I love hearing stories of how couples first met. The second they jump into their well-worn narratives, I'm completely entertained. The divided dialogue is always peppered with conflict and misunderstanding, but driven by a sweet inevitability: For better or worse, they're meant for each other...
... kind of like this couple in When Harry Met Sally. I'll never forget when the husband says, "Her face was burned on my brain." Look at how tickled she is about that...
Yes, the best of love stories always have a feeling of certitude about them from the get-go. But that awareness isn't always shared by both parties, right away. Sometimes, great loves start metaphorical miles apart. And it takes a good deal of creativity and perseverance to bridge the distance.
Picture book XO, OX: A Love Story by Adam Rex (illustrated by Scott Campbell) has great fun with this very idea. It's a bumpy-road-to-love story that connects with kids and grown ups alike, and I thought Valentine's Day would be a perfect time to share it with you!
XO, OX is the story of clumsy Ox who is in love with glamorous Gazelle. One day, Ox decides to write to Gazelle to share his feelings, and his correspondence kicks off a hilarious exchange filled with assumptions and misunderstandings. Rex's language is poetry, and the comedic subtleties are just genius.
How do I love this charming story? Let me count the ways...
1. The Letters: XO, OX is told entirely through letters sent between Ox and Gazelle. Both characters lean on formal phrasing to establish their intentions. (For Ox, flattery. For Gazelle, dismissiveness.) But when their wires get crossed, clarifications prove quite challenging.
2. The Insults: Quite by accident, Ox repeatedly insults Gazelle. Every note includes a dose of adoration, along with a backhanded compliment. While Gazelle tries desperately to cut off the correspondence, she can't help but set him straight.
3. The Fury: With every letter, Gazelle grows more and more furious and emotionally entangled. She knows Ox is beneath her in every traditional way, but his letters cut through her hardened exterior and reach her heart. Isn't that just how love is?
For all of these reasons and more, XO, OX was one of my very favorite books of 2017. Our family loves Rex's many other books, too, from Tree-Ring Circus and Moonday to 2017 standouts Nothing Rhymes with Orange (written and illustrated by Rex) and The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors (illustrated by Rex). July 2018 brings Rex's next book - the much-anticipated Star Wars title Are You Scared, Darth Vader?
It's an honor and a pleasure to have Adam Rex as the featured guest in my latest Author Spotlight...
3 Questions with Adam Rex
I adore everything about XO, OX. It’s so ornery and sweet at the same time. What inspired the story?
It’s such a dumb anecdote. I saw a safety sign, like the one below; and I can only assume that finding the word OX in such a context got me thinking about the individual letters, and how they also connote kisses and hugs. The phrase, "XO, OX" popped into my head and struck me as funny, and I got to thinking about what kind of story might have such a title.
Your illustrative work is phenomenal. How do you know if you’ll take on the art for a book (like MOONDAY - another fave of mine) or if you’ll team up with an artist, as you did with Scott Campbell in XO, OX?
Sometimes I just don’t think a manuscript plays to my illustrative strengths all that well. Sometimes it’s just a feeling—am I strongly compelled to illustrate this one myself? If not, then why would I when I could potentially get to collaborate with one of my illustrator heroes? Then, as a result, I often have enough leeway in my schedule that I get to illustrate a book for one of my author heroes.
When our family reads your books, it’s like hanging out with a friend who knows just how to make us laugh. Can you share a bit about how you came to find your writing voice?
I wish I knew how to pick it apart. I know there’s a lot of Douglas Adams in there, because I first read his Hitchhiker’s trilogy at age eleven, at a time when I don’t think I was even faintly aware of authorial voice. Most of what I was reading probably had little or no voice at all. And then here comes this book that is almost 100% this idiosyncratic, funny voice, and it taught me that just the right arrangement of words can really exceed the sum of its parts. And a slight rearrangement of the same words can fall dead on the page. And I think I’ve been chasing after that idea ever since.
Thank you, Adam, for stopping by the blog - and Happy Valentine's Day to all!