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December 2014

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books of our youth

Books of our youth: Wordplay with Dr. Seuss and Artie Bennett

The latest guest post in my series on books that inspired us when we were growing up comes from Artie Bennett:

Hi, boys and girls—and codgers (like me), too! I want to, first of all, thank my dear colleague Jenn for this golden opportunity to revisit an inspiring book from my boyhood—and offering me a forum to discuss it. When I think about books that inspired me, one book leaps readily to mind. Why, its very title promised thrills beyond imagining and set me all atingle. And that book was Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra! (published in 1955 by Random House).

Zebra2

You see, I was a precocious lad, and I’d acquired a formidable vocabulary at a young age. I loved words and, early on, sensed their beauty and power. Yet it all ended with “zebra,” didn’t it? Case closed. Well, Dr. Seuss took me to the outer limits of language, giving the befuddled-looking zebra on the cover reason for befuddlement. Through On Beyond Zebra!, I got my first whiff of the magic of language, and how a playful imagination can be an extraordinary and unquenchable gift. His unique bestiary and hilarious contrivances made the trip beyond “zebra” the greatest of adventures.

Dr. Seuss is responsible, I’m sure, for the fact that I write in verse—perhaps for the fact that I write at all! I’ve even dedicated my “number two” picture book, Poopendous!, to Dr. Seuss, though I tweaked it a bit: “To Dr. Seuss, my meuss.” I think the good doctor would have appreciated that. And I’m sure he would have found the title amusing, too, for no children’s writer coined more words than Dr Seuss.

Poopendous2

What’s especially interesting is that there’s a verse in Poopendous! that goes, “Everyone poops—yes, it’s true—from aardvarks to the humped zebu.” This verse is my homage to that groundbreaking children’s book by Taro Gomi, Everyone Poops. The book that made it possible to write about such, um, fertile topics. But it’s every bit an homage to Dr. Seuss, for where can one find the zebu if not “on beyond zebra.” And the fact that several youngsters at my readings have asked me if zebus actually exist tickles me deeply.

Copy of BAB_Poopendous_Page_09
Yes, they exist. Ask any South Asian. But if they didn’t, Dr. Seuss would already have created them. For as long as we have imaginations to nourish, Dr. Seuss will always be there . . . to feed them most bounteously.

Artie Bennett is the executive copyeditor for a children’s book publisher, and he is the author of The Dinosaur Joke Book: A Compendium of Pre-Hysteric Puns (currently extinct), The Butt Book (Bloomsbury, 2010), and Poopendous! (Blue Apple Books, 2012). He and his wife live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York.

Comments

My favorite Dr. S is, I Wish That I Had Duck Feet. I made a lot of wishes when I was a kid. Now I kinda wish that I had his talent for rhyme, rhythm and wacky words. I have a loooong way to go.
I'll bet you're glad that duck-feet wish didn't come true, though!