Saturday, February 24, 2007

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

Because the word "Frankenstein" is in the title, a lot of folks seem to have the impression that this wonderful bit of writing and illustrating by Adam Rex is somehow a Halloween book. I understand that, given the cover, but that's simply not correct. If you click on the link I made from Adam's name, you can check out some of the art (and pages) inside the book in nice, big fashion.

Oh yeah, the cover:

Now, I could see how you might think it looks all Halloween-y because it has a monster on the cover, but this book is all about monsters, and not at all about Halloween, with the possible exception of the poem "Count Dracula Doesnt Know He's Been Walking Around All Night with Spinach in His Teeth," (apostrophe missing from "doesn't" in the original) which may (or may not) be following some sort of Monster Mash party.

This book is an all-around winner, and not just the winner of the prize for incredibly long subtitles. Full title? 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.

Even the page containing the front matter is clever in this one -- subtitled "The Invisible Man Makes A Snow Angel," all the copyright and publishing info are scooted about to leave white space where the invisible man is at work. The giving of thanks to "John James Audobon, Richard Scarry, Maurice Sendak, Edward Gorey, Charles M. Schulz, and the casts and crews of rather a lot of motion pictures from the last eighty-odd years" explains Rex's roots more clearly than my having a go at them.

I really enjoyed the several poems that can be sung, including all of the Phantom of the Opera poems. These include "The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'It's a Small World' Out of His Head," "If The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'Pop Goes the Weasel' Out of His Head HE'S GOING TO FREAK OUT," "Now The Phantom of the Opera Can't Get 'The Girl from Ipanema' Out of His Head"("Every song comes out a samba, although he wants to write an aria, so his top blows and he tears his clothes and goes, 'AAAHRG!'") and "The Phantom of the Opera is Considering Giving Up Music and Doing His Haunting Somewhere Else", which is set to the tune of "B-I-N-G-O". Another immediately singable title is "The Mummy Won't Go to His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies", which goes to a playground/jumprope tune involving the girls in France and their underpants.

The mixture of forms in this book is well-handled and entertaining. Whether it's the limericks from Mitchell and von Fuzz found inside the illustrations of some of the Phantom poems, on a café menu, and elsewhere, rhymed couplets, abab quatrains, or the song forms, the poetic forms were all handled well and with excellent humor. A particular favorite is "The Dentist", which has the benefit of being very funny while putting kids at ease about dentists.

The illustrations are in many cases integral to the poems, as in "The Middlewich Witch-Watchers Club", where illustrated "information cards" make up part of the poem. Sadly, it's the one poem where his metre goes wonky -- in the very last line, where one must really manipulate "cack cack-a doodle-a DOOOOO!" in order for it to fit the scheme in the last stanza by taking a pause after the initial cack. I believe some syllables are missing, in fact. Still, it got such a giggle from both of my kids (ages 12 and nearly 14) that I'm not overly bothered by it.

I particularly enjoyed the variet of illustration styles in this book, which are cleverly described in the aforementioned front matter: "The illustrations in this book were created with oils and . . . oh gosh, lots of stuff." The variety of styles and palettes really kept this one alive, and I was easily able to remember several of the poems after a few days, and wanted to go back and have another look at a few of them.

Those of you in the writing game know that "funny" is not easy to do, and it's not easy to do well. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich is funny throughout, including "Zombie? Zombie!", which is probably the weakest poem in the book from a poetic standpoint. Yet it is funny, and is funny in a very different way from some of the more erudite pieces. Adam Rex is my hero for taking extremely diverse literary subjects like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Yeti/Bigfoot, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Dentist, the Phantom of the Opera and more and making them interrelate. It's no small feat, and is actually a highly literary endeavor, even if the end result is a collection of humorous verse. It is based in some extremely intellectual and metaphysical literature, and it takes that literary angle and shoots it through a comedic prism, the result being a collection of poems that hang together nicely and are accessible on at least some level to even the youngest audience.

Bravo to you, Mr. Rex!
I can't wait to see what you'll do next.
Your poems are great,
Your pictures first-rate,
If you don't write more books I'll be vexed.


!an said...

What a great read! Hello from Melbourne, Australia. Question - would you contribute a haiku to my Hot Cross Haiku blog? Go on, you know you want to ;-)

Kelly Fineman said...

!an -- Thanks for stopping by. I've been reading some of the recent posts on your blog, "Hot Cross Haiku", and they're marvelous. I particularly enjoyed the one you wrote about supermarket cake.

I'll be happy to contribute.

!an said...

i have to tell you about this cake. chocolate mud cake. 15 cm high double layered with fresh cream. topped with soft chocolate icing and crowned in a circle of chocolate swirls. oh my lord, it was orgasmic! and everyone (except princess) thought so too. and where did i get it from? safeway supermarket for A$5.95. amazing. (btw, i've just posted your haiku. thank you for that. come visit again!)

Kelly Fineman said...

Good lord, that cake sounds divine.

Liz Jones said...

Good to see you here, Kelly!
I can actually find all of your posts at the same time, instead of paging through everything!

Anonymous said...

the tattoo is mine! :D