"Monsters Have Problems Too": Meet Adam Rex
January 5, 2013 11:02 PM   Subscribe

"Just because you might be a monster, that doesn’t mean life is going to be all terrified villagers and biting. There’s a down side—monsters have problems, too." You may not know illustrator and author Adam Rex, but if you enjoy the idea of The Creature from the Black Lagoon ignoring perfectly sensible advice on eating and swimming, of Hulk at the Tropicana, 1965, or of Frankenstein sitting down with a Dagwood sandwich, you might want to get to know his work.

"Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Other Stories You’re Sure to Like Because They’re All About Monsters and Some of Them Are Also About Food" features 19 poems, each richly illustrated, about the trials and tribulations of various classic monsters: "Yeti Does Not Appreciate Being Called Bigfoot," for example, "The Mummy Won’t Go to His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies," and "Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night With Spinach in His Teeth." The monsters -- some of whom Rex made from Sculpey so he could paint from models ("Frank's sweater is the toe of an old gym sock," admits Rex) -- just can't catch a break.* You can see more of the book here.

Its companion volume, "Frankenstein Takes the Cake,” (trailer) brought even more monstrous hilarity, including the prospect of Frank's wedding to (of course) the Bride, whose mother has serious reservations about the match.

Though both books are packed with references to cultural icons that children might or might not get, Rex has pitched the books firmly at kids and their sense of humor. He himself was not an avid reader of children's literature, and he talks about his embarrassing early reading habits (officially licensed D&D books, and not-very-good fantasy**) over at the Books4Boyz podcast. He credits Douglas Adams's "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," which he read at age 11, with changing his view of writing and the possibilities of language. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was the year he started painting.

He also illustrated Amy Timberlake's "The Dirty Cowboy," a children's picture book about a cowboy's annual bath and a clothes-thieving dog. Despite Rex's having depicted the cowboy's nudity strategically, the book was (and remains) banned by one school district in Central Pennsylvania, despite protests from local residents. More on the ban from Rex and Timberlake.

More recently, he has collaborated with Neil Gaiman on "Chu's Day," a soon-to-be-released picture book about a sneezing panda.

He is also the author of several novels, including "The True Meaning of Smekday," "Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age Story" and "Cold Cereal." A fuller list of his work is available here.

Interviews and other silliness:
* The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Adam Rex
* Wired: "Interview With King of the Monster Illustrators Adam Rex"
* Interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
* Adam Rex interviewed by kids

* From the bookflap, "A Haiku about Adam Rex": "He knows Frankenstein’s / the doctor, not the monster. / Enough already."
** He would later go on to illustrate Magic: The Gathering cards!
posted by MonkeyToes (11 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
A snippet of "Godzilla Pooped on My Honda":

Don’t ever go to Tokyo.
I just heard on the radio
that Ghidorah has taken wing
to fight some sort of turtle thing.

And as the monster flew away,
they saw a zipper, plain as day.
It seems perhaps these giant brutes
are giant men in suits.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:03 PM on January 5, 2013

I hate to break it to you, but that isn't Frankenstein.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:00 AM on January 6, 2013

Apparently you didn't read the asterisk reference.

One of my nephews loves the first book; the other is lukewarm; both like the second. And they're the target group, so that's what I know of it.
posted by mephron at 1:40 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like the glum expression on Frankenstein's Monster's face. I hope that sandwich cheers him up.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:58 AM on January 6, 2013

As soon as I saw the name Adam Rex, I had to rush in here and make sure someone plugged Smekday. If this hilarious book doesn't end up as an Important Young Person's Novel, something is very wrong in America.

(Cold Cereal, OTOH, is a confused mess.)

Oh and I see you didn't mentioned the illustration in Guess Again, written by Mac Barnett. It's on a good side as well, although the book's main strength is the writing which is, again, hilarious. Picture book this time.

And speaking of Mac Barnett, you need to read the Brixton Brothers series. They are good anyway, but they are priceless (esp book #2) if you ever read many Hardy Boys.

I can go on about children's books for hours, having spent even more hours weeding through the library for good stuff for kids from 3 to 14. Don't forget Mo Willems! Or Edward Eager! Or...better hit post.
posted by DU at 3:49 AM on January 6, 2013

Rex credits the old Bugs Bunny cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" as one of his inspirations, and I think that's spot-on -- high culture references filtered through zaniness, form skewered (without being deflated) by content. When I read the "Frankenstein" books with my son, I had to do a lot of explaining about background and context, but at the same time, we both had a good laugh about the language and the illustrations. These books stand out as smart, gorgeous and funny, just far outshining so much else of what's available in the kids' section of our library (nothing against my library, or its excellent Youth Services Librarian, but "Scooby-Doo," "Thomas the Tank Engine" and other much-borrowed tie-in books just aren't in the same ballpark as what Rex is doing in these two collections of poetry). Poetry? Aimed at kids? That little boys want to read and laugh at? More power to Rex; that's good stuff.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:03 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Poetry? Aimed at kids? That little boys want to read and laugh at?

The Prelutsky books are pretty good too. Someone who likes Frankenstein will love the restaurant menu poems in the Prelutsky books at the very least.

But I agree about the Thomas and so forth books. I think those are there basically to get kids who only watch TV to be able to recognize something in the library and get them hooked on it. What I *don't* understand is the COMPLETELY AWFUL books that elementary school teachers give out as presents at Xmas time (for example). If you want to make a kid hate books, give him some generic, supermarket-level kid's book as a gift. I can only assume that the teacher is picking the cheapest possible item. I wonder if the teacher would accept a donation of *good* books specifically intended to be given as presents to kids...
posted by DU at 7:33 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I *don't* understand is the COMPLETELY AWFUL books that elementary school teachers give out as presents at Xmas time (for example).

I have a kid in school for the first time this year, and he got one of these. My theory is: they come in very cheap Scholastic paperbacks, or are possibly even part of the freebies the school gets for hosting a week-long book fair.
posted by not that girl at 8:20 AM on January 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

My kids, 11, 8, & 5, enjoyed Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. I liked Smekday, and this post has reminded me to get a copy to leave around for the kids to find. Thanks for the Prelutsky tip, too. I think my 8-year-old especially will like those.
posted by not that girl at 8:28 AM on January 6, 2013

Quick Thomas the Tank Engine defense: the original stories are a lot of fun to read with little kids (4 and under). As with Winnie the Pooh, the derivative product tie in stuff is to be avoided at all costs.

Now I'm off to see if our library carries Dirty Cowboy...
posted by rouftop at 9:13 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you for reminding me - I want to bring "Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich" to my friend's boys when I visit next.
posted by maryr at 9:27 AM on January 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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