Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robert's Snow - Adam Rex!

Behold J.Lo, in all his snowflakey glory!

Adam Rex is one of the illustrators who has donated a snowflake to the wonderful Robert's Snow auction to benefit the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute. He happens to be one of my favourite illustrators, and I was very happy that I snagged him when the ladies over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (also big fans...see here and here) were organizing this whole affair!

I think I first came to Adam Rex's work through Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. The second I spied the cover, I knew I had to have it. As a collector of Halloween picture books, I was so pleased not only with the art, but with the smart and funny poetry within. It's a killer for my Halloween read alouds with all kids loving the illustrations, and the kids with that sense of humour (you know the ones) splitting their sides over the content.

My next encounter (after searching for more) was with the Lucy Rose series. An early chapter book, featuring a feisty protagonist (what's not to love?). After that, I just wanted to read, and own everything. Fandom? Maybe...but I have yet to be disappointed.

Adam graciously agreed to answer some of my questions, as well as some questions from The True Meaning of Smekday loving kids at my school. So here we go.

Stacy: How did you get involved with Robert's Snow?

Adam: They tracked my email address down and got in touch in 2005–I think Grace Lin had seen my first book, The Dirty Cowboy (written by Amy Timberlake), and thought my work would compliment the collection.

Stacy: Did you always know that you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you figure out that writing and illustrating for children was for you?

Adam: I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I didn't think about writing and illustrating kids' books until I was in my teens, and working in a bookstore. When I became familiar with some of the titles coming out in the late eighties like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! and A Day With Wilbur Robinson, I realized there was a place for my sense of humor, and for the sort of art I wanted to make.

Stacy: How long were you cooking up The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: Oh, off and on for four or five years. At first it was just the fun project I worked on when I wanted to avoid my real work. So I started slowly. Then my agent sold it based on maybe the first third, and I worked more in earnest then. But I think some of the ideas go back further than that–I've long thought an alien invasion would be a good way to address our own history.

Stacy: How did you come up with the Boov Speak? I found that when I was reading Smekday, Boov speak stayed in my brain quite easily. Did you find yourself rearranging your words while you were writing?

Adam: Boovspeak comes kind of naturally to me–it's kind of an exaggeration of how I talk when I'm being lazy and there isn't anyone but my wife and me around. As I was working on Smekday I reached a point at which J.Lo's (my Boov's) speech came as quickly for me as did any other character's. I have not had for writing this way recentlies, so I am possibly notso much a Boovspeak Superstar as to before now. Hm.

Stacy: My students were asking about the "secret cover" on Smekday. The dust jacket image is different than the image that is physically on the book. What's the story?

Adam: No big story, really - I just came up with a number of images that I thought would make different covers for the book, and wanted to use as many of them as possible. People can peruse my July postings on my blog to see a little of how the cover evolved. I don't like to waste ideas, so I stuck runner-up covers beneath the dust jacket and on the title page. My books Tree Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich have "secret covers" as well, for various reasons.

Stacy: I have read that there is a sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in the works. How is that going? Is the writing process for a collection of poetry vastly different than for a picture book?

Adam: It's written! Now I'm just figuring out the art. It will be called Frankenstein Takes the Cake. I've reported in other places that I thought it was going to be called Frankenstein Makes a Sequel, but I was eventually talked out of that.
Writing in rhyme is different from writing prose, of course, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, writing something like one of my Frankenstein books is, in a way, like writing a number of rhyming picture books at once. Many of the poems in FMaS could have been expanded into full-length books if I'd thought that was the best way to present them.

Stacy: And here are some questions from my students who have been reading and loving The True Meaning of Smekday...

From an 8th grade reader: When you wrote the book, and didn't tell the readers some of the horrors of the aliens, did you know yourself? Or was it a mystery to you as well as the reader?

Adam: I don't know what details you're thinking about specifically, but I can definitely say that some things in Smekday were as much a mystery to me as I wrote as they will be to my readers. I wrote a lot without knowing exactly where the story was going, or how it would end, and trusted that I would figure it out eventually. That meant I had to go back from time to time and change some passages I'd written earlier so they'd fall in line with some plot detail I'd only just discovered. I didn't know at first, for example, that Gorg is not the name of the alien race, but rather that every member of the race is named Gorg. But it struck me at some point that having your planet invaded by, say, the Todd (a huge group of people who are all named Todd) or whatever would be funny.

From a 7th grade reader: How did you think of the characters and planets in The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: I thought a lot and drew a lot. When I felt like I had a good idea what the aliens were going to look like, their appearance helped me figure out what kind of people they were.

From another 7th grade reader: This book has so many characters and contraptions...it had a crazy plot. What or where did all of those ideas come from?

Adam: I was inspired by a lot of other books and movies and so forth, particularly the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams. But my ideas come from the same kind of places everyone's ideas come from -- you all the stories you've read, the movies and TV shows you've seen, things other people have old you, then maybe you mix it up with some other stories and ideas that don't seem to have anything to do with the first stories and ideas, then you run it all through the dirty coffee filter of your brain and, if you're lucky, it comes out looking and smelling like something brand new.

Stacy: Since it's Halloween and all, could you let us in on your favourite candy? Is it the same as when you were young or has your palate evolved?

Adam: I like gummi a lot these days, and it didn't really exist in America, as far as I knew, when I was a little kid. My earliest memories of Gummi Bears are from 6th or 7th grade. And yet Wikipedia tells me they've been around since the twenties. I don't know. I also love good dark chocolate, which as a kid I lumped in the same category as wine or coffee or kissing in movies -- things that only the mental illness of adulthood could cause you to like. When I was a kid I liked Butterfingers.

If you just can't stand it and you need some more, Adam Rex can be found all over the web. Here's a list of a few of the places that I found!

Adam Rex


Ironic Sans

Nerds with Kids


Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty

And for the CONTEST! Just use the comments to tell me what YOUR favourite Adam Rex title is, and you will be in the running for a brand new shiny hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday! Woot!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Robert's Snow

As many of you know, bloggers all over the kidlitosphere have been posting about the upcoming Robert's Snow auction. Amazingly talented illustrators have painted snowflakes, which will be auctioned off during 3 consecutive weeks, and all of the proceeds will go to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Booktopia and Tweendom will proudly show-case Adam Rex! Adam has graciously agreed to answer some burning questions, and I will be giving away a brand spanking new hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday to a lucky reader!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thou Shall Not Dump The Skater Dude and Other Commandments I Have Broken

Kelsey has to move to the west coast from Boston with two months notice, because her mom decides to pursue her dream of going to law school. Now that Kelsey's folk's divorce is final, her mom says it's time for her. Hence the move to Cali and in with the grandparents for the duration of law school.

As Kelsey says, the move would have been better timed either before or after middle school. Having to negotiate a whole new 8th grade at a private school (and one for girls, at that) is never easy. Kelsey would have no friends at all if it weren't for her grandmother's best friend's granddaughter Amy. Actually, straight-laced Kelsey probably wouldn't be friends at all with Amy (who is a self proclaimed Punky Retro Goth Vegan with Straight Edge tendencies), if it weren't forced at first. But Amy turns out to be okay, and she opens Kelsey's eyes to the world of public school versus privilege.

As the reader whips through 8th grade, Kelsey decides to campaign to her parents for the right to go to public school. When she gets her wish, she certainly isn't thinking about boyfriends, but when semi-pro skater C.J. Logan comes to her rescue while she is babysitting her little bro at the skate park one day, she can't stop thinking about him. Soon she goes from obscurity of the new girl at a public high school, to being C.J.'s girl.

But what does it mean to be C.J.'s girlfriend? How often does she have to go to the park, or a jam, or a party with C.J.? And what happened to all those extra curriculars that Kelsey used to campaign for attendance at East Bay High? And what happens to the reputation of a girl who dumps the un-dumpable guy ... the one who is used to being the dumper not the dumpee?

Rosemary Graham has written a super fast paced piece of chick lit with quite a bit of substance. We follow Kelsey over 3 years in a mere 281 pages, but the reader doesn't feel rushed. The writing style is breezy and you blink and a couple months go by, but somehow it works. Kelsey is naive, but likable and C.J. is your typical popular guy. I have to admit, that I have a soft spot for the skater dude ( I married one after all), but this title easily translates to those who don't know skating, but do know about trying to negotiate the world of school, popularity while trying to stay true to oneself!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Guest Blogger - The Arrival

I work with some amazing people. One of whom is Jesse Karp. Jesse is currently in library school, and he knows comics and graphic novels like nobody else. He is my go-to guy on most things illustrated. While I can say that I am a comic fan, he is an expert. He has been collecting comics for the last 30 years, is the leader of our in school graphic novel club, and recently was a guest speaker on the topic of graphic novels at CUNY's Queens College.

This is Jesse's take on The Arrival, by Tan.

I first set eyes on The Arrival by Shaun Tan in my colleague's stack of review books. Flipping through it was enough to ignite a spark of burning jealousy within me. This could easily have lead to a breakdown of professional relations had Booklist not sent me my own review copy shortly thereafter.

Tan's small but powerful body of work often depicts young children caught in surreal, super-industrial landscapes, sometimes trapped, sometimes oblivious to the dystopia that surrounds them. Have a look at The Lost Thing or The Red Tree to see what I mean.

The Arrival encompasses this sensibility but expands and deepens it to such a degree that the book reaches a level seldom seen within the graphic novel (or any) format: visual literature.

Using the tools of sequential art like a life-long pro, Tan employs visual metaphor, panel size, lighting and color to make the archetypal experience of an immigrant leaving his family and coming to a new land personal, emotional, heart-breaking, breathtaking and joyful. The fantasy landscapes Tan depicts are both terrifying and awe-inspiring for their size and complexity, and every person the immigrant meets tells an involving tale of his or her own. We are drawn into this journey, into this land as if we ourselves were the arrival, unable to read the writing, understand the traditions, comprehend the complexity of the city, heart-broken over the departure from our family. And Tan does this all without using a single word.

The silence makes every experience within it resonate more profoundly as this new world affords the arrival fear and confusion, but also new friends and a new life. A first-grader could look at this and get hooked on the simple story and complex images, but the older the reader the greater the understanding of the emotional, social and political nuances Tans plays out here. Expanding the potential of the medium itself, The Arrival is without a doubt the best graphic novel of the year and possible the best graphic novel ever (okay, in the top ten, anyway).

If graphic novels aren't your thing, or you only look at one or two a year, for God's sake, put this on your list.

--Jesse Karp

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Favourite Picturebooks of Childhood

There is a question being raised over at Wizards Wireless.

What were your favourite picture books when you were young? Not those recent wonderful things, but the ones that spoke to your child self.

It's funny, because Jen and I were just talking about childhood trips to the public library, and I mentioned to her that I would check one particular book out over and over again.

There was just something about Madeline that I loved. And I remember the creakiness of this particular volume's spine, and the library book smell that it had. Looking back, I think it was the idea of so many girls getting to live together, and have adventures in the streets of Paris, that appealed to me. I may have secretly coveted the yellow outfit, as well.

The Mitten by Tresselt is one that I had totally forgotten about until I made the move from Young Adult librarian to Children's librarian. As soon as I opened this book at my school, I was transported back to my babysitter's house. Mrs. VanDerVeen used to read me this book over and over again. I was especially fond of the colour palette. And each snowflake was worthy of examination!

Now, this is not the wonderful cover of the 1970s that graces my copy of Garbage Delight. The art in my copy is by none other than Frank Newfeld. The illustrations in this wacky book of poetry were just as important to me as the hilarious poems. I still have "The Puddle" memorized, and can break it out at will. This is the book that made me want to write for a living.

So, what were your favourites?

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chicago '07 - First Impressions

I was talking last night with Liz and 2nd gen librarian about blogging the con quickly, or letting it digest some. I figure that I will put down some initial impressions, and then get to blogging some titles that I am really excited about and leave the details to the 70-or-so other bloggers who are here!

So, wow. Kidlit '07. Robin did an amazing job of organizing, and all of the volunteers kept things moving so well! I got to meet some authors and ask the burning questions (sorry Barry!), and I am kicking myself for not communicating more with folks that I have been online with for years. After all, people came from California, Kentucky, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Illinois (of course!), Arizona, Ontario, Virginia, and Oregon. All are passionate about youth literature. We all love books, writing, illustrating ... and some even love each other!

What I love is how everyone is willing to share the wealth. Even though we may have different goals and aspirations, we want to help the movement, as it is, along. Author to blogger, blogger to illustrator, illustrator to book buyer...it truly is a web. Interconnected, slightly codependent, and to some degree unexpected.

Are there egos here? Sure. We think enough of our own opinions/skills to blog, don't we? Does it matter? Not-so-much. I have definitely gotten some good ideas, and I am challenging myself to rethink and regroup. I do feel privileged to be a part of this on the ground floor. The thing that I love most in the world is kid's literature. Blogging has allowed unprecedented access to authors and books (although I am sure that living in NYC and having the colleagues that I do doesn't hurt), and instant connection with a world of others who share my passion.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Off to Chicago...

...and the First Annual Kidlitosphere Con. I can't wait! Bringing the laptop, and will have some news from the windy city!