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1. Fusenews: Dem-o-gorgon or Dem-a-gorgon?

Morning, poppins!

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I submitted a Video Sunday for your approval.  Trouble is, I may have failed to mention one of the most fascinating videos out there with a tie-in to books for kids, so I’d like to rectify the situation today.

kidpresidentThe title of the article read, ‘Last Week Tonight’: John Oliver Turned a 20-Year-Old Kids’ Book with ‘Startling Parallels’ to Trump into a Bestseller.  Naturally I tried figuring out what book they were talking about but I was coming up short.  Turns out it’s good old The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman.  That’s a title that is consistently on New York City public school reading lists every single year.  Wouldn’t be surprised a jot if that’s how Last Week Tonight‘s writing staff heard about it (some of them must have kids).  Glad to see it getting a bit of attention here and there. I won’t give away which candidate the “startling parallels” refer to (kidding!).  Thanks to PW Children’s Bookshelf for the link.


A Gene Luen Yang comic piece for the New York Times simply called Glare of Disdain?  Don’t mind if I do!


Horn Book came out with their 2015-2016 Yearbook Superlatives post once more.  Fun bit.  I wonder if they collect them throughout the year as they do their reading.


Tis the battle of the smarty-pants!  Who did it better?  Adam Rex and Christian Robinson at Horn Book or Jory John and Bob Shea at Kirkus?  The choice is yours (though Christian Robinson probably sweeps the deck with his magnificent “Black people are magic” line).


See how I’m going from a Horn Book post to a Horn Book / Kirkus post to a Kirkus review?  That’s why they pay me the big bucks, folks.  In any case, usually when I post a review on this blog I like to link the books mentioned in the review to Kirkus.  Why?  Because they’re the review journal that has the most free archived older children’s book reviews online.  Generally this is a good plan but once in a while it throws me for a loop.  For example, a reviewer of the original Nate the Great back in 1972 had serious problems with the title.  Your homework for the day is to read the review and then figure out what precisely the “stereotype” the book was faulty of conveying really was.  I’ve read this review about ten times and I’m still baffled.  Any ideas?


winniepooh01-768x512So I worked at NYPL for a number of years (11 in total).  Of those, I spent about five or six of them working in close proximity to the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys.  And in all that time I never knew them to look as good as they do right now.  Oo la la!  Goggle at that restored Kanga!  And a Piglet where his skin ISN’T falling off his body?  I don’t even know the guy now.  No word on whether or not the restoration yielded more information on the music box in Pooh’s tummy (or if it’s even still there).  Still, they look great (and appear to have a whole new display area too!).  Thanks to Sharyn November for the link.


Did you know that Cricket Media (which runs Cricket Magazine as well as other periodicals) has a blog?  I tell you this partly because I’m trying to contact someone at their Chicago location and so far my efforts have been for naught.  A little help?


Did you know there was a children’s book award for science fiction?  Yup. “The Golden Duck Awards, which are designed to encourage science fiction literature for children, have been given annually since 1992.”  And as far as I can tell, they may still be going on.  Check out their site here to see for yourself.  You can suggest books from the previous year too, so have at it, peoples.


So I give up.  Slate?  You win.  You do good posts on children’s books.  I was wrong to doubt you.  That post about how your son loves “bad guys” so you read him Tomi Ungerer’s The Three RobbersThat’s good stuff.  And the piece on how terrible the U.S. is at translating children’s books?  Also excellent.  To say nothing of all the other excellent posts you’ve come up with and researched well.  I doff my cap.  Your pop-up blog is a rousing success.  Well done you.


Question: How often has a documentary been made about a nonfiction children’s picture book about a true subject?  Once at least.


Saw this next one on the old listservs and figured it might be of use to someone:

I just wanted to pass along an opportunity that I’m hoping that you’ll hope promote for ALSC. Every year, we give away four $600 stipends for ALSC members to attend Annual for the first time. Applications are open now and are being accepted up to October 1, 2016. For 2017, Penguin Random House is including one ticket for each winner to the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Banquet. Here is some more information.


Daily Image:

Because I just cannot stop with the Stranger Things.  This one came via my friend Marci.  Look closely enough and you’ll see Will hiding in the Upside Down.

http://charamath.tumblr.com/post/148762797238/i-know-the-internet-is-full-of-stranger-things-fan

Thanks to Marci Morimoto for the link.

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9 Comments on Fusenews: Dem-o-gorgon or Dem-a-gorgon?, last added: 9/7/2016
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2. Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for August

Our favorite books this August are sure to capture imaginations with beautiful illustrations, unconventional characters, and fascinating true stories. Read on to see the titles that hooked our book experts this month!

For Pre-K –K (Ages 3-6):

arctic animals board book

Who’s That?: Arctic Animals (Board Book) by Tad Carpenter

We love all the vibrant and entertaining titles in the Who’s That? board book series – this one especially. Kids will love opening the sturdy flaps to meet creatures like a walrus and a polar bear. A cool read for a hot day!

For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):

school's first day of school picture book School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex

It’s the first day of school at Frederick Douglass Elementary and everyone’s just a little bit nervous, especially the school! What will the children do once they come? Will they like the school? Will they be nice to him? Find out what happens to the school on its first day! With charming illustrations, this delightful read-aloud picture book will have young readers reaching for it every day of the year!

 

 

For 3rd & 4th grade (Ages 8-10):

Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas by Gwendolyn Hooks

During the mid-twentieth century, Vivien Thomas overcame racism from his colleagues and developed a procedure that was used for the first successful open-heart surgery on a child. This is a fascinating biography of how one innovative doctor ushered in a new era of medicine.

 

 

 

 

 

For 5th & 6th grade (Ages 10-12):

dicamillo young adult bookRaymie Nightengale by Kate DiCamillo

Raymie Clarke is convinced that winning the 1975 Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest would inspire her father to come home. To win, not only does Raymie have to do good deeds and learn how to twirl a baton; she also has to contend with the wispy, frequently fainting Louisiana Elefante, who has a show-business background, and the fiery, stubborn Beverly Tapinski, who’s determined to sabotage the contest. We couldn’t put down this coming-of-age novel as it beautifully explored the subjects of loneliness, loss, and friendship.

Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+):

Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank

This novel-in-verse follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.

Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.

 

 

 

 

 

The post Monthly Book List: Our Five Favorite Books for August appeared first on First Book Blog.

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3. Welcome Back to School

backtoschool

There are still a few weeks of summer left, but now is the time to find everything you need to build an enriching environment for the kids in your school, class or program. First Book’s Back to School Hub is your source for great books and resources that will help turn a successful first day of school into a successful school year.

The Back to School Hub includes:

  • School suppliesschools_first_day
  • Learning games and activities
  • Books celebrating diversity and inclusion
  • FREE ebooks and more!

The first day of school can be a little stressful for students, teachers, staff…and even the school itself! Help ease those first day jitters by reading the charming School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex with illustrations by Christian Robinson, available on the First Book Marketplace.

 

The post Welcome Back to School appeared first on First Book Blog.

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4. Adam Rex: Creating Characters with Character

Adam Rex is a ridiculously accomplished illustrator and author. His books range from PB to YA, and his illustration style is a bit like what Norman Rockwell might have produced after a Jolt Cola bender.

In this session, Adam talked about techniques for drawing memorable characters.

He showed us some of his early art, including a decent Rembrandt knock-off (though his Santa is definitely questionable, and arguably looks more like Krampus).

Some best quotes: "I think we can get you one butt." (From his editor regarding The Dirty Cowboy.) His reply: "I didn't even take the butt."

He talked about what it looked like to see his characters from The True Meaning of Smekday as they'd been translated by the Dreamworks team for the adaptation. (The movie Home and the forthcoming TV show were based on the book.) It was disappointing at first to see the changes, but he got used to it quickly and even liked some of the changes, especially the design of the Gorg.

His techniques are so cool—he often builds models of characters and sets he uses for reference.

Some tips:

  • Understand anatomy of character design (the human body is approximately seven heads high, but in character design, this varies);
  • Knowledge of real human and animal anatomy (which have strong similarities) can help you design fantastical creatures; 
  • More stylized and simplistic characters, such as Charlie Brown, sometimes have more universal appeal; and 
  • Letting a body sag into a shape or move somehow makes it seem more like a character and less like a doctor's office illustration.
  • Don't forget draw through. For example, if you have a character holding the shield, make sure the body behind the shield makes sense. 

Follow Adam on Twitter

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5. Adam Rex: How I Make Picture Books

Adam Rex illustrates.



He writes.


He writes AND illustrates.


He does Board Books,


He does Picture Books,


He Does Chapter books,



He Does Novels,




He even made his own bio laugh-out loud funny:

Adam Rex wrote and/or illustrated all the books you like including the New York Times best-selling Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, the New York Times best-selling Chu’s Day, and also a number of titles about which the New York Times has been strangely coy. His first novel, The True Meaning of Smekday, was adapted this past spring into the DreamWorks feature film “Home.” Having your book get turned into a movie is like that section in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz where the woodsman systematically chops off all his body parts one by one and replaces them with tin. But in a good way? Like maybe with the heart still intact? This isn’t one of Adam Rex’s better metaphors. Visit www.adamrex.com.

We're in for a treat!

Adam starts by sharing how it took him ten years of re-writing his "Moonday" story until he got it to work. From setting out to write something that made him feel the way a dream did to the book that was just published.

How he told a joke at a gathering about a school being afraid of its first day of children, and telling his agent the next morning. And having his agent insist that would be his next picture book. And Adam wrote that in an afternoon. (Here he riffs on the old Picasso quote: 20 years of learning and working and failing most of the time and succeeding more and more and eventually sitting down on one afternoon to write the book. So one afternoon plus twenty years.) "School's First Day of School" which he's written and was illustrated by Christian Robinson.

He talks about the combinations of images with text, and how we've imagined that less pictures means something is more for adults.

"In a mature society... we would have picture books for every age. ...It's not really a form that someone should grow out of."

He shares one of the best books he wrote that he says will never be published, "The Robot That Moe Bought." And tells us how doing that book dummy and one finished spread led to his being hired to illustrate his first picture book.

Adam shares his process for a number of his picture books, even showing us the sculptures he created to be able to draw the same characters, settings, and set pieces numerous times.

"My drawings are always better if I have something real to look at."

So if he doesn't have the ability to photograph a character (like he didn't for Frankenstein) then he sculpts it!

It's a fascinating window into what's similar about his process across books (breaking down the text, figuring out what's going where, thumbnails where he solves problems, sketching where he figures out the characters) and then what's different. And a lot is different – Adam changes styles and mediums seemingly for every book, trying to figure out the perfect way to tell each story.

The slides and Adam's repartee give us a behind-the-scenes look into how it all comes together, and it's so cool.

He finishes with a rap song, having us all snap along.

Great stuff!


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6. Adam Rex Interviewed by Lee Wind: The Pre-#LA15SCBWI Conference Interview

Click over and read this super-cool interview I did with author/illustrator Adam Rex.



Adam and I talk about the movie version of his middle grade book, "The True Meaning Of Smekday," (a little art-house flick called HOME that's grossed world-wide, to date, more than $343,000,000.00)

We delve into how he both illustrates and writes (and find out how he knows which tool to use when.) Adam also gives us some insights into his sessions and keynotes at the upcoming SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles, July 31-Aug 3, 2015.

Not convinced you want to read it yet?

Well, in the course of the interview, I evidently turn into a bird. And Adam wears eggplant.

Check it out.

And if you can, join us for #LA15SCBWI. Detailed information and registration here.

Illustrate and Write On,
Lee

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7. Indian-as-spirit in SMEK FOR PRESIDENT by Adam Rex

Earlier this year, I did an analysis of the Native content in Adam Rex's The True Meaning of Smekday. I found the ways that Rex used Native characters and history to be troubling. Some see his parallels to colonization of Natives peoples as having great merit, but the story he tells has a happy ending. The colonizers (aliens called Gorgs from another solar system) do not succeed in their occupation of Earth. They are driven away.

Some people also think Rex cleverly addressed stereotypes in the way that he developed "the Chief" in that story, but I disagree, especially given many things he raised and did not address, like the drunken Indian stereotype.

And some people think that we can overlook all the problems with Native content because there are so few books with biracial protagonists. I disagree with that, too. Why throw one marginalized group under the bus for the sake of another?! That seems twisted and perverse to me.

One of the what-not-to-do cautions in the creation of characters of marginalized populations is "do not kill that character." In The True Meaning of Smekday, Rex killed "the Chief."

In Smek for President, Rex commits another what-not-to-do: use a Native character as a spiritual guide. That character? "The Chief." He died in the first book.

Smek for President opens with a series of cartoon panels that tell us what happened in The True Meaning of Smekday. Amongst the panels are these two. In the first one, we're reminded about "this guy everyone called Chief Shouting Bear."



Back in The True Meaning of Smekday, we learned that his name is actually Frank, but Tip (the protagonist in both books) just calls him "the Chief." She likes him--there's no doubt about that--but persists in using the dehumanizing "the Chief" throughout the book.

In the first book, Tip had a run-in with a Gorg. That run-in is depicted in the next panel in Smek for President:



See "the Chief" in the top panel, approaching that Gorg and Tip? He told that Gorg to leave Tip alone. As you see, the Gorg punched "the Chief" (accident is not the right word for what happened!), knocking him out. Tip and J.Lo (he's a Boov) took him to an apartment to get help. That's when Vicky (another character) asks if he'd been drinking.

Towards the end of The True Meaning of Smekday, "the Chief" dies.

But he appears again and again in Smek for President... 

On page 25, Tip and J.Lo are in their spaceship, flying to New Boovworld and looking out the window at Saturn. Tip thinks back to the time that "the Chief" took her and J.Lo to look at Saturn through a telescope. Here's that part (p. 25-26):
"My people called it Seetin," said the Chief. "Until the white man stole it from us and renamed it."
I turned away from the eyepiece and frowned at the Chief. "Until... what? How can that be true?"
The Chief was smirking. "It isn't. I'm just messing with you."
And now, as we skimmed over the planet's icy rings, I said to J.Lo, "I wish the Chief could have seen this."
He'd died over a year ago, at the age of ninety-four--just a few months after the Boov had left Earth.
That passage is another good example of the author taking one step forward and then two steps backward. By that, I mean that it is good to bring up the idea that Native lands were stolen and renamed, but the "just messing with you" (the humor) kind of nullifies the idea being raised at all. It may even cause readers to wonder what part of "the Chief's" remarks is not true. That his people had a different name for Saturn? That white people didn't really steal Indians?

Tip and J.Lo land their spaceship on New Boovworld. On page 74, Tip is inside an office. She hides by climbing into a chute that drops her in a garbage pit:
Back when the Chief was alive, he and I had all kinds of long talks. Arguments, sometimes. So I don't want you to think I'm schizophrenic or anything, but I occasionally imagine the Chief and I are having one of those talks when I need a little company. And I needed a little company.
"Hey, Stupidlegs," said the Chief.
"Hey, Chief," I answered, smiling. And I opened my eyes. He was to my left, standing lightly on the surface of the trash.

I know people will think it is nice that Tip would imagine an Indian person as the one she'd turn to when she's in need of company, but it is like that far too often!

People love Indian mascots. Indians were so brave, so courageous! Never mind that the mascot itself is a stereotype---we real Native people are told we should feel honored by mascots!

People love Indian spirits, too. Remember "Ghost Hawk" -- the character Susan Cooper created? He started out as Little Hawk but gets killed part way through the story. He stays in the story, however, as a ghost or spirit that teaches the white protagonist all kinds of things.

People love Indians that remind them of days long past, when the land was pristine. Remember Brother Eagle Sister Sky by Susan Jeffers? A white family laments deforestation and plants trees. Throughout the book, there are ghost-like Indians here and there.

People love scary Indian ghosts, too. All those stories where a house is built on an old Indian burial ground! Those angry Indian spirits do all kinds of bad things. Earlier this year I read a Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew story where Nancy was sure an angry Indian spirit was up to no good. And how about that angry Indian in the Thanksgiving episode of Buffy the Vampire Killer?

My point is that this trope is tiresome. If you see a review that notes this problematic aspect of Smek for President, do let me know!


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8. Fusenews: In which I find the barest hint of an excuse to post a Rex Stout cover

  • I’ve been watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt recently.  So far the resident husband and I have only made it through two episodes, but I was pleased as punch when I learned that the plot twist in storyline #2 hinged on a Baby-Sitter’s Club novel.  Specifically Babysitter’s Club Mystery No. 12: Dawn and the Surfer Ghost.  Peter Lerangis, was this one of yours?  Here’s a breakdown of the book’s plot with a healthy dose of snark, in case you’re interested.
  • And now a subject that is near and dear to my heart: funny writers. Author Cheryl Blackford wrote a very good blog post on a comedic line-up of authors recently presented at The Tucson Festival of Books. Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, Jory John, Obert Skye, and Drew Daywalt were all there.  A good crew, no?  One small problem – we may be entering a new era where all-white male panels cannot exist without being called into question.  Indeed, I remember years ago when I attended an ALA Conference and went to see a “funny authors” panel.  As I recall, I was quite pleased to see the inclusion of Lisa Yee.  Here, Tucson didn’t quite get the memo.  The fault lies with the organizers and Cheryl has some incisive things to say about what message the attendees were getting.
  • Speaking of Adam Rex, he’s got this little old major feature film in theaters right now (Home).  Meanwhile in California, the Gallery Nucleus is doing an exhibition of Rex’s work.  Running from March 28th to April 19th, the art will be from the books The True Meaning of Smekday and Chu’s Day.  Get it while it’s hot!
  • Boy, Brain Pickings just knows its stuff.  There are plenty of aggregator sites out there that regurgitate the same old children’s stuff over and over again.  Brain Pickings actually writes their pieces and puts some thought into what they do.  Case in point, a recent piece on the best children’s books on death, grief, and mourning.  The choices are unusual, recent, and interesting.

Chomping at the bit to read the latest Lockwood & Company book by Jonathan Stroud?  It’s a mediocre salve but you may as well enjoy his homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Mind you, I was an Hercule Poirot fan born and bred growing up, but I acknowledge that that Doyle has his place.  And don’t tell Stroud, but his books are FAR closer to the Nero Wolfe stories in terms of tone anyway.

Over at The Battle of the Books the fighting rages on.  We’ve lost so many good soldiers in this fight.  If you read only one decision, however, read Nathan Hale’s.  Future judges would do well to emulate his style.  Indeed, is there any other way to do it?

You may be one of the three individuals in the continental U.S. who has not seen Travis Jonker’s blog post on The Art of the Picture Book Barcode.  If you’re only just learning about it now, boy are you in for a treat.

“Really? Rosé?”

That one took some thought.

  • Daily Image:

And now, the last and greatest flashdrive you will ever own:

Could just be a librarian thing, but I think I’m right in saying it reeks of greatness.  Many thanks to Stephanie Whelan for the link.

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7 Comments on Fusenews: In which I find the barest hint of an excuse to post a Rex Stout cover, last added: 3/29/2015
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9. Gallery Nucleus Presents Children’s Book Illustrator Adam Rex

From the book that inspired the movie H​OME,​ creator of T​he True Meaning of Smekday,​ Artist Adam Rex will be flying in for his solo exhibition as well as the artist panel for The Art of Home.

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10. ICON7- The Illustration Conference, Part 1

The ICON 7 Illustration Conference was held right here in RI this year, sponsored in part by good ol’ RISD. That was good news for Eric and I…we had our tickets reserved months ago, and it was finally held this week.

The weather was perfect, the city was looking’ good for the hundreds of illustrators that came to town. We didn’t manage to get to any of the workshops that occurred on previous days, beyond going to the RISD Icons art show opening at the Woods-Gerry Gallery (the show is up until June 24th, so you can still catch it).

Our first full day of stuff was Friday the 15th, and it started early. The darkly chipper Masters of Ceremonies were Jennifer Daniel and Nicholas Blechman.

Gregory DiBisceglie, creative manager for Campaign Planning and Special Projects at Macy’s, showed how he tries to raise the bar of creative experiences that Macy’s offers. Why, there’s one of his special projects now… art created by Chris Buzelli for Macy’s Flower Show.

Here’s the art powerhouse Bob Staake, with a page from one of his children’s books. He started off working in a well-regarded cartoony style, but has since morphed into more graphic looks. He says that since art is always subservient to something else, he likes to shake up his style depending on the need. He also like to surprise an art director with unique takes.

My favorite point he made was that art directors come to you because you’re a thinker. So true. Style and execution is less important than concept, so long as the art gets your point across effectively. I find this very true in product design, as well.

Christopher S. Neal, Josh Cochran, and Sam Weber came to talk about the importance of community and collaboration, as learned in the Pencil Factory studio space in Brooklyn. They not only collaborate with each other, but with lots of varied clients.

The importance of collaboration was a theme that kept popping up throughout the conference. Apparently sequestering oneself up in a studio all alone with no input is not the best way to achieve good art, or to get anything to happen with your art. Huh… go figure!

Here are the folks from the Children’s Book panel: Cecily Kaiser (Abrams), Chad Beckerman (Abrams), and Elizabeth Parisi (Scholastic), with Rachael Cole (Schwartz & Wade/Random House) as

9 Comments on ICON7- The Illustration Conference, Part 1, last added: 6/19/2012
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11. Skottie Young, Adam Rex and Neil Gaiman team up, if you’re interested

By Steve Morris

HarperCollins have announced today that they’ve signed Neil Gaiman for a new five-book deal, which will result in three new novels and two ‘picture-books’ straight from the pen of the man who wrote Sandman, Stardust… well you know what he’s written he’s Neil Gaiman isn’t he. Joining him for these projects will be artists Adam Rex and Skottie Young.

Also, pandas are involved.

It appears as though Rex will be drawing both of the picture-books, the first of which sees publication in January next year. Aimed at children, these two books will feature a new character created by Gaiman, called Chu. Chu is a baby panda, who has a ferocious sneeze. Are you already imagining Rex drawing Chu sneezing? Of course you are. It’s adorable. It’ll haunt your dreams tonight.

Skottie Young’s involvement comes as part of the novel side of things, as he will be providing art for a Gaiman novel called Fortunately, The Milk. Now whether this is about a talking bottle of milk whose name is Fortunately? Anybody’s guess. There’s no release date for this story as of yet, although it looks likely to be published sometime later next year.

The second of the novels will be a sequel to his 2009 book Odd and the Frost Giants, whilst the third novel remains an elusive mystery to all. If we cross our fingers, perhaps it’ll be the story of a baby panda and a bottle of milk realising that they were meant for each other.

6 Comments on Skottie Young, Adam Rex and Neil Gaiman team up, if you’re interested, last added: 7/12/2012
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12. The Rumpus Creates Letters for Kids Program

Over at The Rumpus, middle-grade author Cecil Castelluci will coordinate the new Letters For Kids program–a subscription service giving readers mail from authors who write for kids.

According to the launch page, participants will receive “two letters a month written by middle-grade authors like Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler, Adam Rex, Kerry Madden, Natalie Standiford, Susan Patron, Rebecca Stead, Cecil Castelluci, and more.” The service will cost $4.50 per month for U.S. readers, and $9 international readers. The project will expand upon The Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail program for adults.  Check it out:

Some of the letters will be illustrated. Some will be written by hand. It’s hard to say! We’ll copy the letters, fold them, put them in an envelope, put a first class stamp on the envelope, and send the letters to you (or your child) … Six is pretty much the perfect age to start checking your mailbox for actual letters. And if you’ve waited until you were ten, well, you’re four years behind but still, it’s not too late. And if you’re sixteen, that’s OK, there’s still something of the kid left. And if you’re sixty, well… OK. You’re young at heart.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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13. Interview with a Legend in his own Time Mac Barnett

By Nicki RichesinThe Children’s Book Review
Published: September 7, 2012

Mac Barnett

Mac Barnett strikes us as kind of a mad genius. He’s published many bestselling books, founded the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, and is on the board of directors for 826 LA. While wearing these many top hats, he’s infused his delightfully offbeat sense of humor back into the land of children’s literature. It’s a pleasure to share his thoughts on some of his favorite books, time travel, his picture book manifesto, his undisputed rivalry with Adam Rex, and that remarkable sleuth Harriet the Spy with our readers.

Nicki Richesin: You got your start in children’s book publishing with the help of Jon Scieszka as your mentor. Did he offer you any words of wisdom or professional advice when you began writing?

Mac Barnett: I would never have written for kids if it weren’t for Jon’s books. They’re crowd-pleasing and smart, with intellectually rigorous underpinning that never gets in the way of belly-laughs. His and Lane Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is the most important children’s book of the last 30 years. I still send Jon all my work right after I finish it, and he’s given me a ton of guidance. As for words of wisdom, he’s always telling me to upgrade to United Economy Plus on tour, but I’m not sure my publishers will let me get away with that.

NR: Last year in The Horn Book, you issued (along with other authors and illustrators who co-signed) a proclamation in the form of “A Picture Book Manifesto” about the current state of children’s book publishing. What pushed you over the edge to write this manifesto and do you believe it has had the impact you intended? Had you hoped to inspire a sort of revolution?

MB: For a few years there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the future of the picture book. The New York Times famously published a front-page article forecasting the form’s doom, and I’d heard similarly pessimistic prognoses from people inside the business. But the response to these Cassandras was too often Pollyannaish: variations on “The picture book will surely survive because the picture book is magic.” But picture books aren’t magic. Good picture books are magic. The proclamation represents a point of view I was hearing in my conversations with friends and colleagues but wasn’t seeing represented in either side of this Manichean conversation. I hope that it will continue to spark thoughtful discussion about the state of the art and its place in our culture, and also inspire people who want to make good picture books.

NR: You are on the board of directors of 826LA. Working with children in this way must be a great testing ground to try out new book ideas on your audience. Have you ever gotten any ideas from your students/fans you’d like to pursue writing one day?

MB: I’ve been working with kids ever since I wasn’t one anymore, and that’s had a giant impact on my writing. Picture books are a popular art and so it’s always been important for me to know my audience. But I don’t usually get ideas for books from kids’ suggestions. Mostly they just want me to write SpongeBob fan fiction. I give a presentation that shows students how a book is made—it’s filled with mainly useless information. After doing it for a year, a kid told me I should turn it into a book. He was right—Adam Rex is probably busy not illustrating it right now.

NR: You founded the Echo Park Time Travel Mart as a shopping destination for 826 products and accoutrements with the slogan, “whenever you are, we’re already then.” Could you tell us a bit about the genesis of the store? If you met at EPTTM and time-travelled to the Pirate store at 826 Valencia in San Francisco, would you be able to return or would you be forever marooned there?

MB: The Echo Park Time Travel Mart is the leading retailer of time travel supplies: dinosaur eggs, dodo chow, robot toupees—anything you’d need for a trip through the fifth dimension. The store fronts 826LA’s writing lab on the east side of L.A., and all the proceeds go toward the free tutoring we offer students in the neighborhood. The Mart has an online store, and we ship to destinations in the future, from a few days to many months after you’ve ordered, depending on the efficiency of the U.S. Postal Service. As for your question about getting marooned in San Francisco, you should be able to get back to LA as long as your time machine is functioning. We don’t really work on time machines at the Mart—we’re more like a 7-11: a bad place to get your car fixed, a good place to buy woolly mammoth chili.

NR: Your first book with Adam Rex Guess Again was very unpredictable and amusing. I believe you’ve collaborated on six books together now (including your forthcoming Brixton Brothers installment). How do you find collaborating with Mr. Rex? Chloe and the Lion, the first story idea you had in college, is about a girl caught in the middle of a good-natured battle over artistic direction by the author (you) and illustrator (Adam Rex). After seeing your video for Chloe and the Lion, I was left wondering if Mr. Rex’s prima donna ways will prevent you from working together in the future.

MB: We’ve actually done seven—our first collaboration was my very first picture book, Billy Twitters and His Blue Whale Problem. And I’ll tell you, working with him is a lot of work. I’m glad that you were able to see what a prima donna he is from that video—I was worried that a lot of his most outlandish behavior happened off-camera. Did you know that he made Disney provide a craft services table for what turned out to be a 15-minute shoot? And he requested four X-Boxes for his trailer. Adam doesn’t even play video games—they were just so he could sit on them and look taller.

NR: You edited “The Goods,” a McSweeney’s compendium of kids’ games, puzzles, comics and stories created by artists and writers for newspapers across the country. What do you see as your ultimate mission when delivering “The Goods”? 

MB: The Goods, sadly, is now dead, or at least sleeping very deeply. But while it lasted, The Goods invited writers and artists to reimagine the kinds of activities you find (and used to find more) in the “Kids Pages” of newspapers. We featured pieces that were smart and beautifully illustrated, taking inspiration from the lavish stuff you find in the old Hearst and Pulitzer papers. Our timing was probably pretty bad: it turns out the newspaper business is going through a tough spot. But that’s all right. I’m working on my next business venture: going door-to-door selling dial-up modems.

NR: Which authors made the greatest impact on you when you were a young boy growing up in rural California?

MB: Well I was born in very rural California, but moved when I was still an infant to Castro Valley, which is in the Bay Area but weirdly maintains a rural vibe. I went to school in Oakland and so had zero friends in my hometown. I read a lot. James Marshall probably made my favorite books—I loved the Stupids. Let’s see, what else? The Monster at the End of this Book was very important to me, and also But No Elephants by Jerry Smath. My mom bought most of my books at garage sales, so I read a lot of literature from one or two generations before mine, and I feel very lucky for that.

NR: I especially loved your book Extra Yarn as it told the story of a girl who didn’t really care what others thought and even went so far as to defy the dastardly, self-important duke. Were you inspired to write this book by a knitting feminist? 

MB: Thank you! I was actually inspired by a drawing the book’s illustrator, Jon Klassen, had done of a girl and a dog wearing matching sweaters, walking through the snow. The story grew from that piece, (and in fact that moment actually shows up pretty early in the book, before all the bullies and archdukes arrive.)

Illustration © 2012 by Jon Klassen

NR: If you could be reincarnated as your favorite character from children’s literature, who would it be and why?

MB: My favorite character is probably Harriet M. Welsch—she’s perfectly, honestly drawn: funny and strong and flawed. Harriet has a pretty tough time, which is probably not preferable in the next life but is maybe karmically appropriate.

NR: Which projects are you currently working on and are there any stories you’re dying to tell?

MB: I just finished a strange new picture book I’m excited about and now I have to get into a novel that takes place in the desert.

Nicki Richesin is the editor of four anthologies The May Queen, Because I Love Her, What I Would Tell Her, and Crush. She is a regular contributor to Huffington Post, Daily Candy, 7×7, Red Tricycle, and San Francisco Book Review. Nicki has been reading to her daughter every day since she was born. For more information, visit: www.nickirichesin.com.

 

Original article: Interview with a Legend in his own Time Mac Barnett

©2012 The Childrens Book Review. All Rights Reserved.

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14. Fusenews: Though to be fair, who ever heard of harmFUL spitballing?

Howdy-do, folks.  Today I am off to the Yonkers Library to participate in a Charles Dickens panel with some experts in the field.  Why me?  I don’t precisely know but I’m honored to be asked.  Plus the train ride will allow me to read my new Lemony Snicket book (this would be the children’s literature equivalent of bold as you please name dropping).

Onward!

First up, some nepotism, uncut.  The resident husband has a tendency to be brilliant (not that I’m biased or anything).  Recent evidence of this can be found on editor Cheryl Klein’s podcast Narrative Breakdown – Creative Writing, Screenwriting,Young Adult Lit, TV shows and More.  With partner-in-crime James Monohan, the two of them have a habit of talking about writing in all its many forms.  Mr. Bird appears on the episode called “Scene Construction 1 > Character Expectations and Tactics” on 9/8/12 which was described as, “what may be our most ambitious episode yet.”  In related news, Mr. Bird has restarted his blog Cockeyed Caravan in all its wild advisory glory.  I just like this picture he came up with when talking about the roles individuals play in teams:

  • Wow.  This post outlining how creating a book trailer meets Common Core Standards is fantastic.  Many thanks indeed to Joyce Valenza for the link!
  • In case you weren’t aware of it, the Onion A.V. Club has decided that young adult literature is interesting enough to highlight on occasion (articles equating it with chick lit and meritless copyright suits notwithstanding).  In the series YA Why? they split their time evenly between new hot titles and older fare.  Stay for the new stuff but eschew the looks back in time.  Odds are whatever title you see there, the Fine Lines column by Lizzie Skurnick did it better.
  • “…the critic is someone who, when his knowledge, operated on by his taste in the presence of some new example of the genre he’s interested in…hungers to make sense of that new thing, to analyze it, interpret it, make it mean something.”  Flatterer.  As an aspiring book critic of children’s fare, I was much taken with the Darryl Campbell Millions article Is This Book Bad, Or Is It Just Me? The Anatomy of Book Reviews which seeks to not only summarize in brief the spats and spits in the adult literary criticism world (a fine and fancy recap if ever there was one) then goes so far as to define the four classical elements of literary appraisal (“Reaction. Summary. Aesthetic and historical appraisal”).  This one is your required reading of the day.  Many thanks to Marjorie Ingall (who will be part of the literary criticism panel at this year’s KidLitCon) for the link.
  • List this one under Good Folks Doing Stuff You Should Know About.  Now tell me everything you know about The Foundation for Children’s Books.  Not to worry.  If you don’t live in Boston you might not have heard about them.  I’m a New Yorker but I know all too well the good works of the Bostonians, and this organization is particularly keen since they “bring acclaimed children’s book authors and illustrators into underserved K-8 schools in Boston for visits and workshops focused on writing and illustration.”  Folks like Barbara O’Connor, Grace Lin, Mitali Perkins, Bryan Collier, and many many more.  From what I hear, this year they’re hoping to expand their work in six schools, increase the number of donated books they bring to each school, and start a “Books for Breakfast” professional development series in Boston classrooms where they focus on particular “libraries” of new books–for example, “great non-fiction for 4th and 5th graders,” and then donate the books that they highlight to those classrooms.  FYI!!
  • Movie news time!  As you may know I tend to get my heads up from Cynopsis Kids.  This week they threw out a little piece of info that I almost missed.  I was reading up on future children’s movie projects when the title Happy Smekday floated past.  Happy what now?  Apparently I missed Adam Rex’s June post that mentioned that an official announcement had been made about a True Meaning of Smekday movie from Dreamworks Animation.  More to the point the press release (and IMDB page) report that it will star Jim Parsons and Rihanna.  Which . . . is perfect.  Blooming bloody perfect.  Clearly J.Lo will be played by Parsons and Tip by Rihanna.  I’m a little floored.  Mind you, the description of the film that they provide is a bit ugh. “In Happy Smekday! an alien race invades Earth and uses it as a hideout from their mortal enemy. When one lowly alien accidentally notifies the enemies of his whereabouts, he is forced to go on the run with a teenage girl. The two become unlikely buddies and embark on a comical globe-trotting adventure to right his wrongs, in which our alien hero learns what it really means to be human.”  As I recall J.Lo discovers “what it really means to be human” insofar as it means taking road trips and wearing a sheet over his head.  Ah well.  All I ask is that they include my favorite line in the book when he looks at Tip’s car and says with sweet condescension “Oh.  It rolls”.

There’s other book news on the horizon too, so look lively.  Cynopsis Kids has been busy.  To wit:

  • “Universal looks to Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci to produce its feature film adaptation of author Dugald A. Steer’s popular kid’s book series Dragonology (12 books so far), per Heat Vision. Kurtzman and Orci have a first look deal with Universal under their banner K/O Paper Products  Dragonology is part of that agreement. Dragonology was to be written by Leonard Hartman who will now serve as an executive producer. A new writer has not yet been named. Kurtzman and Orci, who wrote and produced Star Trek 2, are also set to write and executive produce the Amazing Spider-Man movie sequel.”

And very very exciting news:

  • FilmNation Entertainment acquires the feature film rights to the popular kid’s book A Tale Dark & Grimm by author Adam Gidwitz. FilmNation is partnering with Marissa McMahon of Kamala Films to finance the development and produce the live-action movie with FilmNation Entertainment’s Aaron Ryder and Karen Lunder. Jon Gunn (Mercy Streets, My Date with Drew) and John W. Mann (Mercy Streets) will pen the screenplay. Based on some of the more gruesome Grimm Brother’s stories, A Tale Dark & Grimm follows the adventures of two unsuspecting kids who hold the key to breaking out of the dark ages. McMahon explains, “Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark & Grimm is a smart, addictive, and hilariously gruesome narrative that turns familiar fairy tales on their head, much to the delight of both children and parents.” FilmNation recently completed filming on the new teen-targeted comedy Premature, which they are producing from writer/director Dan Beers.”

Not so sure about the whole “hold the key to breaking out of the dark ages” part (and you know the devil is totally going to get cut) but still good news for the author.  Have no idea how they’ll do it, though.  I mean, there is a LOT of blood in that book.

  • Daily Image:

It came out a couple months ago but I never linked to it.  You’d do well to discover this great Flavorwire post on 10 Wonderful Libraries Repurposed from Unused Structures (though really, how can you link to one jail and not mention the greatest courthouse-to-library conversion of all time, the Jefferson Market Branch?).  Here’s a converted railcar to library:

And if you liked that be sure to read the follow up post on 10 Awesome Bookstores Repurposed from Unused Structures.  Big thanks to Mike Lewis for the links!

5 Comments on Fusenews: Though to be fair, who ever heard of harmFUL spitballing?, last added: 9/28/2012
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15. Cuteness and More Review: CHU’S DAY by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex

TweetOkay, it’s not a comic. But it is a lavishly illustrated and pleasingly offbeat childrens’ book by the great comics and prose writer Neil Gaiman (his latest longer work is THE GRAVEYARD BOOK) and the best-selling picture book artist Adam Rex (FRANKENSTEIN MAKES A SANDWICH). Last spring at MoCCA Fest, the Children’s Literature panel spent [...]

4 Comments on Cuteness and More Review: CHU’S DAY by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex, last added: 1/25/2013
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16. Neil Gaiman, Adam Rex & Benjamin Nugent Get Booked

Here are some literary events to pencil in your calendar. To get your event posted on our calendar, visit our Facebook Your Literary Event page. Please post your event at least one week prior to its date.

The Center for Fiction will be celebrating the publication of Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do. Join in on Thursday, February 21st starting 7 p.m. (New York, NY)

The Moth will be having a StorySLAM event on “Patters” at HousingWorks Bookstore Cafe. Check it out on Thursday, February 21st starting 7 p.m. (New York, NY)

continued…

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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17. How a Picture Book Is Born

Over at the Muddy Colors blog, children’s book author and illustrator Adam Rex shared his creative process behind Chu’s Day–his picture book collaboration with Neil Gaiman.

The post includes a brief glimpse of Gaiman’s script for their next children’s book project, but we also get priceless shots of storyboards and character sketches from the current book. Here’s an excerpt from the essay:

In a novel you can just throw a bunch of blanks at the end to round out another eight pages if you have to, but with a picture book you need to be more precise. Add to this that nearly all picture books are either 32 or 40 pages long, and it gets even more restrictive. Few PBs are more than 40 pages. None are less than 32 (board books don’t count). I draw 32 or 40 or whatever little boxes on a single page of my sketchbook and start filling them in. I only have the most rudimentary notion what each page is going to look like, but this is where I usually discover the ideas that will make this my book as opposed to a book that was merely illustrated by me. Once I have all my pandas in a row I probably sketch character designs.

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18. Children’s Books Illustrators Contribute Pieces to ‘Imaginary Friends’ Art Show

BeekleSeveral children’s books illustrators will contribute pieces for the “Imaginary Friends” art show hosted at Gallery Nucleus.

The participating artists include Chu’s Day illustrator Adam RexThe Shabbat Puppy illustrator Jaime ZollarsAstronaut Academy graphic novelist Dave Roman, and more. The show will open on April 19th and run until May 11th.

The theme of this exhibition celebrates the main character of Dan Santat’s latest picture book, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. Santat announced on Facebook that he will share limited prints, unpublished art, and design sketches from the book for the display.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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19. Five Family Favorites with Cammie McGovern, Author of Say What You Will

Cammie McGovern is the author of the adult novels Neighborhood Watch, Eye Contact and The Art of Seeing. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and received the Nelson Algren Award in short fiction. She is one of the founders of Whole Children, a resource center that runs after-school classes and programs for children with special needs. Say What You Will is her first book for young adults.

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20. Video Sunday: “Leave out that Oxford comma”

I had the pleasure of seeing just the most delightful show the other day.  The Snow Queen’s run is ending, but you can at least enjoy this little number from it.  It’s been caught in my head all week.  I bestow that honor now upon you.

New York News

And the award for best set design in a book trailer goes to . . .

Mildly miffed that this trailer came out in February but that I only found it now, though.

And now the Weird Al video that shall outlive him thanks to English teachers around the world.  They shall play it from now until the internet burns down to a dark, black piece of coal.

Just when you think they’ve done absolutely everything one can do with the physical book, they turn around and come up with something COMPLETELY NEW!  Trust the Japanese to come up with something this lovey.  More information can be found here.

MOTION SILHOUETTE from KYOT∆® on Vimeo.

Thanks to Marci for the link.

Finally, I was shocked that some friends of mine had forgotten this old Italian video where a fellow performs fake English.  So here we go.  Fake English for one and all.  Love this.

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3 Comments on Video Sunday: “Leave out that Oxford comma”, last added: 7/22/2014
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21. Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and an interview with Zack Rock

Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

by Zack Rock (Creative Editions, 2014)

Zack Rock and I haunt some of the same circles on the internet. I have a tshirt with his work on it thanks to Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves (how cool is that header?), and I have long admired his work thanks to some tea time at Seven Impossible Things here and here. And once upon a time in 2012, Zack wrote a hilarious joke for a Hallowtweet contest run by Adam Rex and Steven Malk.

I remember that well, cause in fun-facts-here-at-Design-of-the-Picture-Book both Julie Falatko and I were runners-up in that contest, and the real prize was getting her friendship. Start of an era, for sure. (Although Zack did get an original piece of Adam Rex art, and we’d both admit to coveting that a little. See below!)

So. I’ve had my eye out for this book for years. Years! And I was so happy that Zack spent some time chatting with me about this smorgasbord of stuff and story. He also said he “answered the living daylights” out of these questions, so I sure hope you enjoy the living daylights out of them like I did.

Welcome, Zack! (That jovial picture is from his blog, where he has killer posts like this one on bad drawings and perspective. Check it out!)

IMG_9253breakerHomer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

One thing I know that’s true of kids is that they love a billion teensy and scrutinize-able details in books. Your book starts out with such cool stuff on the endpapers, that I almost (only almost) don’t want to keep going! Do you have any kind of catalog for these curiosities, or did you just create anything and everything that felt right? Is there a backstory for each of these elements?!

I drew whatever felt right, “right” being subject to how exhausted my imagination was at the time. And though I’d like to leave the history of the curios up to the readers’ interpretation, I carry a backstory for each in my mind—some more convoluted than others.

For instance, in the museum there’s an antique, penny arcade cabinet inspired by the Musée Mécanique, which houses scores of these old contraptions in San Francisco. So to honor them, I fitted my museum’s machine with a tiny, top-hatted automaton of one of SF’s most curious citizens: Norton I, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States of America (a real guy). So plenty of thought went into that curio.

On the other hand, another curio is an apple with a faucet sticking out of it because I was thirsty when I drew it.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

(I love the way this whole book starts. I feel like I’m in really good hands.)

Thanks! I like to consider myself the Allstate of illustrators.

What’s your studio like? Do you have trinkets and tschotskes or a cool window view?

Believe it or not, I’m allergic to collecting stuff, so my studio is bare as a monk’s cell. My mother, however, has a fondness/compulsion for antiquing in bulk; almost none of her massive collection of furniture and doodads got past the door of my childhood home without having first seen several generations of use. It lent the crowded house an air of the same well-worn nostalgia that permeates the pages of my book.studio

Surely you’ve hidden some easter eggs in these pages. Any hints? Any behind-the-scenes stories?

Now I regret not hiding an actual Easter Egg in the museum. Honestly, nearly everything in the book is an Easter Egg, since there’s a secret story encased in each curio. But instead of cracking those open, I’ll share a behind-the-scenes tour of the book’s present day setting.

I created the book while living in Seattle, and Pacific Northwest references are littered throughout it. The license plate on the VW Bug in the first scene reads “FRMTTRL,” an allusion to the massive concrete Fremont Troll lurking beneath the Seattle’s Aurora Bridge. The museum exterior is based on the old town hall in Bellingham, WA, and the fictional island it crashed on is named for Washington State’s notorious children’s writer, Sherman Alexie. A Washington State ferry, the Olympic Mountains, a totem pole from Pike Place Market, and a handful of other Puget Sound souvenirs also make an appearance in the book.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

This book has a real undercurrent of ignored things being a treasure with a story. Are you a treasure hunter or a treasure-leaver-for-somebody-else? (I think that’s what making books is, so you are that one for sure. I guess what I’m asking is why do you think HHH was such a collector of stories, and do you see any parallels in your own life of creative curating?)

Ooo, books as treasures to be discovered, I like that! Makes me sound like a pirate.

Homer is an underdog; nobody would look at him and assume his adventures extend beyond an expedition to the local sushi restaurant. He identifies himself with the object’s he curates, so he surrounds himself with the lost and neglected, and by exhibiting their rich history to the world he literally shares his own biography.

And I’ll leave the parallels with my own life to the armchair psychoanalysts.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

What came first to you in this story: words or pictures? Can you talk to being a picture book creator who deals with both parts? (And in case anyone’s wondering, my favorite line is this one: My luggage may be dusty. But my hat still fits.)

Ha, that’s the one line written entirely by my editor Aaron! He suggested it while editing the book, and I thought it was great too, so we kept it in.

Being an author/illustrator isn’t terribly different than being solely a writer, the main distinction is that you have a visual language to express the story as well. So I can employ the duel butterfly nets of text and images to capture the picture book ideas that flutter into view, jotting notes alongside small thumbnail sketches as I try to pin down plot/character/theme details. It becomes a balancing act of seeing which of the two, words or images, best conveys what needs to be communicated.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s your creative process like? Any weird routines? What’s your medium of choice?

My only real habit—creative or otherwise—are the nightly walks I take after work, allowing my legs and mind to wander. In fact, I got the original idea for Homer Henry Hudson during one of these constitutionals.

And for picture books I work almost exclusively in watercolor, though for other projects I work in pen and ink, digitally, or with accidental food stains.

Who are your literary and artistic heroes?

They’re all in the book! Along with Shaun Tan, Maurice Sendak and Lisbeth Zwerger—who I painted into a restaurant scene—there’s references to Søren Kierkegaard, Jorges Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Renee Magritte, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, George Orwell, Ingmar Bergman, Charles Schulz, and of course, Homer. Even my favorite comedian, Paul F Tompkins, whose podcasts kept me company during the long hours of illustrating the book, has a cameo as a pipe-smoking painting.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack Rock

Do you have a favorite piece of artwork hanging in your house? Or a favorite tune that feels like art?

A few years ago, Adam Rex held a contest to see who could fit the best Halloween haiku into the constraints of a tweet. To my surprise he picked mine, and to my utter flabbergastination he went on to illustrate it and sent me the original art! It’s incredible. I framed it above my art desk as a reminder that, with hard work and dedication to my craft, I may one day hope to be the poor man’s Adam Rex.

Why books for kids?

One of the most valuable skills to possess is the ability to approach the world and its inhabitants with wonder, curiosity and interest. What’s great about kids is that they do this naturally and without being self-conscious. My hope is that Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum and future books will be something readers carry with them as they grow older and are tempted to lose that wonder, reminders there’s so much more to the world, the things in it, and yourself to discover if you approach life with an open heart.

Plus, I have nothing to say that couldn’t be said by a talking dog.Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockWhat’s next for you?

Another book for Creative Editions about the power of stories, this time from the perspective of an acrobatic pig.

How can we buy your book?

Through your local struggling independent bookseller. Or Powells.com. Or, sigh, Amazon.com.

What did I miss?

There are humanoid pears hanging in the first illustration of the museum interior, bottom of the page. Look past the table leg and Grecian urn. See that? It’s a butt!Homer Henry Hudson’s Curio Museum by Zack RockbreakerI’m pretty sure that’s the first butt mention on this blog. Have any treasure-hunters? Or fans of hidden picture art? Since we all love talking dogs, this book is a great choice for all readers everywhere.

ch

 

 


Tagged: adam rex, color, creative editions, pattern, repetition, zack rock

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22. THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, by Adam Rex

In 2007, Disney Hyperion published The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Years ago, someone wrote to tell me it has Native content and wondered if I'd read it. I had not, but today I see that it is to be a movie. So.... here's my analysis of the book (note: I'm reading an electronic copy and using the copy/paste function on Kindle for Mac for page numbers I provide). I provide summary of the book in regular font, and use italics used to indicate my thoughts/analysis.

Let's start with the synopsis posted at Amazon:

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 about an alien invasion.


As the story told in the school essay begins, it is Moving Day, 2013. We learn (later) that everyone is being relocated to Florida by the Boov (aliens), taken there in Boov rocketpods. People are behaving in crazy ways. Tip (the main character) sees a lady running down the street with a mirror as if she was chasing vampires. Then (p. 4),
I saw a group of white guys dressed as Indians who were setting fires and dropping tea bags down manhole covers.
Debbie's thoughts: I don't get why they're setting fires. Maybe that will make sense as I read further. They're dropping tea bags, too. Definitely a reference to the Boston Tea Party, but why are these white guys doing this? If people are behaving in crazy ways I could see individuals doing odd things, but a group of guys doing the same thing? 

A few paragraphs later, we learn that aliens called Boov arrived on earth on Christmas Day of 2012. By June they have taken over and decided that "the entire human race" would have happier if they were all moved to an "out-of-the-way state where they could keep out of trouble" (p. 6).

Debbie's thoughts: This is definitely a colonization story. It parallels the invasion (yeah, I know some of you don't think it was an invasion) of the Americas and subsequent decisions to remove Native peoples from our homelands to Indian Territory or onto reservations. I wonder if there is an interview of Rex, somewhere, wherein he talks about why he chose colonization of the Americas as the basis for this story?

In The True Meaning of Smekday, the initial place for removal is Florida. Tip decides to drive there instead, taking her cat, Pig, along. Recall from the synopsis that her mom was taken on Christmas Eve, so, Tip is traveling alone.

Tip meets up with a Boov alien named J.Lo who becomes her sidekick. He tells her that they've named the planet Smekland because “Peoples who discover places gets to name it” (p. 28). When Tip tries to tell him it is called Earth, he smiles condescendingly. He also tells her the aliens don't like humans celebrating their holidays, so they (the aliens) replaced them with new ones. Christmas is now Smekday. The alien leader is Captain Smek, who discovered this "New World" (p. 30) for them. Hence, places and holidays are named after him.

Debbie's thoughts: I'm wondering how Rex is going to wrap all this up. He's making intriguing parallels to history.

The letter that Tip is preparing for future readers is supposed to tell them what it was like to live during the invasion. In her account of how the Boov conquered the human race, Tip describes a message from the Boov:
A. The Boov had discovered this planet, so it was of course rightly theirs.
B. It was their Grand Destiny to colonize new worlds, they needed to, so there really wasn't anything they could do about that.
C. They were really sorry for any inconvenience, but were sure humans would assimilate peacefully into Boov society.
Debbie's thoughts: Note the use of "discover" and that discovery means ownership, the use of "Grand Destiny"--which is otherwise Manifest Destiny, and the use of "assimilate" which for Native peoples, took the form of "kill the Indian and save the man." So far in Rex's story, no killing or war or disease either, which is a considerable departure from the parallel he's constructed so far.

When the Boov move into the towns, they praise Captain Smek "for providing so many pretty, empty houses in which to live" (p. 60).

Debbie's thoughts: Use of "empty" echoes a lot of writing and stories that characterize the Americas as empty, virgin, plentiful land that nobody was using. You see that a lot in Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. What makes Rex's book different from Wilder's is that in her book empty land was presented as a fact, while the colonization theme in Rex's book implicitly tells us that this emptyness had prior owners and was being taken.

On TV, Smek calls humans "the Noble Savages of Earth" (p. 63) and shows footage of the Boov making treaties--not with world leaders--but with ordinary people.

Debbie's thoughts: Rex using "Noble Savages" --- readers get that the humans are not really savages, but I wonder if Rex's use of it has enough weight for readers to see the use of "savage" to describe Native peoples, or Iraqi's as savages is also wrong (see my post about American Sniper)? Regarding treaties, this is definitely intriguing! People who know Native history know that there are many "treaties" that were made with people who had no authority to make treaties.  

When Tip and J.Lo get to Florida, they don't see anyone. Tip recalls (p. 92)
"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."
Debbie's thoughts: Because this is a humorous story, some of the references to history--like that one--are jarring. If you read only the paragraphs before and after that passage, you won't find the humor that characterizes the tone of the book. 

In Florida, there is a Mouse Kingdom. Tip finds other kids there and learns from them that the Boov decided they wanted Florida for themselves because the aliens found out they like oranges. They chose another state to send humans to: Arizona.

Debbie's thoughts: Again--if you know Native history, you'll recognize that decision, too. The oranges are a parallel for gold or other resources that were/are on Native lands. Learning of the resources prompted the government to take aggressive action against Native peoples. 

Tip and J.Lo head to Arizona. J.Lo is wearing a ghost costume to disguise his alien identity, thereby protecting him from the Gorg, another alien race that wants the earth and seeks to displace the Boov. On the way they pass a sign for Roswell. Tip notes that it is known as a site where a spaceship crashed. J.Lo wants to go to Roswell to see the spaceship, even though Tip tells him people think it isn't true. Then J.Lo tells her that maybe it was a Habadoo ship and moves right to telling her a joke about a Habadoo, a Boov, and a KoshzPoshz. But, Tip's mind drafts off and she doesn't laugh at the joke. J.Lo asks her (p. 204)
"You are not a fan of ethnical jokes, ah? Look, is okay if I tells it, I am one-sixteenth Habadoo--"
Debbie's thoughts: J.Lo thinks that Tip finds the joke inappropriate, but J.Lo thinks it is fine for him to tell it because he is of one of the groups in the joke. This is, of course, the on-going debates about ethnic jokes and who can tell them, but it also strikes me as relevant to this story overall. If Rex was Native, might I be responding differently to the humor and tone he uses?

When they get to Roswell, New Mexico, they meet a group of people. A woman introduces herself as Vicki Lightbody. Tip introduces herself as Grace, and J.Lo as her little brother, JayJay (who, through Tip's quick actions is disguised as a ghost). They head to Grace's apartment, which is across the street from a UFO museum. Others they meet include adults named Kat, Trey, and Beardo.

Tip tells the group she plans on continuing to Arizona. She's seen lots of abandoned cars they could borrow if necessary (theirs was in need of repair). In particular, Tip mentions a turquoise truck someone was driving (p. 228):
"You saw Chief Shouting Bear," said Beardo. "He's a...he's just an eccentric old junkman that lives around these parts. He's kind of a town legend."
"Ha--yeah. The Legend of the Crazy Indian," said Vicki. Then she looked sideways at J.Lo and me and added, "No offense."
"For what?" I asked. "We're not Indians. Or crazy."
I am one-sixteenth Habadoo," said J.Lo.

Debbie's thoughts: First, I don't much like that name, "Chief Shouting Bear." Naming and names are important to people, no matter their heritage, but there's quite a few examples of white writers using Native and Asian names as fodder for jokes. Second, why does Vicki say "no offense" after saying "legend of the crazy Indian"? Did she think Tip is Indian because of her dark skin? Remember--Tip is biracial. Third, J.Lo's response is intriguing. He uses a fraction and a word. The way that sentence is constructed could easily be spoken by someone who is claiming Native identity, not as a way of life, but as a piece of who they are. But why would J.Lo--the alien--say that? What does he know about Native identity and the blood quantum terminology he uses?

The legend they are talking about is this: in 1947, Chief Shouting Bear found a flying saucer. According to the legend, he had been in Roswell in the Air Force during WW2 and was kicked out of the military for believing in UFOs. Now, he keeps that flying saucer in his basement, runs a junkyard, and uses the flying saucer as a way to make some money.

Tip sets off to find Chief Shouting Bear's house because she wants to see the flying saucer. His house is in the midst of a junkyard. When she and J.Lo get there, she is peering over a fence surrounding the junkyard when she hears "That's where the UFO stopped" and looks down "to see a thin, dark man, like a strip of jerky--the Chief" (p. 252). He is wearing a red cap with flaps and a strap (p. 252):
"He otherwise wore the same clothes as anybody else--no buckskin or beads or anything. I'm probably an idiot for even mentioning that."
Debbie's thoughts: I like what Rex did there, acknowledging a stereotypical expectation and pushing back on it. Here's the illustration of the man.



Chief Shouting Bear takes Tip and J.Lo to see the spaceship. Tip sees it is made of papier-mache and not really a spaceship but pretends it is, thereby occupying Chief Shouting Bear so that J.Lo can go look for the telecone booth they've been looking for. She snaps a photo of the spaceship, and Chief Shouting Bear looks at her, puzzled that she seems to think it is an authentic spaceship.

While Tip, J.Lo and Chief Shouting Bear are looking at the telecone booth (the Boov are also searching for it), Vicki Lightbody and Kat show up, prompting Chief Shouting Bear to call out (p. 261):
"DON'T STEAL MY LAND, JERKS!" 
and
"YOU PALEFACED DEVILS!" 
Debbie's thoughts: There isn't any context (yet) for the shouting that he does. I've read a lot and don't recall any Native character calling a white person a devil. I've certainly seen white characters use that word to describe Native ones. I'm not sure what to make of Chief Shouting Bear using that word.

As Tip gets get ready to leave, Chief Shouting Bear asks Tip to come back tomorrow with her car so they can trade it for the telecone, but Vicki says that Tip and J.Lo were going to spend the day with her. Chief Shouting Bear says
"LET 'EM COME, INDIAN GIVER! I WON'T KEEP 'EM ALL DAY." 
Debbie's thoughts: Why is he using that phrase, "Indian giver" in his remarks to Vicki? 

Vicki replies, argumentatively, that it is dangerous for them to be around rusty junk. Chief Shouting Bear says that rusty junk will be all that is left soon, and then shouts (p. 262):
"HAWOOOO WOO WOO WOO." 
His dog, Lincoln, sits at his feet and "howled with him." Chief Shouting Bear says "JERKS" to Vicki and Kat, and Vicki tells him he could have a more positive outlook.

Debbie's thoughts: "Howled" bothers me. And the dog howling with him? Also not cool. This is war whooping straight out of Hollywood, and though we might see a dog joining its owner in making noise, this particular person and his dog howling are problematic because of the long history of characterizing Native people as animal-like. It seems to me that Rex takes two steps forward in this book and then one step back. 

The next day, Tip and J.Lo head to Chief Shouting Bear's place. They talk about people who seem to be crazy. Tip says that maybe Chief Shouting Bear wants people to think he is crazy. When they get to his house and are visiting with him, Tip asks about his shouting, saying (p. 273):
"You didn't raise your voice once when it was just the three of us. [...] But then Vicki and Kat show up and you're all 'GO AWAY, TREATY-BREAKER! DON'T...UM...DON'T--"
Chief Shouting Bear cuts her off:
"I never said 'treaty-breaker."
Their conversation continues:
"Yeah, well, that was the basic theme, anyway."
"I only usually shout at the white people," he said. "Tradition. I've got no beef with you."
"I'm half white," I said, folding my arms.
"Hrrm. Which half?"
I blinked. "Uh...dunno. Let's say it's from the waist down."
Chief Shouting Bear nodded. "Deal. I only hate your legs."
Debbie's thoughts: It is Chief Shouting Bear's tradition to shout at white people? That strikes me as inadvertently making light of actual Native traditions, none of which include shouting at white people. Chief Shouting Bear asking Tip "which half" is akin to the things I've heard a lot of Native people say in response to someone who claims they are part Native. It is a cynical response because Native identity doesn't work that way. Nobody is of this or that identity in a partial way. I should probably re-read the parts of Alexie's book to see how he handles that "part time Indian" in the title of his book.  

The two shake hands on that deal (that Chief Shouting Bear only hates Tip's legs). Tip introduces herself using her real name (Gratuity) and Chief Shouting Bear tells her his name: Frank. She is surprised by that name (p. 274):
"Oh," I said. "I thought...I heard..."
"You heard my name was Chief Shouting Bear," he said. "It doesn't matter. You can call me whatever you want, Stupidlegs."

Debbie's thoughts: I love that Rex is giving us a real name: Frank. Having the character introduce himself with that name humanizes him. With it, he seems to be distancing himself from the name that others call him (Chief Shouting Bear). That isn't a name he acknowledges as his own. With his "call me whatever you want" remark, he also seems to be telling us that such names are easily--but not appropriately--used as a means of belittling someone.

J.Lo hands "the Chief" a card that explains he is in costume as a show of solidarity with his Boovish cousins in their fight against the Gorg.

Debbie's thoughts: There aren't quotation marks around the words "the Chief" in the book. I'm using them there and throughout the remainder of my summary, because rather than call him Frank, or Chief Shouting Bear, Rex defaults to "the Chief." Why? I would have loved it if whenever Tip thinks or speaks about him, she uses his name (Frank). Using "the Chief" moves him back out of a real person and to a dehumanized entity. 

The "Chief" read the card aloud in a monotone voice and then hands it back, saying (p. 275):
"Nothing wrong with that," he said. "Hell, I wore a feather headdress for a while in the sixties."
Debbie's thoughts: Here, I infer that Frank is calling the headdress a costume that he wore in the 60s. It makes me wonder what tribe Frank belongs to. If he was of a Plains tribe, he wouldn't call the headdress a costume. 

While "the Chief" looks over Tip's car, the Gorg arrive, hunting for cats (the Gorg are allergic to cats). "The Chief" scoops Pig up and heads to the house, telling Tip and J.Lo to hide under the car while he runs off to hide Pig and the telecon booth. A Gorg finds Tip and J.Lo and asks where the telecon booth is. Tip plays dumb, and the Gorg asks her (p. 278):
"ARE YOU LOUD BEAR CHIEFTAIN?"
When she says "who" he replies:
"CHIEFTAIN LOUD BEAR MAN!"
Debbie's thoughts: More play with Native names. No doubt, readers find that hilarious--but that hilarity is less likely to be shared if it is your people or culture whose names are mocked like that.

The Gorg grills her until Chief Shouting Bear appears, telling it to leave her alone. The Gorg swung one of its arms, striking "the Chief" and knocking him out. Then he tears "the Chief's" house to the ground, looking for the telecon booth. It finds the basement door, enters, and when it reappears, it takes off, into the sky. Chief Shouting Bear is still knocked out. Tip sees he is bleeding. He needs more than she can do for him, so they get him into the car and go to Vicki's apartment which is next to a UFO museum. There, Kat and Trey ease "the Chief" out of the car. He comes, too, but his speech is slurred. Vicki asks if he had been drinking.

Drinking? Is that a realistic response to someone who has a bleeding head wound? 

Tip is furious with that question and glares at Vicki. Beardo tells Vicki that Chief Shouting Bear got hit by one of the Gorg, and she replies (p. 285):
"Don't you look at me like that. I was just asking is all. Indians drink--I saw a special about it."
They carry Chief Shouting Bear into the museum where he asks them for ice and whiskey.

Debbie's thoughts: Indians drink? A special? This idea, affirmed by a special--interesting that Rex brings forth that "drunken Indian" stereotype, but having Chief Shouting Bear ask for ice and whiskey affirms the stereotype. Disappointing. 

Leaving Trey to care for Chief Shouting Bear, Tip and J.Lo head back to the junkyard and figure out that "the Chief" really did have a spaceship, but that he had put papier-mache all over it to conceal it.

Tip and J.Lo resume their trip to Arizona, ending up in Flagstaff, where Tip tries to find her mom at the Bureau of Missing Persons. During this time in Flagstaff, they live in their car on the outskirts of town and use shower and bathrooms on the university campus.  Everyday, Tip goes back to the Bureau to talk to a guy named Mitch to see if they've found her mom. One day nobody is there because everyone is at a meeting where Boov representatives are speaking to people that have gathered on the campus quad. Tip and J.Lo head over there. J.Lo points out Captain Smek. He's one of the Boov reps, and is talking about the Gorg (p. 317):
"They are a horrible sort," Smek was saying, "and will not show the Noble Savages of Smekland the respectfulness that you have enjoyed from to the Boov. The Gorg are known acrosst the galaxy as the Takers, and they canto only take and take and take!"
He continues:
"We knows of the Gorg and Smekland leaders yesterday," said Smek. "The Gorg have probabiles made for you some fancy promises. Do not be believing them! They lie! They will enslave your race, just as to they have done so many others! They will destruct our world!"
The speech ends with:
"In closing," said Captain Smek, "the Boov are beseeching you: do not give up to the Gorg our world because of petty grudgings! Fight with us--" [...] "Fight alongside us," Smek said, "for a brighter, shiny Smekland!"
Then he repeats the speech in Spanish.

Debbie's thoughts: The occupier that has forced all the people to relocate is now telling them that another occupier won't respect or treat them well. 

Tip hears people around her grumbling about what Smek has said. Smek and the other Boov leave the stage, and Mitch, tries to get them to show respect to Smek. But he also then tells Tip that the Boov are on their way out and that they ought to ally themselves with the Gorg. Then he tells her that a Native American gentleman was looking for her at the hospital. She takes off for hospital and when she runs into his room, shouts "Chief!"

Debbie's thoughts: Again, why isn't she calling him Frank? 

Once in his room, "the Chief" tells her (p. 321):
"Mr. Hinkel," said the Chief, jerking his head toward the sleeping man. "He thinks Indians like me ought to live somewhere else. Likes to tell me about it a lot."
Tip replies that maybe he'll be leaving soon, but "the Chief" says he doubts that, because Hinkel was badly beaten by someone who thinks gay people like him ought to live somewhere else.

Debbie's thoughts: I am trying to sort through Rex's decision to make one oppressed people, embodied by Hinkel, be the one that is being racist towards another oppressed people. It is, of course, plausible, but it doesn't sit well with me. 

Tip realizes that "the Chief" had greeted her as Stupidlegs, and had called J.Lo "Boov." She had thought that "the Chief" believed J.Lo was her little brother.  J.Lo tells her that "the Chief" found out the truth when they were trying to hide the telecloner (back in Roswell). Tip is afraid that "the Chief" will tell someone that J.Lo is a Boov, but he shrugs and says (p. 322):
"When you're Indian, you have people tellin' you your whole life 'bout the people who took your land. Can't hate all of 'em, or you'd spend your whole life shouting at everyone."
Debbie's thoughts: With that, "the Chief" is saying that the Boov are just like the white people, but that he can't let hate consume his life. I need to think about that some more.

Tip realizes that his shouting (we also learn that he is 93 years old) was a way to make people think he was crazy so they wouldn't keep looking for the real spaceship.

While "the Chief" is in the hospital recovering, Tip reads to J.Lo. One of the books she reads to him is Huckleberry Finn. 

Debbie's comments: I wonder if, in the back story for this part of the story, Rex noted that Twain used "injun"?

When "the Chief" is better, he is moved to an "old folks' home" where Tip continues to visit him. On one visit, he tells her he had been sent to New Mexico after World War Two and that he had hated it because of where he was sent (p. 325):
"To a training ground in Fort Sumner. Didn't like it there--lot of bad history for my people. You know I grew up near here? On the res."
"Yeah, you said. So you're...Navajo, then?" I'd been learning a bit about the area.
"Prefer the name Dine, but yes."
Debbie's thoughts: So here, finally, we learn his tribe and what their own name for themselves is (Dine). But what is that bad history? Will kids who read the book wonder enough to look it up? And, a note to writers: the spelling we use is rez (with a z) not res. 

Unhappy being at Fort Sumner, "the chief" asked to be transferred, and that is how he ended up at Roswell. There, he learned the city wanted to build a water tower on a parcel of land, so he bought that land, which meant that the city would pay him rent for building the water tower on his land. The UFO crashed into that tower, but on its way down, it also crashed into a scientific balloon (p. 326):
The tower was totaled, and the city abandoned it--they never much liked our arrangement anyway. Somethin' about paying an Indian for land that rubs white folk the wrong way."
Debbie's thoughts: This sounds about right. Far too many people think that the U.S. government "gives" Native people things, not knowing (or disregarding) that these things (education and health care, for example) were negotiated between Native heads of state and U.S. heads of state during treaty or contract negotiations. I'll also take a minute to note that a LOT of people think we don't pay taxes. We do! Thus, I can imagine people not liking their tax dollars going to pay rent to an Indian landowner. 

"The chief" tells Tip that people knew about the balloon crash but the government was being hush-hush about it because it was top-secret. "The chief" tried to tell people he had a flying disk and an alien in his basement but people thought he was nuts. When they finally came to investigate, he was tired of them and played "the crazy Indian bit."

Tip learns that her mother is living near Tucson in a casino. Mitch passes on this info (p. 335):
"She's living in the Papago lands south of Tucson, in the Diamond Sun Casino."
Debbie's thoughts: Oh-oh. Papago? Hmmm... The people who were known by that name have, for a long time now, been known as the Tohono O'Odham. 

Tip learns that the description Mitch has been using in the search for her mom is wrong (p. 336):
"She's thirty," I offered. "Dark hair. Daughter named Gratuity."
"Black," said Mitch.
I coughed. "Black?"
"I'm sorry," said Mitch. Do you prefer African American?"
"Uh, no, I prefer you call her white, actually, because that's what she is."
"The file says she's black."
"Are you really arguing with me about this?"
Mitch looked tired. "I wrote down 'black,'" he said.
"I didn't tell you to write that," I answered, and then I could see the whole thing. "Have you been telling everyone to look for a black woman this whole time?"

Debbie's thoughts: I like seeing that conversation. Biracial kids and their parents are familiar with assumptions like the one Mitch made. Mitch doesn't answer Tip's question. He moves on. 

Mitch looks up the Diamond Sun Casino and finds it is in Daniel Landry's district (p. 337):
"Daniel Landry's district is far south of here," he said, "on some former Indian land."
"Indian land? Like a reservation?"
"That's right."
"Is this Dan guy an Indian?"
"I don't think so, no. I'm pretty sure he's white. He wasn't a governor or anything before, but he's really rich, so I imagine he's a good leader."
"Uh-huh. But he's white," I said "The Indians elected a white guy?"
"Well...I don't know. I imagine all the other people elected him. 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.
Debbie's thoughts: Wow. Where to start?! Glad that the issue of land, and land being taken, is raised. But the way that conversation is laid out is a bit problematic. The way it is presented suggests that the reservation land was taken from an unnamed tribe. At one time in history, all of that land was Indian land. Today, a lot of reservations are what we call "checkerboard(s)" due to encroachment on reservation lands. See page 39 of Matthew L.M. Fletcher's article, Reviving Local Tribal Control in Indian Country for an in-depth look.  

As they head south to Tucson, Tip thinks (p. 340):
We all gained Arizona by coming here, but for the people who already lived here, we could only take something away.
Debbie's thoughts: I am glad Tip thinks this; I wonder how much readers of the book sit with that thought? 

Once they get to the casino, Tip and J.Lo go inside a tent where Tip's mom is supposedly leading a meeting. Inside, they see a redheaded man on stage with the microphone (p. 344):
"I have the stage! All I'm saying is, now that we've all had to leave our real homes, we got a chance to get America right! There can be a place for the Saxon Americans, and a place for the coloreds, and a place for--shut up!" 
Debbie's thoughts: His 'shut up' is in response to the boos coming from the audience. His hate-filled words are ones we hear, today, spoken aloud. It is good that he is booed. 

Then, Tip sees her mom take the stage. Her mom says (p. 345):
"I know, I know," she was saying. "You have every right. Just like he has the right, right? You don't have to like what he says, but letting him say it makes us Americans, and treating people the way we'd like to be treated makes us human, doesn't it? That's how I was raised, anyway."
Debbie's thoughts: Tough to read what she says. Yes, of course, we defend freedom of speech, but "makes us Americans" sounds like American exceptionalism, and "makes us human" sounds kind of like the golden rule (turn the other cheek), when I think we have the responsibility to call out hate speech. 

While inviting people in the crowd to speak, she spots Tip. Reunited, the three leave the tent and enter the casino where slot machines were pushed together to make walls for peoples homes. Tip learns that her mom was among political leaders who met with the Gorg to talk about the Gorg's demands. The Gorg plan to rid the planet of the Boov. They'll let humans have Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, but if the humans were found anywhere else, the Gorg would shoot them. Further restrictions include not using air vehicles and they can't have cats.

Debbie's thoughts: Most people may be unfamiliar with the fact that, when reservations were created, many of them were heavily policed. To leave, you had to get permission from the reservation agent. If you left without permission, you were "off the reservation" and could be shot. I wonder if Rex knew that history when he wrote that part of the book? 

Tip's mom introduces her to Daniel Landry. They'd just come from the airport where Landry needed her to translate for the new settlers who are Mexican families.

Debbie's thoughts: I'm curious about the Mexican families. He didn't say Mexican American. Remember--Tip is now in Arizona, down near the border, so maybe they are Mexican families being relocated to Arizona, but I don't recall the relocation plan including people in Mexico. 

Tip and J.Lo learn that the Gorg are taking over. J.Lo tells Tip that the Gorg "will take peoples for slaves and furniture and kill the rest." The Gorg had done this to the Voort.

Debbie's thoughts: Slaves. Hmmm... I wonder if Rex knows that many Native peoples from the eastern tribes were enslaved? Is that information the source of his reference to slavery? Or, is it specific to African peoples and enslavement of them? Is he mixing behaviors of oppressors?

Tip goes to visit Landry in his office. He tells her the Gorg have a lot to offer to humans. Tip mutters "Nothing that wasn't ours already." But Landry tells her the Gorg are driving away the Boov and that the Gorg "are giving back the whole Southwest." He tells her that humans are fighting Boov and Gorg, but the best thing is for everyone to be good and obedient to the Gorg, and that they'll leave soon anyway. He says (p. 374):
"Their whole society is based on paying and feeding old Gorg by making new Gorg and conquering worlds. They have to keep making more and more, sending them out in every direction. They're stretched too thin. Sooner or later they'll have too many Gorg and not enough resources, and the whole operation will implode."
Tip doesn't buy it. Back home in the casino, J.Lo tells her that the Gorg aren't stretched thin, and that because they can do telecloning, they won't run out of resources. The two keep talking and figure out that the Gorg clones are less-stable than the ones from which they were made. When her mom gets home, Tip asks her about the clones sneezing, but her mom doesn't recall any of that. And, her mom tells her that the Gorg are going to give them a cure for cancer, to be presented as a surprise at a big gathering.

There's a knock at the door, and it is "the Chief." Tip introduces him to her mom, saying "His real name is Frank." They invite him to eat dinner with them. After dinner, Tip walks "the Chief" out to his truck, where he tells her that some of his friends and cousins are "comin' down from the res" (p. 380).

Debbie's comments: I don't think 'from the res' is necessary. It is implied. And I'll note again, that it ought to be 'rez' (with a z) rather than res (with an s).

Chief Shouting Bear tells Tip that he is getting people together, people that they can trust. Tip asks (p. 380),
"Do you know some of the Papago Indians around here?"
"Tohono O'Odham," said the Chief. "The Tohono O'Odham Nation. Papago is derogatory. Means 'bean eaters.' And yeah, I know a few."
Debbie's comments: Glad to see that response to Tip's use of Papago! 

When the Gorg take Tip's mom, Tip and J.Lo note that they are sneezing and figure out that the Gorg hunt and kill cats because they are allergic to cats. They come up with a plan to fight the Gorg using that information.

They finally drive the Gorg away, and Tip, J.Lo and her mom head back to the casino. There, they (p. 419):
...find the Chief sitting atop his truck with Lincoln, looking out over the southern horizon at the big red ball that was slowly sailing away.
"Ha!" I heard him shout. "That's what you get, jerks."
Debbie's thoughts: The big red ball is the Gorg. He's shouting at them now, too. Gorgs and White people.

In the closing pages, some time has passed. Tip reports about stories from around the world, about people that had fought against the Gorg. Among them are "the Israelis and Palestinians, who managed to work together, for a change," and, "a group of Lost Boys living under Happy Mouse Kingdom" (p. 421).

Debbie's thoughts: Wondering how Israeli or Palestinian readers read that line, and, wondering how the Lost Boys are dressed... 

Here's what Tip says about "the Chief":
Frank Jose, the Chief, died this past spring. He was ninety-four. He said it was his time and mine had overlapped more.
Debbie's thoughts: Rex dropped Papago in the story early on and came back to it later, correcting its use. I wish he'd done that here. Nowhere do I see backstory or story itself that says Frank Jose was a leader of the Dine (Navajo) people. Rex seems to know so much! He critiques so much, and yet, leaves this intact. Why? His character knows better, doesn't she?

~~~~~~~~~~

Some current thoughts. I may add more, later.

As I reflect on Adam Rex's book, I think of it in layers. At the top is the words on the page and the ways Rex succinctly addressed things like names of tribes.  Beneath that top layer is one that constitutes what the characters know, or don't know, about Native peoples, nations, and history. There's so much misinformation out there. Rex bats down a lot but leaves other things as-is.

And beneath that layer is the premise for the story. Invaders come to the earth and start doing to humans the very things that European invaders did to Native peoples. A lot of what happened is not included in the story Rex tells. Warfare, bounties, disease, death... None of that is in Rex's story. All of that was devastating. Rex's story is not. The True Meaning of Smekday is viewed by readers and critics as funny and entertaining. Should it be? Should the colonization of a people--any people--be used as humor? Personally, I can't see similarly horrific historical events being turned into a funny story. Would we do that to the Holocaust? To slavery? But---I wondered---are there such books?

I asked that question on several listservs. Thus far, people are unable to offer a title in which this occurs. On child_lit, Tad Andracki offered some words that I found helpful. There are books for young readers where an individual's suffering due to oppression has moments of humor, but there aren't any where a peoples suffering is treated with humor.

We are, of course, talking about what is/is not appropriate content for a children's book.

One last thought: I think the ethnic joke J.Lo tells has a far broader application than its role within the story. Who can, with humorous tones, tell a story about a peoples suffering? If a Native writer had done this book, might I feel different about the tone?

This is a very long post, and if you've made it all the way here, thank you. I'm walking away from the book for now but will, no doubt, be back with updates and corrections to typos, etc. There's so much more to address than the notes I've shared thus far.

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23. Chu’s Day, by Neil Gaiman | Book Review

Chu’s Day follows the day in the life of Chu the panda who happens to have a giant sneeze. His sneeze is so powerful it makes bad things happen.

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24. Smek for President!

Hang on to your koobish! This sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday sends Tip and J.Lo to New Boovworld to set straight the record of the Gorg defeat, but our unlikely heroes soon find that truth has taken a backseat to the upcoming presidential election. Politics doesn't get stranger (or sillier!) than this. Books [...]

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25. Gallery Nucleus to Host Adam Rex’s Solo Exhibit

Adam RexGallery Nucleus will host the Adam Rex solo exhibition.

According to the organization’s website, this program focuses on the art of two books: The True Meaning of Smekday and Chu’s Day. It will also showcase a behind-the-scenes look at the animated film adaptation (based on the Smekday title), Home.

Rex himself (pictured, via) will make an appearance for a panel to discuss the Home movie and conduct a book signing during the opening reception. This exhibit will open on March 28th and close on April 19th.

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