Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Jules and Kelly weigh in on Frankenstein Takes the Cake

I'm happy to be joined today by Kelly Fineman of Writing and Ruminating in discussing the new book from Adam Rex, Frankenstein Takes the Cake (Which is Full of Funny Stuff Like Rotting Heads and Giant Gorillas and Zombies Dressed as Little Girls and Edgar Allan Poe. The Book, We Mean -- Not the Cake), the sequel to 2006's 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. You Like Food, Don't You? Well, All Right Then) -- both books published by Harcourt.

As I noted a few weeks ago at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, if you haven't read that prequel, well there's a hole in your life too big and awkward for us to even address. But Kelly has joined me today to talk about the new poetry anthology, so let's get right to it...
Jules: So, Kelly, did you just fall in love with this sequel or what? I dare say it’s even funnier than the first one. The opening sequence, “The Mother-in-Law of Frankenstein Makes Wedding Plans” had me laughing out loud. And the art work: I swoon. Such a wide range of styles again and his attention to detail, which I love. And I’m impressed at Adam’s ability to make constructions like rhyming speech-bubble dialogue (to once again reference the opening bit) work. It never seemed forced or off-meter, though it could have easily in the hands of a lesser poet.
Look at me. I’m all over the place here. Adam Rex’s books do this to me. I need to focus. Do you want to talk about the rhymes for a moment, since I consider you a Poetry Goddess?
The Tofillager from Frankenstein Takes the CakeKelly: I agree with you, Jules, that this book is a tremendous amount of fun. Although some of the metres in the book aren't actually "perfect" (e.g., the Message from Adam Rex at the start of the book and a few other places), the inventiveness of the work more than makes up for any deficiencies in metre. As you noted, he pulls off conversations in rhyme without making the conversations feel particularly forced (as in the first poem, "The Mother-in-Law of Frankenstien Makes Wedding Plans"), poem parodies ("An Edgar Allen Poem" - more on that in a minute), haiku ("Kaiju Haiku"), wedding vows and more. One of the things I adored about Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (and that kids really responded well to) were the Phantom of the Opera song parodies. The Phantom didn't make it into this book. In his place, we have three pages with Edgar Allen Poe, all written roughly in the style of his best-known poem, "The Raven." I thought the poems were interesting and fun, and the incorporation of the Raven, who provides for each a different three-syllable rejoinder that rhymes with "Nevermore" sent them straight over the top for me. Plus, I love the gloomy expression of Edgar's face, and I particularly adore the Raven, who goes stomping off across the endpapers at the back of the book, getting the final, final word if you lift the inside flap of the book jacket, although Rex's haiku about himself in lieu of author information completely cracked me up:

He knows Frankenstein's
the doctor, not the monster.
Enough already.

Although many of the poems could be read separately from their illustrations, doing so would be a complete disservice. Rex's clever forays into the incorporation of actual photographs (which I understand to have been manipulated) in "Off the Top of My Head: The Official Blog of the Headless Horseman" blew me away. And the variety in illustration style in this book lives up to and surpasses the original volume.
Jules: Did you notice on the copyright page that part of his media listed is---along with pencil, charcoal, oils, and Photoshop with a Wacom tablet---“probably some other things.” I tell ya, readers are always rewarded when they read the fine print of his copyright pages. Anyway, yes, I adore the variety of styles used here – Adam can really wow with his detailed, lush oil paintings and then nail the humor, say, of a more cartoon-esque panel of paintings or drawings. I think it was Betsy Bird in her review of this title who said that the “Dracula Jr. Wants a Big-Boy Coffin” spread was the best tribute to Charles Schultz she’s seen in a long time, and I have to agree with that. And then he incorporates photography into this one, as you have pointed out. And, yes, speaking to your point about how he created those spreads, Kelly, we have a post over at 7-Imp about it, which can be read here.
I have to say, in response to what you said about the humor in the book, that this moment from the first book made me laugh out loud in a particularly embarrassing kind of way. It still does.
D'oh! It’s Dracula’s wink and the finger gun that gets me every time. So, I was particularly happy to see his return in this sequel – as Frankenstein’s best man, no less. And then to see he’s still a lovable goof? Even better. In this one, he’s milling around at the wedding reception and inadvertently eats some garlic bread, which results in some hyperventilating and a search for his inhaler (or “inhaluh,” as he’s choking at this point). “Vhat became of the list that I gave to your bosses? / I’m not to have garlic, wheat, peanuts, or crosses!”

The Best Man at Frankenstein's wedding He’s certainly not an original character to this book, but I was so happy to see his return that it’s my favorite part of the book.

Incidentally, I know that Betsy also said---in her 2009 Newbery and Caldecott prediction post from June---“I know that silly or funny works of art never get the awards they deserve (and I'm including ALL awards in that generalization) but can't we just forget the hoits and the toits and give {Adam Rex} some lovin'? Puh-leeze?” When I read that, I think I did a cheer. I might have even thrust my arms forward and waggled my fingers in the air in that odd way that cheerleaders do.
What say you to that notion, Kelly? There have been some great picture books this year, but Adam’s work always seems to surprise readers and….well, I’ll speak for myself here: It renews my faith in picture books sometimes. One thing I realized when Eisha and I had our recent blog identity crisis was that when you see tons of new picture books on a regular basis, a lot of them start to look the same to you. But then an Adam Rex book comes along, and each time it looks like nothing else I’ve ever seen before. And in a good way, of course.
Kelly: I say that I'm hopeful, but not entirely optimistic. Funny films don't usually win Oscars, funny books don't usually win fancy stickers. Never mind that funny is much harder to do successfully than serious, whether we're talking acting or writing. Also, I wonder whether this book, which contains excellent poems and illustrations, accidentally shoots itself in the foot on the awards scene by including a) funny poems, b) funny illustrations and c) illustrations in a wide variety of styles. I worry that by showing so much range and versatility within one book, Adam Rex has inadvertently become something like the women of The View, where judges like several of the hosts (or illustrations), but not others, and divide themselves in such a way that the nod goes to someone else, like maybe Suzy Lee for Wave (assuming that it counts as an American picture book, which I think it does), or to Kadir Nelson for We Are the Ship. But I digress.
What I'd like to do is talk about why this picture book is a good read for teens, besides being pee-your-pants funny. I'm starting a list:
  1. It contains sophisticated references to Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," a poem many teens have read or will read. And the poem parodies are funny.

  2. The Headless Horseman blog entries demonstrate the power of Photoshop, a program used by many teens for their own Facebook and MySpace entries. Also, they give excellent ideas for how to lay out a blog entry. Also, they might get kids thinking about making their own papier maché pumpkin heads and hitting the town. Plus, the Headless Horseman blog entries are funny.

  3. The Frankenstein monster will be familiar to many teens, some of whom have read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and some of whom have seen Mel Brooks's movie, Young Frankenstein. Also, the monster's problems with his fiancée and her mother are the sorts of relationship issues that teens deal with all the time. And the issue with the Flower Girl will be familiar to any teens with younger siblings, or who have done any babysitting. Plus, the Frankenstein wedding poems are funny.

Got more to add?
Jules: I’ll add simply this, which touches on what I promised to cover once a month over here at Guys Lit Wire: Teens who are interested in art will get a lot out of Adam’s books. I’m a big believer in using picture books---some, of course (more sophisticated ones. I’m not talkin’ If You Give a Mouse a Cookie)---with teens, books like this, which are cutting-edge illustration on display. I want to be a high school art teacher for five minutes, just to show them this book, share the humor, talk to students about the variety of styles, variety of media used. But then I’d have to go back to being work-at-home me, ‘cause if I were their art teacher, they’d all suffer, as I have barely a shred of artistic talent.

Well, Kelly, I think we’ve covered a lot. ‘Twas fun to talk poetry with you. Quoth the raven, “Any more?”
Kelly: I'll defer to Adam Rex:

Jules, it's been fun working with you!

1 comment :

Kyle said...

We love this book. It is fun to watch the faces of third graders as they re-read a page to make that yes they can laugh at what is written, and not get in trouble.