Friday, February 26, 2010

Common Sense

(Titled in deference to Thomas Paine's much longer blog post about the authority of the monarchy)

A post by Ben Esch alerted me to Common Sense Media (CSM), a group dedicated to informing parents about the appropriateness of books, movies, etc. for their children. This group has begun to partner with Barnes & Noble online to provide this kind of subjective information on its product pages. Specifically, Ben pointed me to the fact that CSM rates Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret as inappropriate for children under eleven, "a little iffy" for kids eleven to thirteen, and only fully appropriate for people fourteen and up. In case you think you misunderstand that: CSM believes that Blume's classic about the onset of puberty is truly appropriate only for kids who are post-pubescent. Which I don't really understand, but they must have their reasons.

All this got me wondering what CSM thinks of my books. Let's look at The True Meaning of Smekday. They consider it a little iffy for eight-year-olds, fine for nine and up. That's roughly what I tell parents myself when they ask, so great! CSM also has sections titled "The good stuff" and "What to watch out for," in which praise or warnings are dished out on a 0 to 5 scale on a variety of subjects. Regarding "Violence," Smekday gets a warning level of 3. Okay. I would have given it a 2, personally, but Star Wars: A New Hope gets a 3 as well, and I think they're similarly violent.

Regarding "Drinking, drugs, & smoking," CSM gives Smekday a warning of 3. Reason? "Several types of alcohol mentioned." This is true. On I believe about two pages (out of 423) my narrator does mention alcohol. She even implies that her thirtysomething mother partakes from time to time. There is no actual consumption in the book, but merely acknowledging the existence of alcohol apparently is worth a 3 of 5–that's pretty bad, and I feel a little ashamed of myself. The movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for example, earns a five, and the protagonists of that story consume absurd amounts of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco nonstop, even while driving, for days. Again, to be clear: there is only one step between my middle grade novel's depiction of substance abuse and that shown in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Oddly, if we look at Star Wars again we see that, while CSM recognizes actual alcohol consumption therein and the smoking of a pipe, it earns a warning level of zero. I'm guessing this is because Star Wars features only space alcohol and so forth. I have a lot to learn.

There are other things, but I don't want to go on and on. Smekday also earns a warning of 3 for what I'd previously thought was fairly PG-rated, prime-time language. It gets two frowny faces for "some racial tension between Native Americans and whites, and between African Americans and whites." I haven't read my own book in a while–can someone in the comments remind me which page the black-white tension is on? Thanks in advance.

But enough of all this negativity, lets get to "The the good stuff." What does Common Sense Media say are the positive messages in The True Meaning of Smekday?

There are no positive messages in The True Meaning of Smekday.

Okay! That about wraps up my post about Common Sense Media. This is Adam Rex, wishing you safe reading.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

I realize I haven't been posting much as of late. 2010 has really started off with a bang. And by "bang," I mean "existential crisis-level workload." But in honor of today I decided to search my hard drive for the word "Valentine" to see if I had anything kicking around. I know, it sounds so sweet when I put it that way.

Frankly, I'm sort of ambivalent about Valentine's Day. The arteries of it are clogged with hackneyed greeting cards and performance anxiety and stultifying expectations. But here's what my computer found, from a truthy sort of piece I started writing about the planets:

PLUTO– Scientists no longer consider Pluto a planet, but rather our Solar System’s second-largest plutoid. And if this sounds like a big consolation prize, the astronomical equivalent of a Valentine from your mom, you are right. It is.
I sympathize with Pluto, as scientists recently phoned to tell me that I could no longer be considered fully human, but would henceforth be known as the world’s second-handsomest adamrexian. I thanked them, expressed my appreciation that they called me personally rather than just letting me hear about it in the media, then spent the next several days staring searchingly into mirrors and crying myself to sleep.

And, because most of you probably come here to look at pictures, here's a rejected cover sketch for a humor anthology I'm illustrating–the first of a number of anthologies published under the umbrella of Jon Scieszka's GUYS READ. More on this anthology to come. For now I'll just say I consider this possibly the best failed cover idea in my history as a cover artist.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


I love this. The True Meaning of Smekday readers Stacy (mother) and Zoe (daughter) decided to let me know that Zoe IS that book's protagonist, Gratuity Tucci. And I'm not going to argue with them, are you?

Above is their approximation of the illustration that opens the book, below is the book's closer.

This made me wonder if anyone else out there ever looked at one of my books and thought Hey, his Frankenstein looks just like my Uncle Whoever or Wow, the way he draws Billy Twitters reminds me of my classmate, Whatsisname. Anybody got any photographic proof of something like that? Or maybe you just think one of my characters looks like a politician or celebrity. If so, send pictures or links to adamrex(at)earthlink(dot)net.