Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Two picture books for Halloween by Adam Rex

Being a monster isn't all frightening villagers and sucking blood. Monsters have their trials, too. Poor Frankenstein's cupboard is bare, Wolfman is in need of some household help, and it's best not to get started on Dracula’s hygiene issues.

Adam Rex has written and illustrated two picture books just right for Halloween:
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (2006) and his newest, Frankenstein Takes the Cake (2008), both published by Harcourt Children's Books. In Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, nineteen funny poems delve into the secret lives of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bigfoot, Godzilla, the Phantom of the Opera, and other scary creatures.

In a range of illustration styles from Charles Schulz to John James Audubon, Rex uncovers funny, scary and clever truths about everyone's favorite monsters.

Loaded with all manner of small rhyming stories (titles include "The Lunchsack of Notre Dame" and "Godzilla Pooped on My Honda"), the book is not merely a showcase for Adam Rex’s painting skills — he’s as equally talented at penning fantastic light verse. This is not a book of rhymes that dumbs anything down, and kids will find the results pretty funny:

If invisible men cause complaint, / get a squirt gun, and fill it with paint. / And wherever you go, / squirt around you to show / who’s a visible man, and who ain’t.


Sure, Hyde was snide, he always lied, / and women cried to see him. / And yet, it still was such a thrill / when Jekyll got to be him.

Frankenstein Takes the Cake goes in a slightly different direction. There are similarities to the first book (the black and white Edgar Allan Poe bits replace the Phantom of the Opera glimpses, for example) but Rex has added a bit of a plot to his story as well. Now you end up with a story, eyeball-popping illustrations, and humor, stuff that kids and adults will find positively hilarious. And yes, there’s an obligatory poop joke too.

So what happens? Well, it’s just about time for The Bride of Frankenstein to get married, and you know what that means. Letting her parents know that she is A) Alive again and B) Marrying a fellow who’s green. Meanwhile there are catering questions to take into account (some advice... do NOT offer vampires “steak” or a werewolf silverware).

There’s a flower girl to freak out (not hard). And there’s a buffet line with some delicious and unfortunate (for Dracula) garlic bread on the menu. Other poems in the book discuss varied topics as the Headless Horseman’s dilapidated head, the dangers of answering your door the day after Halloween, and alien spam. It all ties together by the end, until you’re left with a cranky raven badgering you to finish the book.

Rex’s dialogue-turned poetry is pretty sharp, but there are other shorter poems, based on Japanese haiku, that are nicely twisted too. “A Haiku about Adam Rex” reads, “He knows Frankenstein’s / the doctor, not the monster. / Enough already.”

In the Kaiju Haiku section, there are pen and ink drawings done with just a hint of red. One features red blossoms, falling upon the barren earth. It’s only when you refocus your eyes that you realize that you’re looking at a scene of devastation: it's Godzilla trampling Tokyo. It is accompanied by the poem “An autumn rampage / the sound of leaves and soldiers / crunching underfoot.”

The real reason to buy the book, of course, is its sheer goofiness. Where else are you going to encounter the line “Quoth the raven: Tipper Gore..." The pop-culture name-dropping has been scaled back a fair amount from the first book, but Rex allows himself to be extremely silly in that way once in a while. No other author would ever think of “peep” as one of the ghoulish words of Edgar Allan Poe. (And then there's the Headless Horseman’s blog.)
Both Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake are gross, cool, weird, and fun. Everything, in fact, that kids look for in Halloween books.

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