It’s only fitting that Tara would choose me, the author of THE BUTT BOOK, to bring up the rear, closing out the guest blogs of Post–Picture Book Idea Month—or Post-PiBoIdMo, to the cognoscenti. And I’m pleased as punch to oblige—and grateful for the opportunity.
I wasn’t always a picture-book author. I spent my days chiseling away at the manuscripts of others, fashioning them into presentability. And at night I would dream. I would dream that someday, some blessed someday, I too would write a picture book. Inspiration struck while reading Dr. Seuss’s wacky anatomical series. You know, The Foot Book, The Eye Book, The Tooth Book, The Eyetooth Book! They’re a goldmine of zaniness and fun. But something was missing. And that something was . . . THE BUTT BOOK. Now, I know it was presumptuous, even cheeky, of me to think that I could write it, but someone had to. Dr. Seuss would have penned it himself, I’m sure, had he not passed away in 1991, when the zeitgeist was less disposed to the duff. So I wrote THE BUTT BOOK, and the rest is history. Bloomsbury Children’s Books selected the superb illustrator Mike Lester to bring pictorial life to my words, and it published in January 2010. There would be no stopping me now. I had a cranium full of ideas—and several new notebooks.
While THE BUTT BOOK still had legs (and long ones at that), it was now time for my second act. I didn’t want to be a one-trick pony. I cast about for the perfect follow-up. What should it be? Should it be . . . naaaah. Or maybe . . . naaah. But then I had a brainstorm. Perhaps a children’s book in verse about poop might be the ticket! After all, what more fertile topic could there be for one’s “number two” picture book. And there seemed to be a natural progression. Butts yield poop. So I was thinking about answering the call of doody. And when the word “poopendous” came to me out of the poo—I mean, out of the blue—that clinched it! I raced to Amazon to see if anyone had written a book called POOPENDOUS! And I kept checking, day after day after day, as I set about researching and writing it. Then began the Sisyphean task of finding a publisher, all the while praying that no upstarts would trump in with a Poopendous! of their own. Could there be room in this wide world for two Poopendi! (the plural)? Blue Apple Books bit and matched me up with the super-talented artist Mike Moran, who brought a large dollop of goggle-eyed charm to the proceedings. POOPENDOUS! popped up in March 2012.
I do love writing nonfiction in verse on unmentionable topics, and the books have been very well received, but I’ve decided to take a detour with my next picture book. It will be a more traditional storybook, though still in verse, with appealing animal characters. PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN!, illustrated by the wonderful John Nez, will be coming out in February 2014. Its protagonist is a pettish panda prone to periodic paroxysms. Will he learn to calm down before much put-upon Mama Panda melts down herself!? Time will tell.
But the detour will be short-lived. I happily get back on track with BELCHES, BURPS AND FARTS—OH MY!, which will disgorge in July. My Old World grandmother would have said, “From this he makes a living?” And she would’ve been right to ask. Still, readers may wonder if I had, say, some posterior motive in writing THE BUTT BOOK. Or perhaps a natural poopensity for its sequel. I think, though, that the truth is deeper—and darker. You see, somewhere inside my stodgy exterior lurks a juvenile delinquent. In fact, scratch the surface of any do-gooding milquetoast of a man and you find a rip-roaring rapscallion. What I’ve seen also is that all boys—and intrepid girls—are drawn to these topics. It’s nature’s way. And the books bring a unique perspective to these matters, melding humor, wordplay, fun facts, and verse.
One of the great joys is getting the occasional piece of fan mail. The other day a young mother wrote to say how much she and her three-year-old son are enjoying POOPENDOUS! But she added, with a hint of exasperation, that all he says now is “Hey, farmer, have you tried manure?” So I offered a sincere apology for the disruption.
And I have admirers. After my reading at Celebrate Children’s Book Day at Sunnyside, a mommy eagerly approached me, with her adorable little towhead in tow. Little Samantha, all of four years old, stood shyly before me and began to recite Poopendous! “Poop is yucky, poop is foul. Step in poop and you will howl. To read this book, you must be strong. Just hold your nose and come along!” Apparently, she and her mom had picked up a copy while summering in the Hamptons, and she was so taken by it that she had committed it to memory. I was deeply moved by her recital.
But I’ve also had hecklers. The very first time I read THE BUTT BOOK before a live—and sizable—audience was at a synagogue for a Purim celebration. I was nervous, never having done anything like this before. I had just completed the opening verse—“Eyes and ears are much respected. But the butt has been neglected. We hope to change that here and now. Would the butt please take a bow?”—when a small boy, sitting right up front, yelled out, “That’s not possible!!!”
And I have to admit, it shook me up just a little bit. So I would tell that story at subsequent appearances and say how I hoped there were no hecklers in the audience today. Then one day, during an appearance at the Book Revue in Huntington, Long Island, a young mom, flanked by her small daughters, raised her hand just as I finished relating this anecdote. “Yes, what is it?” I asked. “Our last name is Heckler. We’re the Hecklers!” she proclaimed. “You’re the good Hecklers, You can stay!” I told her.
Well, I think it’s a wrap. It’s way past my bedtime. Time for milk and cookies.
In conclusion, I believe we’ve seen how ideas for great picture books are everywhere—and how inspiration surrounds us. We’ve only to greet the world with compassion, courage, and humor, and our dreams may all come true.
Happy reading—and writing!
Artie Bennett is the executive copy editor for a children’s book publisher and he writes a little on the side (but not the backside!).
Artie, who would be hailed as “the Dr. Seuss of your caboose,” wrote THE BUTT BOOK, his first “mature” work, which published in 2010. THE BUTT BOOK was showered with praise and won the prestigious Reuben Award for Book Illustration. His “number two” picture book, fittingly, was entitled POOPENDOUS! What more fertile topic could there be but poop!
His third picture book, the much-anticipated PETER PANDA MELTS DOWN!, illustrated by the virtuosic artist John Nez, publishes in February 2014. His fourth picture book, the uproarious BELCHES, BURPS AND FARTS—OH MY!, will publish in July 2014.
Artie was the youngest (at age thirteen) person to originate and sell a crossword puzzle to the New York Times. He went on to sell several dailies and two large Sunday puzzles to the Times before he began college. It’s been downhill ever since.
He and his wife, Leah, live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where he spends his spare time moving his car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking and shaking his fist at his neighbors.
Visit ArtieBennett.com . . . before someone else does!