effect, and even to entertain. For the youngest readers they’re windows, if you can forgive that, through which the child can explore beyond himself in a shared space with a caregiver. To older children they’re like soul food; a course of their own that’s nourishing and warm and entirely apart from the roughage of more pedantically challenging fare.

Kids deserve a medium that makes them feel seen and understood. But which might also make them feel more than they understand.

{images belong to Adam Rex}

"review" · Children's · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Picture book · recommend · series

{book} frankenstein takes the cake

DAY 25

Frankenstein Takes the Cake by Adam Rex

Harcourt, 2008.

I saw Adam Rex’s name, so…I had to show it to Natalya every three minutes (and that was me being restrained). Finally, N set the Isabel Allende book she’d been reading in Spanish and humored me only to be completely sucked into the read herself. Mind you’ve the time to spend, because there is no mere scanning of this one.

“A fantastically weird collage of re-imagined horror tales: Frankenstein is about to marry the undead woman of his dreams, but his future mother-in-law won’t stop hassling him; Edgar Allen Poe works on a crossword puzzle when he knows he should be writing; and aliens finally make contact with earth… but only to send us spam. Rex’s humor appeals to both parents and kids, and all readers will be impressed by his use of unusual forms of storytelling, like angry blog posts from the Headless Horseman and a special advertising section featuring the water diet for witches — watch the pounds melt away!”–Recommended by Sheila A., Powells.com

Shelia nails it with the “fantastically weird collage;” Frankenstein Takes the Cake will appeal and will impress. Rex adopts different styles and media and it is really kind of disgusting how successful he is with each. The creativity is inspiring and inspired to say nothing of entertaining. The opening pages feature a fun interactive comic in which the reader is at first mistaken of identity, and after the confusion is cleared, they get the closer look they need and—I won’t spoil it for you. But it is a brilliant opening because it reminds fans and introduces the new readers to Rex’s excellent sense of humor and comedic timing—which he confirms, just in case, by following the comic with a letter from the author.


ghoul scouts

A story can be found amidst Headless Horseman’s blog posts, the advertising section, Edgar Allen Poe and his increasingly frustrated Raven, a Peanuts inspired comic strip…if one is interested. I haven’t read Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich the first book in this series, but I will. But then I learned of Adam Rex from a Guys Read anthology, and then the brilliant novel True Meaning of Smekday [N recommends Cold Cereal, too]. But if you’ve a 5-10 year old, go ahead and start them here and keep Adam Rex on their shelves from here on out.  Not that you’ll need the excuse to have him around as well. He is such a talented author and illustrator and should not be missed.

Headless Horseman

{images belong to Adam Rex}

7 Impossible Thingsreview and about the pumpkin head for the Headless Horseman (seen above)

A R.eader’s I.mbibing P.eril to share with the youngest readers among us.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

the true meaning of smekday

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (author, illustrator)
Hyperion Books for Children, 2007.
hardcover, 425 pages.
It all starts with a school essay. When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens–called Boov–abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?
In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.
Fully illustrated with “photos,” drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel by a remarkable new talent. ~Publisher’s Comments.

Glad my anxiety for arriving late for parties is not one that carries over to raving about books. Adam Rex’s 2007 novel The True Meaning of Smekday is a fantastic read. Expect to see this on any future list titled “Must Reads for Middle-Graders (regardless of Gender, Ethnicity, & Limb-count).” With a strong and sassy female protagonist, girls will feel vindicated, while boys will hardly be alienated.
“BOOB is an…acronym.” […] “Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov. It stands for that.”
“Shouldn’t it be B-O-A-O-B, then?”
“We really wanted it to be BOOB,” said Marcos, and at the younger boys giggled again. (126)
“Waitaminute,” I said. “BOOB?”
“It’s the name of our club,” said boy number two.
“Are you guys from Florida or something?”
“No,” said Beardo. “Why?”
Both boys shouted over each other.
“It stands for–”
“Shut up!”
“Backyard telescope Ob…Observation of–”
“Of Occupations by Boov!”
“I don’t know why I ask,” I said, “but shouldn’t your acronym be like, BTOOB or something?”
“BOOB sounds better,” they said.
Boys. Honestly. (225)

The True Meaning of Smekday has been an amusing personal companion to our evening family read-aloud of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adam Rex is not as ridiculously funny as Mr. Adams but they’ve a similar gift for timing with their absurdities and outright silliness–nor are their criticism apologetically perpetrated on the sly; although Rex a bit more transparent with his.

I had a terrible thought. I thought about the people in concentration camps in World War II, told by Nazi soldiers to take showers, and the showerheads that didn’t work, and the poison gas that tumbled slowly through vents until every last one was dead. And then I thought about everyone two days ago, rushing to line up for those rocketpods. (92)

The True Meaning of Smekday would be a fun read while studying American History. Anything the aliens (whether Boov or Nimrog) are capable of, humankind has already done. Their actions are not unfamiliar, nor are their histories. The evolution of the Boov as drawn by J.Lo (the Boov deuteragonist) however funny is quite familiar (irreverently so for some–another likeness to Douglas Adams*). The behavioral trajectories are haunting, as we’ve seen most, if not all, of them played out over and over. Indeed, knowledge of historical events and their fall-outs create an incredible tension in the story.

“Captain Smek himself appeared on television for an official speech to humankind. (He didn’t call us humankind, of course. He called us the Noble Savages of Earth.)
“And so now I generously grant you Human Preserves–gifts of land that will be for humans forever, never to be taken away again, now.” (63)
“It’s mostly white folks living on the reservation now.”
I frowned. “And the Indians are okay with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…it was a reservation,” I said. “It was land we promised to the Native Americans. Forever.”
Mitch looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. But…we needed it,” he said. (338)
“Before we came, Captain Smek and the HighBoovs telled us that the humans needed us. That the humans were just like the animals, and that we could to make them better. Teach to them. We were told the humans were nasty and backwards. It…it is what we thought.” (149-150)

Gratuity and the Boov companion calling himself J.Lo do not come into an easy relationship. Rex takes his time and considers real emotion here. Why would Gratuity be nice, let alone trust, any of the Boov, the very aliens who abducted her mother and essentially orphaned her? But tough situations create a necessity and realizations that follow with apologies do seem to work. The relationship between these two characters, with the help of a cat named Pig, is wonderfully developed and a magnificent part of the read–despite, or because of, how difficult their ability to communicate could at times be.
“Gorg,” I repeated. “There was only one Nimrog named Grog.”
“By this time, yes. Beforethen there were many Nimrogs named Gorg. Gorg was a popular boy name, like Ethel.”
I was aching to mention that Ethel was neither popular nor a boy’s name, but I felt we were really getting somewhere.” (196)
The book is told in essay form, at least the first two parts are before Gratuity is essentially encouraged to finish the story in a longer third section of the novel. “Photographs” are included, as well as comic-form illustrations, sketches, and news-clippings. Adam Rex is a talented illustrator and his use of this talent is a marvelous part of the story. His inclusions seamless and charming. But his writing is equally good–which is disgusting really. He tells a good story, he weaves in elements for reuse, has great comedic timing, and his actions sequences are exhilarating. He talks about silly things and important things, his characters change and develop, each lifting off the page, vivid whether in text or image.Readers of Science Fiction or no should find more than a few things to love in The True Meaning of Smekday. Avid and reluctant readers alike should know Adam Rex’s name. He is funny, relevant, and frighteningly intelligent–and sickeningly talented. Is there anyone who wasn’t charmed by this read in some way?
If I haven’t given you a reason to hand this to a middle-grade reader. Gratuity and J.Lo have provided 10 Reasons of their own.

*Being positively compared to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker Guide stories can only be one of the best things ever, by the way. If you haven’t read the stories, please remedy immediately.
check out: “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast” has a great interview w/ Adam Rex here.
"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · short story · wondermous · young adult lit

guys read

Guys Read #01: Funny Business

Edited by Jon Scieszka

w/ Illustrations by Adam Rex

Scholastic Inc., 2010.

10 stories, 268 pages, tradepaper.

Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend’s face, from the following esteemed writers:

Mac Barnett (The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity)Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl; Airman; Half-Moon Investigations)

Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy; The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963; Elijah of Buxton)

Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie; Tiger Rising; The Tale of Desperaux)  & Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales)

Paul Feig (Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!; and television: Freaks & Geeks)

Jack Gantos (Joey Pigza series; The Rotten Ralph series; Hole in My Life)

Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise)

David Lubar (Nathan Abrecrombie, Accidental Zombie; In the Land of the Lawn Weenies)

Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday; A Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age)

David Yoo (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before; Girls for Breakfast)

“Book Nut” reviewed Funny Business the other day on her blog and it reminded me that the daughter owned this one. A Book Fair find. She’d read and crammed onto her bookshelves and I’d forgotten about it.

“You are in for a raging robot, a homicidal turkey, a bloody souvenir, a biker taking over a kid’s bedroom, and more, by some of the best and funniest writers around.”–Jon Scieszka (viii, “Before We Begin…)

The collection of short stories is targeted to specifically appeal to boys. All the protagonists are boys, and the content is markedly “boyish.” Gross-out humor, bodily functions and bodily secretions, you know, every day stuff.  Of course, this is not limited to boys, there are girls like N who thought most were funny, and there are grown-up girls like me who have the sense of humor of a junior high boy sometimes (much to the amazement and mortification of my husband).

Melissa (“Book Nut”) thought Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Begins was the funniest. It is very amusing and Artemis Fowl readers will especially appreciate it. Colfer writes about his brother, the “young criminal mastermind” who could get anyone out of a scrape.  Jeff Kinney’s Unaccompanied Minors is of a similar autobiographical flavor, telling stories about he and his brother growing up, the tormentive antics. Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans will find comforting familiarity and hilarity here. (These were a little more difficult for N to catch the humor as an only child.)

N votes Paul Feig’s My Parents Give My Bedroom to a Biker, Kate DiCamillo/Jon Scieszka’s Your Questions for Author Here, and Will by Adam Rex as her top 3 faves. They are pretty brilliant. And having her read them aloud was good practice for figuring out the delivery of a funny story; knowing when to pause for us to laugh, snort, and gasp over “did he say he “shrinkage”?”

Adam Rex’s Illustration to accompany Lubar’s Kid Appeal. Intriguing, isn’t it?

I was laughing aloud at David Yoo’s A Fistful of Feathers even as it turned deliciously sinister by the end. Best of Friends by Mac Barnett and Kid Appeal by David Lubar are moving stories of friendship; the kind of train wrecks you cannot possibly look away from. The wit and imagery are marvelously perpetrated–course, this could be said of all the stories. The writing is really good.

One of my favorites is The Bloody Souvenir by Jack Gantos which should come with a warning label: not for the weak of stomach. But it is awesomely funny. It makes for a great ending to the collection, but for the squeamish this may be best shoved toward the middle, maybe before Your Questions for Author Here (which would have most teacher’s howling).

Gantos’ contribution and Rex’s have the best lingering effect. Rex’s Will is a great submission with the Percy Jackson fandom still at large (amongst other latent-hero stories). “And Aidan won’t leave because there is no special school for him–he only goes to that Norse god summer camp in Connecticut” (36). Everyone else is coming into their special powers and Will marks another year of “normalcy.” “Sucks about you not getting powers,” said Aidan. “I know.” Will sighed. “I’ll never be a hero.” (54)

The stories vary in style and humor. All are appealing and are sure to capture the reader and non-reader’s interest. This collection is highly successful in achieving its intent: To catch the attention of guy audiences and giving them a taste of the talented authors available them. “We do know that every Guys Read Library book will be packed with the kind of writing guys will enjoy, the kind of writing that gives guys a reason to want to be readers.” (ix, “Before We Begin…”)

The plans are for volumes to feature: Nonfiction, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller/Mystery, Sports, and Who Knows (ix). According to Jon Scieszka’s website for Guys Read (guysread.com), Guys Read #02: Thriller is expected Fall 2011. Looking forward to this one. “Brett Helquist is painting the cover.” Here is the list of authors they provided, “Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Matt de la Pena, Jarrett Krosoczka, Bruce Hale, James Patterson, Gennifer Choldenko, Patrick Carman, and one M.T. Anderson.” Curious who’d they’ll tap for Sci-Fi/Fantasy; though I’d like to see this split into two volumes, one each.

This has to be the easiest recommend for anyone looking for a book for the guy in their life (reader or no). Guys Read features other recommended reads under a variety of Interests, check it out.

almost forgot the great book trailer: