Friday, October 30, 2009

Amazon Vine

Recently, Betsy Bird of the School Library Journal blog Fuse #8 posted a critique of the "Vine Program" of customer reviews. For those of you who are unaware of the program, here's how Amazon describes it:

Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.

Hardly seems problematic on its face, and I believe that the majority of Vine reviewers are indeed probably "accurate and insightful." But I appreciated Betsy's critique, particularly this quote. Parenthetical notation is mine:

Guess Again! (my book with Mac Barnett) is the straight picture book equivalent of a fractured fairytale, upsetting a reader's expectations, making it hee-larious to kids around the 5-8 year-old age range (I agree with Betsy's age recommendation here, though in the interest of honesty I should point out that the publisher markets it as 4-8). But the Vine program sent the books out to folks with small children who were then shocked SHOCKED when they discovered it wasn't for their tiniest of tiny tots. That would be fine, but then they felt obligated to leave tepid reviews in spite of the fact that they knew perfectly well that their kids weren't the intended audience.

Betsy's post has generated about ten times the comments she could normally expect, and these are mostly from Vine reviewers who feel she's being unfair. I originally thought I should stay out of it, since my book is one of the two examples she uses to explain her position. But that's cowardly.

Amazon reviews (and, presumably, customer reviews in general) have always had a problem with people buying books under false pretenses and then trashing those books for not meeting their ill-informed expectations. The trouble with Vine is that it seems to be institutionalizing these mistakes.

Literally all of the 19 middling-to-poor (3 stars or less) reviews of Guess Again are by Vine reviewers. Of these, a full seven, by my count, base their low rating on the fact that the book failed to appeal to a person for whom it was never intended. In most cases the reviewer was a parent of a 2 or 3-year-old. In one baffling case, the reviewer acknowledged that Guess Again! is a kids' book but explained, "...I am adult and not a 5 year old."

These people are essentially assuming that all clothing is one-size-fits-all, and then grumbling when a grade school uniform is too large for their toddler and too small for their husband.

I hope readers will understand that I do not mind poor reviews if they're thoughtfully written. Kirkus called my novel The True Meaning of Smekday "Inspired but problematic." They felt I'd missed my mark but at least acknowledged that I'd aimed high, and I preferred that review to some which were quite positive but described the book as nothing but a zany romp.

Anyway, the point is probably moot for a number of reasons. Poorly considered customer reviews are unlikely to go away, and they probably have less of an impact on sales than I think–I'm told, despite everything, that Guess Again! is doing all right.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trash Day a Third Time

This week I thought I'd clean out all the old stories I have no intention to use anymore and put them out by the curb. This one is actually a painting from an old story–the first picture book I ever wrote and dummied up in its entirety. It was called Red, and it was sort of a postmodern urban retelling of the classic tale Little Red Riding Hood. I wrote and worked on this in the mid-nineties, and if you remember the picture book market around that time you'll know that the last thing the world needed was another postmodern retelling of a classic story. Needless to say, Red was never published, but I always liked the slow bus I designed for this scene:

I claimed above that I'm pushing all this old stuff to the curb, but the truth is I've recycled this bus design before, in my book Tree Ring Circus.

I hate wasting stuff.

4 Guys Tour Wrap-Up

Nice article over at Publisher's Weekly today about my recent tour with Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and David Shannon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Trash Day Again

This week I thought I'd clean out all the old stories I have no intention to use anymore and put them out by the curb. Today's selection is NOT FOR CHILDREN.

A while back I thought it might be a fun writing exercise to use the subject lines of various spam emails I received as a jumping-off point for very short fiction. Then I went on to write only two such pieces. This is one of them AND IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

Re: bookcase Are you ignoring me? dandelion

Dear Dandelion,

Of course I'm not ignoring you. I've just had a lot on my mind. I'm sorry things haven't been easy lately--I don't know why they haven't. But I thank you for asking me directly. I think we really need to clear the air here in the study, and I'm not talking about the cat boxes.

Although, seriously: could you scoop those? The cats aren't even aiming for the box anymore.

You say you look at me now and see nothing but row after row of books, and every spine turned against you. Be fair---I'm a bookcase. You knew that when you met me. When you met me that summer Sunday at Ikea.

It was like something from a movie: a blond, firm-shelved bookcase named Billy catches the eye of the young Dandelion, who aches to fill the emptiness of her first off-campus apartment. I know I'm not high class. I know I was a bit of a do-it-yourself project in the beginning, but all you saw was potential. Do you remember installing the optional glass and wood veneer frame hinged doors? With help from your roommate who smells like garlic all the time? I remember the first time you opened my doors. You used to open them all the time.

I guess that's it. I just don't feel like you've needed me much lately. I know you're busy, with school and all. Hell, it could be worse. I could be with someone who doesn't even have books. I could be nothing but someone's entertainment center, holding up a fucking TV right now. And I know nobody's going to want sloppy seconds with a cheap piece of ash pressboard from Ikea. You could probably put me out on the street right now and I wouldn't be able to give myself away. I'm yours.

Look, we'll get through this. I'm sorry I've been so distant. I only ask that you give me a dusting now and then. Maybe a good polishing on our anniversary.



Monday, October 26, 2009

Trash Day

This week I thought I'd clean out all the old stories I have no intention to use anymore and put them out by the curb. Here's one, on a topic about which I had no business writing, given that I have no kids of my own.


It was the two hundredth day of the two thousandth year when the orange lightning crashed and Minotaur Baby was born.
He came out backwards, so his head was Very Surprising. The doctor wrapped him in a blanket of breathtaking blueness, and handed him to Father.
“Oh,” said Father, looking down into Baby’s inky eyes. “He doesn’t look like I thought he would.”
“They never do,” said Mother.
“It’s just...” said Father, “I didn’t realize we’d have a Minotaur Baby.”
“No one ever does,” Mother said.

They brought the Great and Heroic Minotaur Baby home to the castle. They fed him milk and honeyed peaches, and burped his strong back. They put him to bed, but he would not sleep, and he mooed for forty days and nights.
His moo was like a beautiful car alarm.
“It’s hard,” said Father, “when you have a Minotaur Baby.”
Mother nodded. “No one has ever had it so hard.”

On his second birthday, Minotaur Baby magically transformed into Monkey Monkey Baby. With two heads he could cry and ask questions at the same time. He could Talk and Talk. With the speed of a rabbit and cunning of a fox, he could knock over lamps and put a sandwich in the stereo. Swift, clever Monkey Monkey Baby.
“Sometimes...” said father, “...sometimes I wish our baby was still a Minotaur Baby.”
Mother nodded, and cleaned up the pudding.

Years passed, and Monkey Monkey Baby turned into Perfectly Normal Boy. Boy played sports and liked to draw. He learned a great many things in school. Sometimes he was bull-headed, and sometimes he got into monkey business, but mostly he was normal. Perfectly Normal Boy.
"It'll all be easy from now on,” said Father. Mother agreed, and they both nodded and smiled, because they had never done this before.

On his sixteenth birthday, Perfectly Normal Boy began changing into 300 Pound Werewolf. He grew hair where there had been no hair before. He could be mean and moody, and didn’t like being around Mother and Father. He liked to howl, and he liked to run in packs of other Werewolves. Sometimes he was still Perfectly Normal, but mostly he was a 300 Pound Werewolf.
When he was eighteen, and his parents could stand it no longer, 300 Pound Werewolf went to live in another town. Mother and Father made sure he knew how to get there. And they made sure he knew how to get back, too.

While he was away, he stopped turning into a Werewolf. He grew and grew, and became a Giant. He was strong as a forest and smart as a library. And he was Homesick.
As he drove home to visit Mother and Father, he wondered what they’d talk about. He was so different from them, after all.

But his parents were giants, too. He hadn’t remembered.

“I’m sorry I used to be a werewolf sometimes,” said the Giant.
“That’s okay,” said Mother. “We always loved you.”
“Even when I was a two-headed monkey?” asked the Giant.
“Even when,” Father said.

One day the Giant fell in love with a beautiful Giantess, and they got married. Soon, there was a baby on the way.
“I hope he has your eyes,” said the Giant to his wife.
“I hope he has your smile,” said the Giantess to her husband.
And they hoped and they hoped.
But they had a Minotaur Baby anyway.

Frequently Asked Questions 5

When did you start drawing?

This is in sort of the same category as “Where do you get your ideas?”–it’s one of those questions everyone asks, maybe without really knowing why. From now on when someone asks “When did you start drawing?” I expect I’ll steal Shaun Tan’s excellent answer:

“When did you stop?”

Nearly all kids draw for fun, and their drawings tell stories. We all start out as illustrators, and we all start at about the same age–as soon as we can work a crayon. Most people quit at about the same time too, in their tween years somewhere. I don’t know why people stop–are they distracted by organized sports or hobbies or the opposite sex? Do they stop simply because they aren’t good enough, and in these years we all abandon those activities at which we don’t already excel? I’m asking.

Anyway, Tan’s is the only response that makes sense for a question to which we all already know the answer. It makes sense because it answers the secret question inside the question–“Why can you draw when I can’t?” Because you stopped and I didn’t. This is also why I can’t play guitar or throw a Frisbee.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Ends

Just saw Gogol Bordello for the second time last night. Is there any better live act? They're like human muppets. It's like Animal left Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem to front his own band.


Previously I shared some art and sketches from The Brixton Brothers #1: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by me. One of my favorite things about the bound book, however, is the endpapers. Click to enlarge.

It's my intention that each successive Brixton Brothers book with have a new endpaper vignette.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Animal Act 2

More combination animals. Once again, these were drawn on tour on big pads of paper with Sharpies, based on animal suggestions taken from the audience. Then the kids usually named their creature, and I usually suggested it should be their new school mascot.
Reaction to this suggestion of mine was varied. Some kids embraced the idea (probably understanding that it was a joke and that in a day or two everyone would forget all about it), other kids folded their arms and essentially said, "No, we're satisfied being the Wildcats actually, thanks."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

SLC Puppets

Oh wow. Courtesy of Ben Esch I just found out about this Salt Lake City Library puppet adaptation of my picture book, Pssst! Consider going to YouTube and watching it in high quality, I think it's worth it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Animal Act

I thought I'd share some drawings I made throughout California and Arizona.

It's become a regular shtick of mine to ask audiences of kids for animal suggestions and then combine said animals into a hideous chimera for their amusement. Then I frequently invite the kids to name it. Here are a few. I'll show more later.

A girl named the fellow below "Chow Chow." It's on the tag.

No name for the last one, but notable for being the only time I've been asked to draw a bearded dragon. Mac had to pull up a little jpeg of one on his iPhone for reference.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Photo From My Recent Tour

From left to right: Me, some guy I don't know, Spike Jonze, Max Records with a box on his head, Daniel Handler, some guy I don't know wearing a crown.
Photo from Angela Petrella, who got it from someone else.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tucson Appearances

Just a quick note to warn anyone who was planning to come to my UofA appearance this morning that it's been cancelled. But Mac and I will still be at the Borders on Broadway at 2pm.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Half Minute Horrors

Halloween is coming, and there's a great new book out to celebrate the season–Half Minute Horrors. I can say it's a great new book without conceit because, even though I have a one-page comic in it, a whole lot of other people have stories and comics as well. Just look at some of these other people: Neil Gaiman, Brett Helquist, Margaret Atwood, Lemony Snicket, Lane Smith, R.L. Stine, James Patterson...and to say that the list goes on and on is something of an understatement here.

And it's a great book because it's published in partnership with First Book, a nonprofit that puts books in the hands of children from low-income families.

Go look for yourself at There you can read some of the stories, learn more about the book, and LEAVE A SHORT STORY OF YOUR OWN FOR OTHERS TO READ.

My contribution to Half Minute Horrors is an illustrated version of this.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Mystery of the Unfinished Cover

Thought I'd share some of the preliminary sketches I completed for The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, which is officially published today!

Even though Amazon has been shipping it for weeks.

As you can possibly see, we were toying around with another figure here–a female librarian either commanding the commandos or trying to fell Steve Brixton with a dart gun. I thought it was getting too busy and pushed to remove her. Hope I made the right decision.

Another Tour Reminder

Adam will be appearing with David Shannon, Mac Barnett, and Ambassador Jon Scieszka at Yellow Book Road today at 4pm:

Yellow Book Road
7200 Parkway Dr. Suite 118
La Mesa, CA 91942

Monday, October 5, 2009

New Tour Video...

...over at Guys With Books, our official tour blog.

Event in La Jolla

Adam will be appearing with Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and David Shannon at Warwick's Monday, October 5th at 5pm.

7812 Girard Ave.
La Jolla, CA 92037

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Kind of Last Minute Tour Reminder

Adam and the other three guys will be at the Leroy Haynes Center at 233 Baseline Road in La Verne, California at 1pm today.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Inexplicable Tour Moment #1

So we're doing a 4 Guys event at a school which will remain nameless, and right before things get underway we find a pair of glasses on the stage. As the only bespectacled Guy on the tour I am especially concerned.

After our presentation I approach a teacher as he leads his class out of the auditorium. This teacher looks as if he's changing very slowly from Antonio Banderas into Keith Richards, and I've caught him at a sort uncomfortable middle stage where he hasn't the charms of either. But I tell him I've found a pair of lost glasses, and he looks at me for a good long moment. Then he looks at the glasses, and back to me again.

"Do you want me to crush them?" he asks.

Under different circumstances a question like this might have thrown me, but I've already completed a few school visits and am already in the sort of headspace required to roll with the often Dadaist questions of six and seven year-olds.

"No, actually," I answer, "I thought there might be some sort of lost and found."

Antonio Richards grunts and nods, as if reluctantly acknowledging this mysterious troubadour and his unfamiliar but equally valid non-glasses-crushing ways. He thanks me and takes the glasses, and ten minutes later I'm wondering if the whole episode really happened, and whether it might make for a decent blog post.

Thursday, October 1, 2009