In my seemingly eternal quest to finish a rough draft of my own middle grade novel, I continue to turn for inspiration to the books I enjoy reading. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex is one of those books.
I am no illustrator but I do enjoy writing picture books, which is probably why I like this book so much. Adam Rex is blessed with a talent for story-telling using both written word and illustrations—his story is original, imaginative, and often hilarious. The format of this book harkens back to children’s novels of the 60s and 70s, peppered with black and white sketches and illustration notes, but it functions more like a modern children’s picture book, with cartoon strips and ‘photographs’ supplementing the plot rather than reflecting it. Don’t skip over the images—though you may be tempted because the book is a real page turner—you’ll miss important story details if you do.
The main reason I keep coming back to this book is because the plot is smart and the dialog funny. The story line posits a pair of unlikely heroes who run away from—and later defeat—colonizing aliens. The narrator, Gratuity Tucci (Tip for short), and her alien sidekick, J. Lo, are so good together that this daring duo are high on my list of all-time favorite odd-couples.
Art, voice, and a kickass sense of humor blend to make this one of my favorite reads, and a source of inspiration anytime I think that the plot of my own middle grade novel might be too bizarre. I remind myself that there’s always room for original stories, like The True Meaning of Shrekday, that take the mainstream and tweak it until we can’t stop grinning.