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Author Adam Rubin wants kids to participate in his latest series of stories

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

How many ways are there to tell a story? Infinite, right? Adam Rubin believes so. He writes children's books. Maybe you've spent your fair share of nights reading "Dragons Love Tacos" with your kids? That's his. His newest collection is six completely different stories, but they all have the same title, "The Ice Cream Machine." But Adam leaves room for a seventh story, one that hasn't been told yet.

ADAM RUBIN: For 10 years, I was the guy that would show up at public school gymnasiums and try to convince 400 students that reading is fun. But after a while, it started to feel kind of self-serving. Like, hey, buy my books. Keep buying the books that I write. So really, what I wanted to do is try to figure out a way to show these kids that writing is where the real magic is.

MARTIN: Adam Rubin wants kids to write their own stories, also called "The Ice Cream Machine," and then send them to him. He's got big plans for those stories. When I talked with him recently, I asked Adam to read the beginning of one of the pieces in the new book. This one is about an ice-cream-eating contest. And he starts by building the scene of the seaside town where it takes place.

RUBIN: (Reading) A rhino in a tank top jogged down the sidewalk and briefly joined in on a game of hopscotch with two young koalas. An ostrich in a sun hat thanked a frog on a bicycle for delivering her newspaper. Penelope observed the scene and couldn't help thinking what a lovely morning it was in Bayside. She wiped the sweat from her brow and went back to work.

MARTIN: I mean, that's good, Adam. I'm in.

RUBIN: Yeah, you like that?

MARTIN: There are, like, animals playing hopscotch.

RUBIN: and I should mention that the illustrations in this book are really spectacular. And they were done by six different illustrators. Each of the stories has a different artist.

MARTIN: And why did you want to do that?

RUBIN: Well, I think it plays into the whole idea that there are so many different ways to bring a story to life and that every person is going to tell it or draw it differently. So when people have this worry like, oh, you know, it's been done before. Or it's - somebody's going to steal my ideas. Like, well, if you are true to telling the story the way you believe or the way that you really feel it should be told, nobody else can do it exactly the same.

MARTIN: So the story about this ice-cream-eating contest - the main character is a young girl. There is a guy in this magical town who wins all the time this annual contest, and they call him The Machine.

RUBIN: They do.

MARTIN: Can you tell me more about this guy?

RUBIN: Yeah, so The Machine is a large pig, literally a pig that works down at the impound lot. He doesn't have a lot of joy in his life, and he's a pretty salty character. But every year, he comes out of his little shack to dominate at the annual ice cream-eating contest because none of the other animals in town can deal with the dreaded brain freeze that comes with eating ice cream too fast.

MARTIN: Right. You also write, like, an interior life for The Machine. He knows he should be friendlier, but he doesn't quite know how. How important is that in developing a character?

RUBIN: Gosh, I got some good advice from a writing teacher early on that said when you write a character, you've got to figure out who they are and what they want. Then if you love that character, you will make it hard for them to get what they want. And that's what makes the story interesting. This pig - he does want to be a friendly kind of guy, but he's kind of nervous because deep down, he's, like, this little nerdy dude that loves to watch the History Channel and talk about World War II. And somewhere along the line, he started making fun of people before they could make fun of him, and that's just become his de facto personality. And I think at some point, it becomes real hard to change that without a big effort.

MARTIN: Part of the concept of this book is to prove you can write a story about anything or the same thing in this case, just in different ways. So, Adam Rubin, are you willing to do a creative exercise with me? Totally putting you on the spot.

RUBIN: Oh, yeah, Rachel. Let's do it.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RUBIN: Let's get creative. It's morning. No better time to be creative than morning time.

MARTIN: All right. Let's give this a go. So I'm going to give you a topic, and you have to come up with three different opening lines.

RUBIN: OK. Wow, OK. I'm glad I had some coffee.

MARTIN: Right? All right. Gerbil food.

RUBIN: Gerbil food. OK. Stan tucked his napkin into his collar and stroked his knife against his fork. I'm thinking in this story, he's about to eat gerbils and maybe doesn't know it.

MARTIN: You got another one?

RUBIN: Yeah, so now I'm thinking of a story maybe where, like, there's some lady. She loves her gerbil so much that she makes, like, little gourmet meals for it and stuff. So maybe it's like, Edna set the tiny table with tweezers, a glass of tiny Chianti...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RUBIN: ...A tiny slice of bread and a perfectly seared veal chop on an minuscule plate.

MARTIN: I love that. Like, she might be lonely, and her gerbil is like her confidante.

RUBIN: That's what brings her joy. Yeah, that's what brings her joy, maybe.

MARTIN: You got one more?

RUBIN: I know this is a little twisted, but I can't help but think of, like, gerbils flying through the air either through a catapult or, like, some sort of - like, maybe a blowgun or something.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

RUBIN: So Carl ducked into the bushes with the prey in sight. He loaded the gerbil into his blowgun and took aim.

MARTIN: That's grim.

RUBIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: I still like it.

RUBIN: We got a little dark, but this is what's fun - is the same idea could be an infinite different stories.

MARTIN: Yeah. OK, so this is the thing. The back of this book, the book jacket is an envelope. So explain what you want kids to do here.

RUBIN: At the back of the book, there is an invitation, a very explicit invitation to say, hey, write your story and send it to me. And I put my address in the book. It's printed in there. And if you peek underneath the dust jacket of the book, you will find that it is printed. And if you fold it according to the instructions, you can create an envelope to put your story into. And it's already addressed to me. All you got to do is add a stamp.

If I get enough good stories by the end of the school year, I'm hoping to include the best ones in the paperback edition of "The Ice Cream Machine." And it would be really cool because some of these fifth- and sixth-grade kids might become published authors. And I'm thinking, like, I could buy some big, ice-cream-shaped trophy they could put in the trophy case at the school. Like, maybe I'll fly out there, and we'll have a little ice cream party. I don't know. It's hypothetical right now. I don't know what's going to happen. But I am so intrigued to see what comes out of the imagination of these kids.

MARTIN: So awesome. The book is called "The Ice Cream Machine" by Adam Rubin, six wildly different stories with the exact same name. Adam, what a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

RUBIN: Always nice to see you, Rachel. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF'S "AMBO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.