Books Books about Books Meta-Reading Non-fiction Wednesday Picture Books Reading Themes

[Nonfiction Wednesday] From the Seeds of an Idea to “How This Book Was Made” by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex


Myra here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book meme 2017 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year.

We have just launched our reading theme for September and October: Meta-Reading – Bibliophilia and All Things Books. I thought that it would be good to welcome the new theme with a book that stretches out the truth just a tad, but is still based on a true story, and manages to show the humorous and brilliant collaboration between Mac Barnett and Adam Rex on how books are made.

How This Book Was Made: Based On A True Story

Written by: Mac Barnett Pictures by: Adam Rex
Published by: Disney Hyperion, 2016
ISBN-10: 1423152204
ISBN-13: 9781423152200
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

One of the best things we love about reading is when we read about reading. Another way of saying that is, as bibliophiles who love books, we like nothing better than read books about books – hence the meta-aspect of our current reading theme. This book is essentially the poster-child for everything that we hope to feature in the coming months.

From the seeds of an idea, Mac Barnett and Adam Rex (same artist and author who brought us the infinitely-humorous Chloe and the Lion) take the reader on a journey of the mind to the written page to a published material. It basically demystifies book-making by showing how rigorous the entire process can be such that it circumnavigates the globe just to ensure that it falls to the hands of the reader.

Most children tend to not take writing too seriously – even more so, children’s book writing – and perhaps not just children, but most adults too, trapped in their own ivory tower nonsense. It helps how Mac Barnett showed that it often takes several drafts before his writing is good enough – not to be published – but to be sent to an editor, who is kind of like “a teacher, only she works in a skyscraper and is always eating fancy lunches.”

He also very facetiously talked about the volleying back and forth of the manuscript, underscoring who is boss of who in the writing, until both editor and author feel satisfied enough with the narrative. But it doesn’t end there. The editor, then, sends the manuscript to an artist somewhere in Arizona where it stays for quite awhile, presumably to be worked on diligently with paints, colours, and computer graphics, as the author grows a loooong beard from sitting around and waiting.

The above image is one of my favourites – talk about the book within a book, within a book – so very meta and postmodern. These clever details, I believe, are what make a Mac Barnett and Adam Rex collaboration work so well, they regard their young readers as intelligent enough to appreciate the complexity of their narrative, and at the same time making it so much fun. Clearly, they are enjoying themselves. If you don’t believe me yet, read the jacketflap where they described in detail how the author and illustrator were made.

I also like how they mentioned that the manuscript needed to be sent halfway around the world to Malaysia to get printed and how the stack of printed books reach the US in a “slow boat.” Then it started going haywire from there with pirates, the ubiquitous tiger (who also appears in the endpapers by the way), and the occasional toads and eagles. They did manage to make it less fantastical, in the end, though, leading some semblance of credibility in the entire book-making process. As per usual, they created a lovely book trailer to go along with the book. Enjoy!

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] From the Seeds of an Idea to “How This Book Was Made” by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

  1. I don’t know how I missed this book, but it looks fabulous, Myra. I am loving your new theme, and will find this book!


  2. I enjoyed this book. It didn’t really sell as well in the store but it was a fun read.


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