February 14 – Valentine’s Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-cover

About the Holiday

Today we celebrate love! Love for family, friends, and our special valentines. Begun as a religious feast day, Valentine’s Day became a day of romance with the bloom of courtly love during 14th century. During the 18th century in England those in love began showing their affections by giving flowers and candy and making valentine’s cards. Now, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and a favorite of adults and kids alike.

XO, OX: A Love Story

Written by Adam Rex | Illustrated by Scott Campbell

 

Ox has finally gotten up the courage to write to his heart’s desire. He sits on the edge of his bed, lap desk upon his knees scribbling away. “Dear Gazelle, For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to tell you how much I admire you.” He goes on to praise her gracefulness and remarks that even when she is “running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers.” He ends with a declaration of love and XO, OX.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Gazelle, lounging on her daybed and admiring herself in a mirror nonchalantly hands her response to her assistant. “Dear Ox, Thank you for your letter. I hope you understand that I have many admirers and cannot reply to each one personally.” She says “Au revoir” with the gift of a signed photograph and moves on to the next letter in the overflowing box of fan mail.

The ever-optimistic Ox writes back while sitting on a park bench and enjoying a cup of steaming coffee. Gazelle’s picture is propped against a guitar, and little friends gather nearby. In his letter, Ox reveals that he does understand about the many other admirers and that makes it all the more meaningful that she responded to his letter personally. He signs off “XO, OX.” In return, Gazelle shoots off her standard letter and encloses another signed photo.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-answers

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox is overjoyed to receive a second letter. The “coincidence” of the exact wording to the preceding letter only reinforces his opinion that Gazelle is “very smart” and has “a tidy mind.” He urges her to reject the idea that he only loves her because she is pretty. He also loves that she is smart. Gazelle receives Ox’s letter (sealed with a big, red heart) while floating on a raft in the pool, a tall, cool drink floating nearby on its own poof. Her response is a departure from the usual, but only because she is insulted that anyone would think her “repetitive.” While she admits to many faults, this is not one of them. It seems she couldn’t be much clearer when she ends her letter with, “There is no need to write me again.”

Ox reads and rereads Gazelle’s note. Ignoring the last line, he focuses on the “ridiculous” thought that she has many faults. Ox assures her that she only has “one or two.” Gazelle takes offense and from her vanity table tells Ox that his “clumsy brain” has led him away from the usual response to her self-deprecation, which is that she has no faults. She then can’t help but mention the faults of other animals, such as being “too large and too stout” and having “strong smells about them and clumsy brains.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter-on-floor

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox does not have such a “clumsy brain” and humbly accepts Gazelle’s criticism. In fact he states that he is glad to know what his faults are and tells Gazelle “you make me want to be the best Ox I can be.” His love for her—“the unflattering light of my life”—is undimmed, and he is looking forward to her next letter. Gazelle puts an end to it once and for all. She writes that there will be no next letter, clarifying that “this letter doesn’t count.”

HaHa, thinks Ox when he reads this. He quickly pens a note telling Gazelle how much he loves her sense of humor. Gazelle is brutal. She orders Ox to stop and tells him he is wasting his time. She lays out her reasons: “I could never love a clumsy thing. I could never love a smelly thing.” She goes on to list all of the aforementioned faults and adds that she could never love someone “so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-asks-ox-to-stop

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

You might think Ox would be devastated, but in this tirade he finds one of Gazelle’s faults—and he tells her that her ability to reveal it to him only makes him love her more. He closes with his usual XO, OX and includes a photograph of himself. Gazelle is incredulous. She rips the picture into bits, but then gazes at the pieces again and smiles. “Dear Ox,” she scribbles as she sits on the edge of her bed, lap desk upon her knees and with the taped-together photograph of her beau looking on.

There’s something for every age in Adam Rex’s XO, OX: A Love Story. Little ones will find the snooty Gazelle and humble Ox funny in their persistent writing and reactions to each letter. Older kids will understand the dynamics at work and will get the sly wordplay, the twist on whom exactly is “thick, ungraceful, and awful”, and the idea that perhaps the lady doth protest too much. And adults will never make it through without out loud guffaws on almost every page. Wondering how Ox will respond to each of Gazelle’s letters is such delicious suspense, and his kindness in the face of her derision will tug at readers’ hearts.

Scott Campbell’s softy colored line drawings offer hilarious touches to fill out the details of the homes and lives of these smitten pen pals. In a stroke of genius, Gazelle’s personal assistant is a sunglasses-wearing mole, suggesting Gazelle’s own perception of her dazzling brilliance. Clever contrasts in the lifestyles of barrel-bodied Ox, who writes at a rustic desk and relaxes by a pond, and lithe Gazelle, who writes from her elegant vanity and lounges in her pool, demonstrate that their similarities may outweigh their differences. The touching ending that brings the relationship between Ox and Gazelle full circle as he sends her a photograph and she responds is satisfying and sweet.

XO, OX: A Love Story would be a funny, fantastic addition to anyone’s home library—one that can provide laughs or balm for feeling hearts. 

Ages 4 and up

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626722880

Discover the world of Adam Rex, including his art, picture books, and books for older kids, on his website!

View a gallery of illustration by Scott Campbell on his website!

Valentine’s Day Activity

cpb - monster love maze

Monster Love! Maze

 

Help the Love Monster collect all the valentines in this printable puzzle.

 Monster Love! Maze | Monster Love Maze Solution 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-cover

You can find XO, OX: A Love Story at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

January 21 – National Hugging Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-cover-2

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is as simple as it sounds. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public. National Hugging Day lets you show the people you love just how much you love them—with a nice, big hug!

Hug Machine

By Scott Campbell

 

A little boy comes over the hill, robot-long arms raised and hands ready to do some serious hugging. “Whoa! Here I Come! I am the Hug Machine!” he announces. He hugs his mom around the knees while she’s cooking. His dad is reading the newspaper when his knees are squeezed. And his sister keeps talking on the phone while she gets her hug from “the hug machine.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-over-the-hill

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Then the little boy goes out into his neighborhood where he hugs a policeman, a woman watering her plants, a businessman waiting for the bus, two unsuspecting women, and a little girl. He even hugs (very gently) the girl’s helium balloon. In fact, the boy hugs everything in his path—trees, fire hydrants, park benches, and mailboxes. “No one escapes the Hug Machine.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-path

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The boy’s hugs make everyone feel just right. It doesn’t matter if the things are big or small, soft or hard, square or long, the Hug Machine embraces them all. When he spies a crying baby, the Hug Machine goes to work. In a moment the “hug’s accomplished,” and the baby is smiling. But “what about me?” the porcupine asks. “No one ever hugs me.” Outfitted in a baseball catcher’s mask, with a pillow tied around his middle, and sporting oven mitts, the boy gives the porcupine a great big cuddle. “They are missing out!” the boy exclaims.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-porcupine

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A whale thinks it is too big to be hugged, but the boy finds a ladder, climbs to the top and gives a sliding hug all the way to the whale’s tail. How does the Hug Machine stay in prime hugging shape with lots of energy? Pizza, of course! And after a couple of slices, the Hug Machine is ready to get back out there! He runs through his neighborhood hugging everyone and everything in sight. There’s even a huge hug for you!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-baby

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

After that spurt of hugging, the Hug Machine is tuckered out. “Hug Machine can hug no more,” the boy says as he lies on the floor. But a pair of hands reaches out. “Why, yes,” the boy says, as his mom scoops him up into a hug of his own. “The Hug Machine is always open for business.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-neighborhood

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Scott Campbell’s Hug Machine is as adorably irresistible as little ones’ enthusiastic and spontaneous demonstrations of love. Readers will giggle when they see all the people and things this Hug Machine embraces without question and sometimes with creativity. Kids will also love the double spread, wide-armed hug just for them. The repeated phrases make this a perfect read aloud and read along for even the youngest readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-fire-hydrants

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Campbell’s illustrations are always endearing. The surprised recipients of the little boy’s hugs are left with a smile on their face, and even the inanimate objects seem to gain a stronger sense of purpose after being hugged. The little boy’s wide eyes and always-ready arms and hands mirror the eagerness of children to find and react to any recognized needs. And pizza, of course, is the perfect kid fuel.

With plenty of opportunities for laughs and lots of hugs, as well as offering a fantastic way to talk about emotions, empathy, and kindness, Hug Machine is a terrific book to add to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014 | Hardcover ISBN: 978-1442459359 | Paperback, 2017 ISBN: 978-1338255423 | Board book, 2017 ISBN: 978-1338255423

Discover more about Scott Campbell and a portfolio  of his work on his website.

National Hugging Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-coupons

Free Hug Coupons

 

Everyone needs a hug now and then! With these printable Free Hug Coupons you can be sure that all of your favorite people get a sweet hug when they need it most.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Free Hug Coupons
  2. Color the coupons (optional)
  3. Hand out the coupons to your friends and family members and tell them that each coupon is good for one free hug from you.
  4. When someone hands in a ticket to you, give them your best biggest hug!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-cover-2

You can find Hug Machine at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 20 – It’s Read a New Book Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-cover

About the Holiday

It may be that the most perfect time to read a new book is at the end of the day when work is finished, the chores are done (or at least put off successfully), and you have a little time to relax and drift off into that imaginary world or learn something new about this one. Kids love reading or being read to before going to sleep, and this month-long holiday encourages just that! Whether you read a newly published book, a book that’s new at your local library or bookstore, or a book that’s just new to you, there’s plenty of fun awaiting—as you’ll see in today’s new book!

Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy

Written by Drew Daywalt | Illustrated by Scott Campbell

 

Roderick was a master at stalling bedtime. He knew all the tricks, from asking for a second, third, or even fourth story to asking for more water. “Sometimes he would ask for a pony…just to hear all the reasons why he couldn’t have a pony.” His parents had many, like: “Ponies watch the TV too loud, Ponies never do dishes, and Ponies borrow books and never return them.” At last Roderick’s parents got him “a goodnight buddy to help him sleep.” His name was Sleepy.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-meet-sleepy

Image copyright Scott Campbell, 2018, text copyright, 2018. Courtesy of scottc.com.

That night as Roderick lay in bed, Sleepy stared at him with his big, unblinking eyes. Roderick tried moving him around his room, but he could always “FEEL Sleepy looking at him.” Finally, Roderick threw him in the closet, but Sleepy didn’t stay there. He peeked out and told Roderick that he was scared. That’s right Sleepy was alive and could talk. And that’s when things got a little freaky—as in Roderick wanted to know why Sleepy hadn’t talked earlier, and Sleepy said he was too afraid of the freaky way Roderick stared at him. “That’s because you freak me out! I was only staring at you all freaky looking because you were staring at me all freaky looking,” Roderick explained. Freaky, huh?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-freaky

Image copyright Scott Campbell, 2018, text copyright, 2018. Courtesy of scottc.com.

Well, it turned out that Sleepy didn’t realize he was supposed to help Roderick get to sleep, and now he needed a little help in the form of a glass of water, a trip to the bathroom (accompanied), another trip to the bathroom to brush his teeth (accompanied), a story, another story, a closet check for witches (of a very particular kind), a snack, another teeth brushing (accompanied), the light off, the light on, and reassurance that Roderick wasn’t mad about…well, about all of the above.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-mad

Image copyright Scott Campbell, 2018, text copyright, 2018. Courtesy of scottc.com.

Through gritted teeth, Roderick said, “I’m not mad.” With wary eyes, Sleepy said, “You sound mad. That sounds like you’re mad.” And it went back and forth: “I’m not mad…just a little tired. Okay, I’m a little mad, but mostly I’m tired.” “Well, I can’t sleep even if you’re a little mad.”“THEN I’M NOT MAD!” “I dunno. That still sounds mad.” Ai! Ai! Ai!

Sleepy then needed a blankie, a softer pillow, and an existential conversation. That’s when poor, exhausted Roderick lost it. “SLEEPY!!! It’s time for bed! Now go to sleep!” He ranted and vented until… “Roderick? Hey, Roderick?” “Zzzzzzzzzzzz.” Sleepy smiled. “Good night, buddy.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-brush-teeth

Image copyright Scott Campbell, 2018, text copyright, 2018. Courtesy of scottc.com.

Drew Daywalt’s histerical turn-about-is-fair-play bedtime romp is the perfect antidote to all those delaying tactics adults know so well. As the story’s set up transitions into Roderick and Sleepy’s comical conversation, readers (both kids and adults) will howl as the stakes escalate from a simple glass of water to a flood of frustration. Along the way, readers are treated to an eerily familiar litany of requests and retorts that will make them eager to turn the page to see what’s coming next.

Scott Campbell’s Roderick is a happy camper as he lounges comfortably with a glass of water well past bedtime while his parents rain down reasons he can’t have a pony. But his satisfied smile turns to skepticism when Sleepy arrives. Campbell hilariously captures the slightly unnerving gaze of stuffed animals before Sleepy “comes alive” and the “who me?” innocence of children afterward. Sleepy’s cheery obliviousness is a perfect foil for Roderick’s vexed, knowing look. The yin and yang of Roderick’s growing weariness and Sleepy’s antics will delight children and adults, and it’s safe to say that a happier sleep for both will ensue.

For a laugh-out-loud bedtime or story time read, don’t delay—add Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy to your bookshelf!

Ages 4 – 8 

Disney-Hyperion, 2018 |ISBN 978-1484789698

Discover more about Scott Campbell, his books, and his art on his website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleep-buddy-craft

Sleep Buddy Blanket

 

Even little buddies need a blanket sometimes to feel cozy and warm! With this craft you can make a blanket for a stuffed animal or fleecy bed for a pet! Children from ages 5 or 6 and up will enjoy helping to tie the tabs. For younger children, using fabric glue to attach the two pieces of fleece or cutting just one piece of fleece allows them to join in the craft fun.

Supplies

  • 2 pieces of fleece, solid, patterned, or a mix of both
  • Scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • Fluff or pillow (optional for pet bed)
  • Fabric glue (optional)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleep-buddy-craft

Directions

  1. Lay out one piece of fleece and measure a size that will make a comfortable blanket for the stuffed animal or is large enough for your pet to lie on
  2. Add 3 inches to that measurement on each side for the tie tabs
  3. Cut the fleece
  4. Lay out the second piece of fleece and cut it to the same size as the first piece
  5. With both pieces of fleece together cut three-inch long by ½ – ¾ – inch wide tabs all along each side. (If using fabric glue omit this step.)
  6. At the corners, four tabs will be cut off on each side

To Make a Blanket

  • Tie the top and bottom tabs together on all sides

To Make a Pet Bed

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cat-bed-craft

  1. Tie the tabs together on three sides
  2. Add the fluff or pillow insert
  3. Tie the tabs on the final side

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-the-goodnight-buddy-cover

You can find Sleepy, the Goodnight Buddy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 21 – National Hugging Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is as simple as it sounds. Established to encourage people to show more emotion in public. National Hugging Day lets you show the people you love just how much you love them—with a nice, big hug!

Hug Machine

By Scott Campbell

 

A little boy comes over the hill, robot-long arms raised and hands ready to do some serious hugging. “Whoa! Here I Come! I am the Hug Machine!” he announces. He hugs his mom around the knees while she’s cooking. His dad is reading the newspaper when his knees are squeezed. And his sister keeps talking on the phone while she gets her hug from “the hug machine.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-over-the-hill

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Then the little boy goes out into his neighborhood where he hugs a policeman, a woman watering her plants, a businessman waiting for the bus, two unsuspecting women, and a little girl. He even hugs (very gently) the girl’s helium balloon. In fact, the boy hugs everything in his path—trees, fire hydrants, park benches, and mailboxes. “No one escapes the Hug Machine.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-path

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The boy’s hugs make everyone feel just right. It doesn’t matter if the things are big or small, soft or hard, square or long, the Hug Machine embraces them all. When he spies a crying baby, the Hug Machine goes to work. In a moment the “hug’s accomplished,” and the baby is smiling. But “what about me?” the porcupine asks. “No one ever hugs me.” Outfitted in a baseball catcher’s mask, with a pillow tied around his middle, and sporting oven mitts, the boy gives the porcupine a great big cuddle. “They are missing out!” the boy exclaims.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-porcupine

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A whale thinks it is too big to be hugged, but the boy finds a ladder, climbs to the top and gives a sliding hug all the way to the whale’s tail. How does the Hug Machine stay in prime hugging shape with lots of energy? Pizza, of course! And after a couple of slices, the Hug Machine is ready to get back out there! He runs through his neighborhood hugging everyone and everything in sight. There’s even a huge hug for you!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-baby

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

After that spurt of hugging, the Hug Machine is tuckered out. “Hug Machine can hug no more,” the boy says as he lies on the floor. But a pair of hands reaches out. “Why, yes,” the boy says, as his mom scoops him up into a hug of his own. “The Hug Machine is always open for business.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-neighborhood

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Scott Campbell’s Hug Machine is as adorably irresistible as little ones’ enthusiastic and spontaneous demonstrations of love. Readers will giggle when they see all the people and things this Hug Machine embraces without question and sometimes with creativity. Kids will also love the double spread, wide-armed hug just for them. The repeated phrases make this a perfect read aloud and read along for even the youngest readers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-machine-fire-hydrants

Copyright Scott Campbell, 2014, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Campbell’s illustrations are always endearing. The surprised recipients of the little boy’s hugs are left with a smile on their face, and even the inanimate objects seem to gain a stronger sense of purpose after being hugged. The little boy’s wide eyes and always-ready arms and hands mirror the eagerness of children to find and react to any recognized needs. And pizza, of course, is the perfect kid fuel.

With plenty of opportunities for laughs and lots of hugs, as well as offering a fantastic way to talk about emotions, empathy, and kindness, Hug Machine is a terrific book to add to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2014 | Hardcover ISBN: 978-1442459359 | Paperback, 2017 ISBN: 978-1338255423 | Board book, 2017 ISBN: 978-1338255423

Discover more about Scott Campbell and a portfolio  of his work on his website.

National Hugging Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hug-coupons

Free Hug Coupons

 

Everyone needs a hug now and then! With these printable Free Hug Coupons you can be sure that all of your favorite people get a sweet hug when they need it most.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the Free Hug Coupons
  2. Color the coupons (optional)
  3. Hand out the coupons to your friends and family members and tell them that each coupon is good for one free hug from you.
  4. When someone hands in a ticket to you, give them your best biggest hug!

Picture Book Review

March 15 – True Confessions Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday encourages people to tell what’s on their minds even if it’s hard to do. Keeping a secret can be stressful as you ponder all the reactions that might result from its disclosure. But your imagination can run away with you! Instead of wondering and fretting, make that confession! If you’re divulging a secret affection, you may find that it is reciprocated! If it’s a guilty secret, you’ll probably discover that your apology is accepted easily. Either way, you’ll be relieved and able to move on to a new and better relationship.

XO, OX: A Love Story

Written by Adam Rex | Illustrated by Scott Campbell

 

Ox has finally gotten up the courage to write to his heart’s desire. He sits on the edge of his bed, lap desk upon his knees scribbling away. “Dear Gazelle, For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to tell you how much I admire you.” He goes on to praise her gracefulness and remarks that even when she is “running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers.” He ends with a declaration of love and XO, OX.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Gazelle, lounging on her daybed and admiring herself in a mirror nonchalantly hands her response to her assistant. “Dear Ox, Thank you for your letter. I hope you understand that I have many admirers and cannot reply to each one personally.” She says “Au revoir” with the gift of a signed photograph and moves on to the next letter in the overflowing box of fan mail.

The ever-optimistic Ox writes back while sitting on a park bench and enjoying a cup of steaming coffee. Gazelle’s picture is propped against a guitar, and little friends gather nearby. In his letter, Ox reveals that he does understand about the many other admirers and that makes it all the more meaningful that she responded to his letter personally. He signs off “XO, OX.” In return, Gazelle shoots off her standard letter and encloses another signed photo.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-answers

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox is overjoyed to receive a second letter. The “coincidence” of the exact wording to the preceding letter only reinforces his opinion that Gazelle is “very smart” and has “a tidy mind.” He urges her reject the idea that he only loves her because she is pretty. He also loves that she is smart. Gazelle receives Ox’s letter (sealed with a big, red heart) while floating on a raft in the pool, a tall, cool drink floating nearby on its own poof. Her response is a departure from the usual, but only because she is insulted that anyone would think her “repetitive.” While she admits to many faults, this is not one of them. It seems she couldn’t be much clearer when she ends her letter with, “There is no need to write me again.”

Ox reads and rereads Gazelle’s note. Ignoring the last line, he focuses on the “ridiculous” thought that she has many faults. Ox assures her that she only has “one or two.” Gazelle takes offense and from her vanity table tells Ox that his “clumsy brain” has led him away from the usual response to her self-deprecation, which is that she has no faults. She then can’t help but mention the faults of other animals, such as being “too large and too stout” and having “strong smells about them and clumsy brains.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter-on-floor

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox does not have such a “clumsy brain” and humbly accepts Gazelle’s criticism. In fact he states that he is glad to know what his faults are and tells Gazelle “you make me want to be the best Ox I can be.” His love for her—“the unflattering light of my life”—is undimmed, and he is looking forward to her next letter. Gazelle puts an end to it once and for all. She writes that there will be no next letter, clarifying that “this letter doesn’t count.”

HaHa, thinks Ox when he reads this. He quickly pens a note telling Gazelle how much he loves her sense of humor. Gazelle is brutal. She orders Ox to stop and tells him he is wasting his time. She lays out her reasons: “I could never love a clumsy thing. I could never love a smelly thing.” She goes on to list all of the aforementioned faults and adds that she could never love someone “so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-asks-ox-to-stop

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

You might think Ox would be devastated, but in this tirade he finds one of Gazelle’s faults—and he tells her that her ability to reveal it to him only makes him love her more. He closes with his usual XO, OX and includes a photograph of himself. Gazelle is incredulous. She rips the picture into bits, but then gazes at the pieces again and smiles. “Dear Ox,” she scribbles as she sits on the edge of her bed, lap desk upon her knees and with the taped-together photograph of her beau looking on.

There’s something for every age in Adam Rex’s XO, OX: A Love Story. Little ones will find the snooty Gazelle and humble Ox funny in their persistent writing and reactions to each letter. Older kids will understand the dynamics at work and will get the sly wordplay, the twist on whom exactly is “thick, ungraceful, and awful”, and the idea that perhaps the lady doth protest too much. And adults will never make it through without out loud guffaws on almost every page. Wondering how Ox will respond to each of Gazelle’s letters is such delicious suspense, and his kindness in the face of her derision will tug at readers’ hearts.

Scott Campbell’s softy colored line drawings offer hilarious touches to fill out the details of the homes and lives of these smitten pen pals. In a stroke of genius, Gazelle’s personal assistant is a sunglasses-wearing mole, suggesting Gazelle’s own perception of her dazzling brilliance. Clever contrasts in the lifestyles of barrel-bodied Ox, who writes at a rustic desk and relaxes by a pond, and lithe Gazelle, who writes from her elegant vanity and lounges in her pool, demonstrate that their similarities may outweigh their differences. The touching ending that brings the relationship between Ox and Gazelle full circle as he sends her a photograph and she responds is satisfying and sweet.

XO, OX: A Love Story would be a funny, fantastic addition to anyone’s home library—one that can provide laughs or balm for feeling hearts. 

Ages 4 and up

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626722880

Discover the world of Adam Rex, including his art, picture books, and books for older kids, on his website!

View a gallery of illustration by Scott Campbell on his website!

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