Four guys hit the road: (from l.) Mac Barnett, Adam Rex, David Shannon and Jon Scieszka.
Two authors. Two illustrators. Four books. Dozens of appearances. And, by all reports, immeasurable hilarity. These were some of the key components of the Guys with Books author tour that recently sent four creators of new Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers titles on the road. On board were Jon Scieszka and David Shannon (Trucktown Truckery Rhymes and Robot Zot!) and Mac Barnett and Adam Rex (Guess Again! and The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity).
Scieszka and Shannon participated in the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., on September 26 before joining Barnett and Rex for a whistlestop tour of northern and southern California. (The foursome then split up: Barnett and Rex visited three cities in Arizona, after which Scieszka and Barnett toured the New York tri-state area.) As a quartet, the guys performed on school auditorium stages, read their books to kids in schools and stores, drew zany-looking creatures on easels, and even entertained fans by making whale noises. While on the road, the authors documented these antics (and many more) in a blog featuring photos and videos.
Though a seasoned veteran of author tours, Scieszka, the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, says it was a first for him, to be on a four-person book tour. “It was a lot of fun to be goofing around together, kind of like a four-man standup act. It made it more newsworthy, and made it a bigger event for the schools, stores, and kids.”
Planting a flag for reading.
And it clearly made it more fun for the guys. “Being on the road alone can be grueling,” Scieszka observes. “You sometimes don’t even know what city you’re in. So to have this shared experience was great. We spent half the time laughing our heads off about apparently nothing. I’m sure quite a few people thought we were insane.”
Asked what the advantage was of touring with three colleagues rather than solo, Rex wryly comments, “Let me answer that question by telling you about the precipitous drop in events attendance Mac and I observed after we parted ways with Jon and David and continued on through Arizona. Jon’s coattails in particular are very long, and between gigs he’d let Mac and me ride around on them, so we missed that.” And he supplies an addendum: “I had to take the bad with the good, however. Whatever boost my self-esteem received from all those big crowds and reflected adoration was eroded by simply spending so much time around three guys who are smarter and funnier than I am.”
The idea for the Guys with Books tour came out of launch meetings in which editorial, publicity and marketing staff brainstormed about how to promote these authors’ new releases, says Justin Chanda, v-p and publisher of S&S Books for Young Readers, who edited all four books. “As we started to talk about these books together, I started to see a common thread. These four guys all have similar senses of humor and are some of the funniest guys in the business,” he remarks. “So we thought, why not try something we’ve never done before and send these four out there together and show the vibrancy that’s behind the creation of these books? We knew these guys could definitely entertain each other—and anyone else they encountered.”
A ham meets a goat.
Which they did. At an elementary school in northern California that has a small farm attached to it, Scieszka insisted on reading Robot Zot! to a curious—and hungry—goat, who boldly took a bite of the book after briefly listening. On Shannon’s 50th birthday, the other three insisted on taking over for him and mimicked his presentation (“He said it was his birthday,” Sczieska quipped. “But I think he might have made it up, just to get cake and sympathy”).
One of Rex’s favorite tour memories was the response of students at a California elementary school to the authors’ request that the kids sing their school fight song, which concluded with an anthem to their canine mascot. “You don’t realize it until you hear it,” he says, “but 200 kids singing happily and unselfconsciously about their favorite English Sheepdog turns out to be one of the best sounds in the world.”
Upon a Time owner Maureen Palacios
and her store's four guests.
A bookseller who gives the quartet high marks for their entertaining abilities is Maureen Palacios, owner of Once Upon a Time Bookstore in Montrose, Calif., who hosted the guys for a full day. The authors visited two schools, including one that enrolls many students from low-income families; Palacios partnered with the locally based Nestlé to donate books to 250 kids at that event. That evening, the guys made their on-stage debut as a troupe at Crescenta Valley High School at an event aptly dubbed Laughing Loudly for Literacy, which Palacios organized as a fundraiser for the local public library. “These four silly guys have an amazing number of funny bones,” she says. “They were like kids in a candy store and played off each other so well. They are truly a bookseller’s dream.”
A less raucous highlight of the tour was the authors’ participation in A Day Made Better, an annual event in which OfficeMax partners with nonprofit organization Adopt-a-Classroom to donate $1000 in school supplies to 1000 teachers nationwide. Scieszka, Shannon, Barnett, and Rex surprised a San Diego elementary school teacher with news of the award and with a donation of Simon & Schuster books to the school. “Man, it was wonderful,” says Scieszka of the experience. “It was the kind of thing that gives you goosebumps. In the book
Shannon jots some zots.
business, we are surrounded by books and we forget how many kids don’t have them. Books can make such a difference in their lives. This was a moment that reminded us that we are all in this business to put a book in a kid’s hand.”
Chanda, who issues “absolute kudos” to S&S Children’s marketing and publicity team for “keeping lots of balls in the air and juggling everyone’s schedules to pull off this tour,” also has praise for these four authors. “They all have a passion for bringing books and kids together,” he says. “And there is something very nice about linking guys and books.”
Rex hopes he and the other Guys with Books “did make a small difference” in some of the schools, adding that boys are constantly being told about “the magic of reading” from their teachers and librarians, “who tend to be women. And so when boys look for ways to underscore their boyness, reading doesn’t leap immediately to mind. But when they see these four guys in front of them, and our engines are powered by books? It can’t hurt.”
Trucktown Truckery Rhymes by Jon Scieszka, illus. by David Shannon, Loren Long and David Gordon. S&S, $17.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-416-94135-4
Shannon jots some zots.
Robot Zot! by Jon Scieszka, illus. by David Shannon. S&S, $17.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-416-96394-3
Guess Again! by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam Rex. S&S, $16.99 Sept. ISBN 978-1-416-95566-5
The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of the Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett, illus. by Adam Rex. S&S, $14.99 Oct. ISBN 978-1-416-97815-2