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