Cold Cereal, written and illustrated by Adam Rex, 422 pp, RL 4

Adam Rex. I always get very excited whenever the Mr Rex has something new to share with the world of books and his latest novel is no exception. You may know Rex from his poetry picture books which are now Halloween staples, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake. If you do not know his work, you MUST at the very least scroll through my review of The True Meaning of Smekday, Rex's middle grade novel about an alien takeover of the United States which he wrote long before post-apolcalyptic YA books were the rage. This review also includes images from Rex's superbly illustrated picture books, some of which he writes himself, some of which he teams up with the equally fabulous Mac Barnett. Rex also wrote the funny but bittersweet teen novel Fat Vampire. In a nutshell, Adam Rex is a multitalented author and illustrator with a diverse, if not unique (is anything truly unique? I hate to use that word lightly, but I will use it here) perspective.

So what does Rex bring to the table besides his superlative illustrations? Intelligent humor, uncommon characters and unpredictable plots. In Fat Vampire Doug Lee is a pudgy fifteen year old learning to deal with his newly static existence. In The True Meaning of Smekday Gratuity "Tip" Tucci tries to make her way to Florida (as directed by the alien race of Boovs that has taken over Earth and is relocating all Americans to Florida) but her journey becomes and odyssey when a Boovish alien on the run from his fellow Boovs (and who insists on being called "J.Lo") hijacks Tip's car. Oh yeah, and she is a kid who is planning to drive from Pennsylvania to Orlando. Both books offer subtly (and sometimes sharp) social commentary that makes for laugh out loud moments that will have you reading passages to the nearest warm body. Cold Cereal, Rex's newest book, is squarely a middle grade book and, while it is still very funny and full of interesting characters and excitement it is just a tidge lighter on satire than his other books and heavier on traditional fantasy, although with Rex's particular vision. With Cold Cereal, Rex has written a book like no other I can compare it to, which is something I really like to do. That said, while these are wildly different books, there was one moment at the very end that immediately called to mind to the final snowy scene of Philip Pullman's masterpiece, The Golden Compass
As fellow Rex fan noted in her fantastic review at Pink Me, this is a book that is hard to do justice to in a traditional review because there are so many intricacies in both characters and plot. The brief, positive review of Cold Cereal at Kirkus Reviews proves this. I am going to try to summarize the book and provide a sense of the tone of the story, but I may fall short. In the event that I do, just go out and buy all of Rex's books and read them for yourself or give them to someone special who will.

Cold Cereal begins with Scott and his seven-year-old sister Polly having cereal for breakfast. Their mom has just moved them to Goodborough, a company town in New Jersey inhabited mostly by the employees of the Goodco Cereal Company who's slogan is, "There's a little bit of magic in every box." This proves to be remarkably true, but it will take Scott and his new friends most of the book before they relize just how true. The first day of sixth grade at his new school also happens to be field trip day (to the Goodco Cereal Factory) and that is when Scott meets the twins Emily and Erno. Although Scott seems to be the main character in Cold Cereal, this duty is shared almost evenly between these three kids, which is uncommon for a sci/fi - fantasy novel. Usually there is one hero facing peril and the helpful friends. Scott, Emily and Erno all seem to be a threat to and threatened by the evil forces in this book.

Scott, who has an embarrassing name that is the result of his father's background as a superstitious stage actor, is actually named Scottish P. Doe. I'll let you try to figure out what the P stands for, but I can tell you that Scott's name is vital to the story in more than one way. His father, John Doe, has become a phenomenally famous actor who left his family shortly after Polly's birth, about seven years ago. He is now the knighted Sir Reginald Dwight and has gone into hiding after punching the Queen of England in the face. There is a reason that he punched the Queen that is revealed toward the end of the book and mocked mercilessly in a commercial that Dwight shoots for Goodco. This makes Dwight the perfect candidate to stay with Scott and Polly while Goodco sends their mother, a physicist, to the Arctic for two months to do research. Why does a cereal company need a physicist to do research in the Arctic? That question is left to other books in this proposed trilogy. Emily and Erno are also suffering a parental loss of sorts when their foster father and Goodco employee, Mr Wilson, disappears, leaving behind cryptic notes reminiscent of brain-building games he concocted for the twins. Somewhat parentless, as are the heroes of all good works of middle grade fantasy, the three try to figure out what is going on and what Goodco has to do with the strange things happening around them.

What are these strange things? Well, when Scott's class takes another field trip into New York City to see Oh Huck!, the musical of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a blinding migraine leads him into the men's room at the Port Authority where, after a ruckus, he finds a leprechaun, or clurichan, as Mick insists he be called. After taking him home in his backpack and agreeing to help him, Mick shares some information that helps Scott make sense of the odd things he has seen from time to time his whole life. Most recently, before Mick anyway, he spotted a unicat (Scott "glanced away and looked back, blinked a few times, gave the animal every opportunity to resume being an ordinary housecat; but it remained stubbornly fanciful") and a rabbit-man with a horrible lisp named, naturally, Harvey. These magical creatures are the victims of a megalomaniacal and far reaching plot by Goodco to enslave these beings and use their "glamour" to nefarious ends. I am sure that the word "glamour" has been connected to magic and magical creatures for a long time, but I had never heard it before reading Cold Cereal and I was tickled every time I read that word in context throughout the book because the characters using and benefiting from the "glamour" were anything but glamorous. Just another layer to this multilayered magical tale. Over the course of Cold Cereal, Mick shares stories of life in his world and helps Scott, Erno and Emily piece together a vague idea of just what the folks at Goodco and, more secretly the Goode and Harmless Freemen of America, a powerful group with 987 levels of membership that claims to be a direct continuation of the Round Table of King Arthur, resurrected in the late 1800s by Nathan Goode, son of Zachariah Terribull Goode, founder of Goodco, and Jack Harmilss, are up to.

So, there you are. A pretty basic outline that doesn't reveal too much of the plot but, alas, does not reveal everything that makes Rex such a standout author. For that, I'll use his own words. And, had I more of his images to share, you would see that, besides illustrations, there are a few pages in the book where panel illustrations depict Goodco commercials that have pivotal roles in the book. What follows are passages from the story that I marked, both for their fantastic use of language and descriptive brilliance. Sorry that they are out of context, but no one will read this review if I make it much longer. I'll start with the lisping Harvey. By the end of the novel I ended up bookmarking all of his dialogue because it cracked me up every time, but I'll start by sharing just this one snippet with you here then more great parts of the book:

"I don't know," said Harvey, his ears twitching about. His trousers were sooty and his tie torn. "It wath all very confuthing. Caoth."

Caoth. Ha!

The last time Scott had hear the word magical this much he'd changed the channel.

They never got to hear what he [a Goodco thug] thought was going to happen, though in all likelihood he would have gotten it wrong. "My partner and I are going to be run over by a rabbit driving a Citroën" just isn't the sort of thing that occurs to most people, no matter what kind of life they've led.

And, finally, one of my favorite standout passages in the book comes during a climactic scene when it seems that Scott and Mick are about to meet their maker, a magical gun (named Glamdring) pointed at them by Goodco's flip-flop clad bounty hunter, Haskoll. Also noted at Pink Me, this passage is cited as being a "mercifully short Denoument Exposition (and I will regress to grown-up critic for a moment to say that an author's ability to keep the Inevitable Face-off Monologue from turning into a bloated flashback novella has become one of the metrics by which I judge his or her skill)." I really couldn't have said that better. Despite the fact that I was a Literature major at a rigorous liberal arts college, I have lost my scholarly vocabulary and honestly could not have dredged that language out of my decaying brain to critically note one of Mr Rex's outstanding skills as a writer the way Pink Me does, so thanks to you.

"GAAH! Jeez!" Scott snarled suddenly. Even Mick jumped. "Could you possibly just go ahead and kill me?! You're not seriously so evil that you're actually going to make me listen to you talk first, are you?"
"Whoah! Hey, Scotty's grown a pair-"
"Shut up. Okay? My name is Scott. Or Scottish, or . . . " Scott took a breath. "Look, just because you've won doesn't mean you're clever, or funny. You're just a horrible jerk with a gun. And an idiot. And you dress like an idiot. If you have a magic gun, you call it Ex-Calibre, okay? It's obvious. you stole Glamdring from The Hobbit."
"Ex-Calibre," Haskoll repeated. "Huh."
"And seriously . . . friends are more important than air? Do you even listen to yourself? You talk like a birthday card. Some awful birthday card with flowers on the front."

As I read that passage I was cheering for Scott and for Adam Rex. Hope you will too.

Book 2 in the trilogy, 
 is due out February 5, 2013!

More great images from COLD CEREAL

This is Biggs, the Sasquatch-like nanny to Erno and Emily I failed to mention in my review. Biggs reminds me a bit of Andre the Giant as Fezzik in The Princess Bride. I guess that's true for Adam Rex, too.


Rex is also a talented sculptor and makes character models when illustrating a book. In fact, his next picture book with Mac Barnett is a mixture of illustration and sculpture and looks fantastic!

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