When you send mail filled with affection to your heart's desire for the first time, it is done with a great deal of hope. XO, OX A Love Story (A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, January 3, 2017) with words by Adam Rex and pictures by Scott Campbell is a tale of a rocky road to love, letter by letter. You will find yourselves cheering for one character while wondering about the indifference of the other. You will undoubtedly find yourselves hardly able to keep from grinning and giggling a great deal.
For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to say how much I admire you. You are so graceful and fine. ...
Ox goes on to say that even running from tigers Gazelle looks like she's dancing as a member of a top ballet company. Before he signs the letter he delivers those three most magical words
I love you
Gazelle does not reply in kind.
In fact she uses a form letter inserting Ox's name in the blank and enclosing an autographed picture of herself. To Ox this letter, although not personally handwritten by Gazelle, is a sign that his hope is not unfounded. He believes she DID reply personally. This dear reader is where the fun begins.
In return Gazelle sends the exact same letter with the exact same autographed picture. To Ox this is even more thrilling. He sees it as an example of her brilliant mind. She is not only pretty but intelligent. (Clearly this ox looks at life as a glass full to the tip-top.)
In the third letter sent to Ox from Gazelle she points out she has many faults but being monotonous is not one of them. This will be the final letter from her to him. She asks him to not write to her again.
As we have come to expect, Ox's perspective on Gazelle's words is not what she intends. He writes to her again.
In her most verbose answer yet you get a sharp sense of her growing frustration. (Of course, the previous letter was not her final letter.) In two more exchanges we see the steadfast nature and love Ox holds for Gazelle never waver. Gazelle, on the other hoof, is increasingly showing parallels to Mount Saint Helens. What will Ox's next letter cause Gazelle to do? Is this a tale of unrequited love?
Through the letters Adam Rex carefully forms the qualities of these two characters. They are in complete contrast which is an open invitation to loads of laughter. Ox is one of those individuals, who once committed, stays true to the course. His interpretation of Gazelle's words strengthens her annoyance. She is entirely focused on herself and unable to understand his love for her. Here is another partial letter.
You have made a mistake. I suppose you cannot help it, since you are an ox and probably have a clumsy brain.
But when I say that I have many faults, people usually like to tell me that I do not have any faults at all. ...
One look at the matching dust jacket and book case and readers know Ox is totally smitten with Gazelle. This bovine is brimming with affection. He's ready to write a letter declaring his love. The white canvas on the front and back draw our attention to Scott Campbell's color palette and the characters. The text is varnished on the jacket. To the left, on the back, a smaller Ox, as if we are viewing him in the distance, is dancing along smelling a long-stemmed red rose.
On the opening endpapers twenty-six small images show Ox and Gazelle engaged in various activities. Ox is a well-rounded gentleman; cooking, reading, painting, playing a guitar, feeding the birds, and clipping his bonsai to name a few things. Gazelle is...well...primping and looking in a mirror over and over and over again. On the closing endpapers careful readers will notice a difference in the background colors and the twenty-six activities.
On the title page Campbell uses white space as an element focusing on the huge mail basket full of letters for Gazelle. Only one has a heart on the outside. Her assistant, a spectacle-wearing mole, is carrying letters off the right side of the double page picture. The illustration for the verso and dedication pages is a swirl of pinkish peach clouds forming a large Gazelle. Ox, with his back to us, is skipping along with a rose as two friendly birds watch.
All of the two-page images rendered in watercolor and colored pencil on paper are light and airy. The tiny details Campbell includes ask you to pause and reflect on what they say about the individuals. Both Ox and Gazelle have pictures of her on their walls. You have to smile at the tiny bug in a floatie in Gazelle's swimming pool. Twice when showcasing Ox, Campbell groups several smaller pictures together to show his dedication and intent.
By the expressions on their faces and their body postures, we can feel their moods for every moment featured. When Ox gets the second identical letter from Gazelle he is gleefully reading on his bed unaware of her intent. Gazelle's overly dramatic pose on her divan is hilarious as she pens a very short note to Ox.
One of my favorite of many illustrations is of Ox sitting on a park bench. A big green tree is behind him and low bushes stretch out to the right. He is wearing his overalls, white shirt and a beret. With a cup of coffee in one hand, he is writing a letter to Gazelle with the other hand. A paper bag of bird seed is next to him on one side. On the other rests a picture of Gazelle and his guitar. Birds are pecking at his feet. A tiny bug watches. In the pond in front of him, ducks, a fish and lounging frog complete the scene.
I can't stop smiling whenever I think of this book which I read on its release date. XO, OX A Love Story with words by Adam Rex and pictures by Scott Campbell is comic correspondence at its finest. You must have this book on your professional and personal bookshelves. And read it aloud whenever you get the chance.
To learn more about Adam Rex and Scott Campbell and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. From Adam Rex's website you can go to his blog. He also maintains Tumblr pages with his books. At the publisher's website you can view interior pages. Adam Rex is interviewed at KinderLit. There is lots of art and process art by Scott Campbell at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's site, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Scott Campbell has lots of art and process art here.
Dear People on the Internet,— Adam Rex (@MrAdamRex) January 3, 2017
I love you so much I've written a book for you. It's called XO, OX: A Love Story, illustrated by @scottlava. pic.twitter.com/1wHQJoE0Nl