• Happy birthday Jill Murphy (Worst Witch Series).
  • It’s the birth date of John Carl Schoenherr (1935-2010), Owl Moon.
  • Showman P. T. Barnum (1810-1891) was born on this day. Read The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Ray Fenwick.
  • Happy birthday Spam, the mysterious meat not the annoying e-mail clutter. The Hormel Food Corporation introduced this iconic product in 1937. Though not specifically a children’s book, you may enjoy reading SPAM: A Biography—The Amazing True Story of America’s “Miracle Meat”! by Carolyn Wyman.
  • It’s Bikini Day. Happy birthday to the post–World War II swimsuit, launched in 1946. Read The Last Night on Bikini by Patricia MacInnes.
  • In 1996, a sheep named Dolly is created, the first ever cloned animal. Read The Clone Codes by Patricia, Fred and John McKissack.

Around this time of year, for almost forty years, the annual Kimberly International Oldtime Accordion Championships took place in Kimberley, B.C., Canada. Family dances, jam sessions, and pancake breakfasts marked a festival that distinctly reminded me of my childhood. I was once forced to take accordion lessons; my mother had visions of her daughter performing on the Laurence Welk Show. But I have lived to write about it. If I were lucky enough to get to  Kimberley to relive these childhood memories, who would I want to go with—or even better, what characters would be fun to take there? The answers to both questions lead me quickly to the book and author of the day, Tim Wynne-Jones and the Norton-Nortons of Rex Zero and the End of the World.

Few manage to treat the topic of the end of the world with humor. But Canadian writer Tim Wynne-Jones pulls that task off with panache in a book that demonstrates his great ability to turn a phrase and create fascinating and idiosyncratic characters. The wildly eccentric Norton-Nortons move to Ottawa, Canada, just as young Rex is about to turn eleven. Every single child in the Norton-Norton family seems more eccentric than the next. Neighbors build bomb shelters out of concrete; Rex and his sister build one out of Punch magazines in their basement. Rex’s sister Annie Oakley breaks into the local convent because she believes it contains nuns who act as Communist spies.

As Rex tries to fit into his new community and find some friends, he discovers all sorts of odd things. A strange creature lurks nearby in Adams Park, and a group of children stalk it, believing it to be an escaped panther. The End of the World Man proclaims that all will cease on October 23. Endearing, charming, confused, Rex just tries to get by in a world gone mad. The issues of the Cold War in 1962 are explored in the book, but in this character-driven story history is woven seamlessly into the plot. With a profound understanding of novel structure, Tim brings multiple plot lines together in the totally satisfying ending.

Tim Wynne-Jones came to children’s books as a detour from being an architect. Although he excels in writing all forms, as his powerful new young adult novel Blink & Caution demonstrates, he began to win awards in the States for his short story collections such as Some of the Kinder Planets and Lord of the Fries. Tim not only writes fabulous books, as a long-time member of the Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children staff, he generously helps other writers, both novice and seasoned, all the time. Like Rex Zero he endears himself to those who know him.

Tim is just the kind of person that anyone would want to accompany them to an Oldtime Accordion Championship. I’m sorry we won’t be able to do that—but I will spend today reading Tim’s books. I hope you do too!

Here’s a passage from Rex Zero and the End of the World:

I hear the bicycle before I see it. I swing around to see a boy racing down the wide gravel path through the park toward me. There’s an awful squawking coming from a horn bolted onto his handlebars. He’s got his finger down hard on the button and people are jumping out of his way, grabbing up toddlers, steering prams onto the grass.

Seeing him coming straight for me, I go all wobbly on my own bike and end up falling over just as he whooshes past with his head low over the handlebars and his tail up in the air. I want to yell something at him but the kid looks scared. Really scared. I get myself up, unruffled my feathers, and take a look back in the direction he came from. I don’t know what I’m expecting to see. A stampede of longhorns? Killer bees? King Kong?

Then I notice the old man. The old man with the sign.


Originally posted July 5, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Canada, Cold War, Family, Geography, History, Politics
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Rex Zero and the End of the World


  1. Vicki says:

    This was a can’t-put-down book for me: the sense of humor, the drama, the unforgettable characters. The era was my own childhood–I remember the urge to build a fallout shelter. It’s the humor in this book that brings me back to read it again.

  2. Tobin says:

    Yay for Tim Wynne-Jones! And Anita, I love that you took accordion lessons. I don’t suppose you want to post a clip … ? Your public awaits!

  3. Anita says:

    Tobin: Fortunately, in the pre-video age, no record exists of this chapter in my life. A good thing. Only the scars remain.

  4. G.Perry says:

    There’s a great little foreign film titled Bread and Tulips, where a very nice lady rediscovers her accordion after ditching a useless spouse.

    Well, OK. Forget the accordion part, but it was a lovely film anyway.

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