Wednesday, January 07, 2009

review: Frankenstein Takes the Cake

Frankenstein Takes the Cake written and illustrated by Adam Rex. Harcourt, 2008 (978-0-15-206235-4) $16.00

From the cover illustration of "Frankenstein" eating the groom off his wedding cake, to the back cover's "Haiku About Adam Rex"--"He knows Frankenstein's/the doctor, not the monster./Enough already"--this book of monster poems is undeniably funny, with jokes lurking in every tiny area, even on the copyright page and under the jacket flap. (Library workers are going to go crazy processing this one.) And like Rex's previous book, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich (my review here), it could take hours to fully appreciate the astonishing illustrations, filled with sly visual allusions and tributes. "Dracula Junior" is a perfect take-off on Charles Shultz, a vampire Charlie Brown, with bat instead of zigzag on his shirt. A running gag about Edgar Allen Poe is a black & white, big-headed, gothic extravaganza. And doctored photographs of the pumpkin-headed Headless Horseman and other of his ilk are superbly done and hysterically funny; I love the Horseman trying to nonchalantly slouch by a throng of "grandmas" who "hound me with piecrusts and poke at my head" with wooden spoons.

But--you could tell there was a but coming, couldn't you?--even more than the previous book, this one is heavy on the jokes for adults. The cultural focus this time seems less on the appreciation of old monster movie characters and more on the Internet age: The Headless Horseman keeps a very familiar looking running blog called "Off the Top of My Head,"; messages from extraterrestrials turn out to be classic spam. And a lot of the jokes from "Frankenstein's" wedding are about irritating mothers-in-law and the bride's last minute cold feet, again more adult arenas. Not that there's anything wrong with that!--just keep it in mind if you're choosing this book for a child. I've seen it recommended for teens, and certainly more literate middle graders could enjoy it. Here's a thought: any kid who enjoys the "Simpsons" Halloween specials would probably love it.

As with the previous book, I was more blown away by the pictures than the verses, but though they have some flaws of scansion and meter, they're also entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the running parody of Poe's "the Raven"; the raven's ending line--"what a bore," "Tipper Gore" "Get the Door! (Ya stupid poet)" gets funnier every time it appears. (8 & up)

See and hear a poem from the book, performed by its creators, here.

Other Blog Reviews:
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

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