Happy New Year to those in the kidlitosphere! Thanks to NetGalley and generous publishers I am back in reviewing action with relevant and upcoming titles. Today, grab a spoon and dig into the new Adam Rex middle grade novel, Cold Cereal.
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Adam Rex, made the middle grade reader fall in love with poetry with the brilliant Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich. TheTrue Meaning of Smkeday was my go-to book for boys in my 5th and 6th grade classes who “didn’t like to read.” Now Rex has written Cold Cereal. This book may have started with Rex looking at his Lucky Charms™ and asking himself, “What if they really WERE magically delicious?”
Enter the fictional Goodco Cereal company in the fictional New Jersey town of Goodborough. (Yes anything can happen in New Jersey.) Scott Doe, has recently moved to Goodborough so his scientist Mom can have a job at the cereal factory. He’s a smart kid who is angry at his famous movie action hero father Sir Reginald Dwight (aka John Doe) for leaving the family. On his first day of school he meets the twins Emily and Erno. The three of them are in the class for gifted kids, “Project: Potential,” but it is obvious from the start that Emily is more gifted than Erno or Scott. Emily and Erno’s foster father pits them against each other to solve riddle and scavenger hunt style games. What starts as a simple game turns into a magical mystery.
While the book is heavy on action– there are motorcycles, cars, vans, guns, wands, magical voids, evil doctors, and a secret society, don’t tell the kids but this book is well-written too. (Tastes great and good for you?) Rex writes fabulous character description that goes beyond the physical and gets to the emotional heart. Here, Scott meets Emily for the first time. Every seat on the school bus is taken…“Except for a seat right up front, on which sat one very small and delicately pale eggshell of a girl.” Rex often uses humor to develop and expose the flaw’s in his characters. The gifted and talented class that Scott, Emily, and Erno are in… “was taught by Ms. Wyvern, a musty, clown-faced woman who spoke with an unplaceable accent that was thick with gurgling r’s and sneezy vowels.”
Is this book “magical realism?” I suppose so. There’s a lot of magic, and it happens in the real setting of a small New Jersey town. To help the reader, Rex introduces the magic slowly and makes the reader wonder if it is real. Does that human really have a rabbit’s head? Does that cat really have a unicorn-like horn? Or is it a hallucination brought on by Scotts migraines. This device, along with the portal-based magic that centers around the cereal factory gives the reader a reason to believe that this magic could logically happen in the book even if they don’t see it in their own town. By then the reader is fully hooked in the world and things get really absurd. Rex trusts his reader. From vocabulary and figurative language, to action and magic, he allows the reader to look between the lines.
The book is highly illustrated and Rex is a master artist. While the advanced copy I saw only included sketches, it was obvious that Cold Cereal is another wonderful example of the blending of written and graphic elements ala Brian Selznick, and Lynne Rae Perkins. Personally, I’m thrilled to see publishers embracing the visual for older kids instead of casting aside visual literacy at the expense of text.
Everything was not green clovers, and yellow horse-shoes for me with Cold Cereal. Rex has a lot going on in the structure of the story. Maybe too much. He manages the changes in focus from Scott to the Twins well, but he has more going on than that. Mick the Leprechaun has his own magical stories that get thrown in from time to time taking the reader out of the story action. Rex also includes long passages of back story, secret society and magical history at the expense of pacing and forward story movement. The baffoonery of the Freeman sometimes feels irrelevant to the story and comes across as Rex's personal commentary on secret societies in general. The age old device of having the bad-guy talk too long to expose her evil history and plot may work well in movies, but it seemed like another pause button violation to this reader.
A good middle grade novel needs to stand on its own, and Rex certainly ties up most of the loose ends, but he leaves the reader poised for a sequel. If you are a sequel lover, as are most middle grade readers, you’ll enjoy this but the whole sequel phenom is a recent pet peeve of mine.
The book launches on February 7th. Adam Rex has served up a slice of humor, and a glass of action, alongside the magical Cold Cereal for a nutritious reading experience.