Adam Rex is a creative genius. Cold Cereal, his latest tween novel rivals his first – The True Meaning of Smekday – in originality and humor. But I have some nits to pick.
First, though, librarians, moms, dads, if you want to get your kids laughing at a sort of post-apocalyptic novel (rather than wondering when we'll all start shooting at one another), recommend and read The True Meaning of Smekday. On Smekday, we learn from narrator Gratuity Tucci (aka Tip), the Boov invaded Earth and corralled all Americans, including Tip’s mom, to a reservation in Florida. Eleven year old Tip decides to hop in the family car to rescue her. Helping her along the way are her cat Pig (who has a strange affection for Boovs) and a Boov named J.Lo who is an expert mechanic and on the run from his own kind. The three go on a funny cross-country road trip and, in the end, save the world (and maybe the universe). Yes, the book drags a bit in the second half. It’s as though Rex has too many ideas to squeeze into this one book. But it’s still an enjoyable read.
I felt that the same way about Cold Cereal. The book is replete with orphans used as guinea pigs, possibly evil step parents, magical creatures (including Bigfoot) used for nefarious purposes, Arthurian legends brought back to life, riffs on commercials and cereal (one is called Burlap Crisp), and send-ups of almost everything you can imagine, including Freemasons. Luckily, it all works. And Rex doesn’t have to fit all his ideas in one book because Cold Cereal is the start of a trilogy. I’m astounded by Rex’s originality and think kids will love his books.
Now onto the nits. The first time protagonists Erno and Scott meet Merle Lynn (yes, that Merlin), he’s described as wearing a “wifebeater.” And it’s a damn shame that particular word was chosen because the description of Merle’s attire is evocative enough without it:
“He wore a threadbare blue bathrobe over his boxers and wifebeater. The robe was pilly in places and no more than a meager crosshatch of thin gauze in others. It appeared to be worn not so much out of modesty as out of a sense of loyalty to the garment itself.” I love that line: a sense of loyalty to the garment. I have a sweatshirt I feel that way about. But why use “wifebeater” in a children’s book? T-shirt would have worked just as well.
Also inappropriate is one of the bad guys saying to 10-year-old Scott “Whoah! Hey, Scotty’s grown a pair…” Seriously? I don’t care if the bad guy is supposed to be offensive. Why would you use that phrase in a book for kids and have them addressed to a 10-year-old? If someone said something like that to one of my kids (even now, at 16 and 13), I’d let him (or her) know how wildly wrong that is.
So, those are my nits. Somewhat interestingly, Adam Rex has a children’s book out right now too: Chloe and the Lion, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Rex. And near the end of the story Chloe calls someone an idiot. The book is an indulgence for Rex and Barnett--one about the process of art and story. It’s an OK book, but not a great one. And having Chloe shout “idiot” lessens the whole tale a bit.