Paradise for Word Lovers by Artie Bennett
Howdy, my fellow nerds and would-be nerds! I just want to say right off the butt—I mean, right off the bat—how thrilled I am to add my little squib to the Nerdy Book Club’s panoply of peerless postings. Thank you, Colby, for my moment in the sun.
I was an early nerd, and my first pair of eyeglasses, at age seven, marked me as such. I played Little League Baseball, but because I wore eyeglasses, the league forced me to wear a protective mask whenever I came up to bat. Needless to say, this unwieldy contraption severely restricted my vision, rendering my modest hitting abilities even more modest. I seem to recall that I was the only boy in the entire league to wear the accursed mask, and I’m sure the spectacle of a bespectacled, bemasked batter induced little fear in the opposing pitcher. The Boy in the Iron Mask! A nerd was born.
Interestingly, Dr. Seuss, my idol, to whom I dedicated my “number two” picture book, Poopendous!, is credited by many for coining the word “nerd.” The Nerd was one of the countless chimerical creatures that the young, enterprising Gerald McGrew sought to capture to showcase in his new kind of zoo. (If I Ran the Zoo, 1950)
We ourselves very recently encountered our fair share of fantastic fauna, as we’ve just returned from a two-week nature jaunt in Costa Rica. Howler monkeys awakening us at 5 am with their sinister, voluminous guttural growls, telling me it was time to get up and go bird watching. Coatimundis and agoutis skulking in the woods. Huge tarantulas and centipedes resting ominously on tree trunks. Jesus Christ lizards, which walk on water, making a mad dash along the lagoon. Three-toed sloths crawling so s-l-o-w-l-y through the treetops. Iridescent blue morpho butterflies dancing gaily in the air. Endangered green sea turtles depositing eggs on the beach. Boldly colored poison-dart frogs advertising their toxic presence. Volcanoes belching plumes of steam. Truly, a land of wonders.
And oh, the birds! As we were tooling along one afternoon, minding our own business, we stumbled upon a tree filled with more than a dozen pairs of billing-and-cooing scarlet macaws, a raucous rainbow above. Jewel-like hummingbirds hovered and flitted in every possible direction.
As much as Costa Rica is a paradise for bird lovers, it’s every bit as much a paradise for word lovers! Who can resist the mellifluous charms of the turquoise-browed motmot, the Montezuma oropendola, the elegant euphonia, chachalacas, the violaceous trogon, the crested guan, and, of course, my favorite, the resplendent quetzal—all magnificent to see, and even more magnificent to say! Surely this winged cornucopia could have sprung from the fertile imagination of Dr. Seuss himself. I can just see his whimsical rendering of the crested guan now.
There’s a triplet in my new book, 50 Shades of Brown—er, I mean, Poopendous!—which goes:
While traipsing through the jungles of Costa Rica, I was half hoping that I—or even better, my wife (just kidding, dear)—would be popped in the puss with a pungent patty of howler monkey poop to help illustrate the aforementioned verse. But their aim was far from unerring. Perhaps they had soursop on their monkey minds.
Before we left, I kidded compatriots that part of the reason for our trip was to premiere the Spanish-language version of Poopendous! Now, Pupendósa! has yet to be written, and while my grasp of Spanish is rather loose-fisted, I may have to write it. I envisaged this ending: “Esta caca fabulosa? No, no! Esta caca . . . pupendósa!” I really must take a Berlitz Spanish course.
Like many of you nerds out there, I’ve loved words from as far back as I can recall. I’ve been collecting the more compelling and colorful ones, words like “pokenose” (a meddler) and “popinjay” (a vain, pretentious person) and “pilgarlic” (a baldheaded man). And I try to use them on occasion, especially when in conversation with the meddlesome, the vain, and the bald.
I was even a crossword prodigy as a lad and sold my first puzzle to the New York Times when I was only thirteen. I’m proud to have coined the word “poopendous” and hope to encounter it in some future unabridged dictionary. Word up, lexicographers!
My two picture books employ a rich vocabulary, one not often found in kids’ books. You’ll find words like “zeal,” “well-worn,” “juts,” “convey,” “umpteen,” and the Shakespearean “perchance” therein. Young readers build up their word base while having fun and learning fascinating science facts, too. And I love to dabble in wordplay. My first picture book, The Butt Book, after making the case for how important our posteriors are, concludes with a flurry of wordplay:
So respect your butt and listen, folks.
It must not be the butt of jokes.
Bottoms up! Hip, hip, hooray!
Our useful butts are here to stay.
Don’t undercut your butt, my friend.
Your butt will thank you in . . .
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!).
His itch to write gave us The Dinosaur Joke Book: A Compendium of Pre-Hysteric Puns (currently extinct) when he was a much younger man. The Butt Book, however, was his first “mature” work. The Butt Book was showered with praise and won the prestigious Reuben Award for Book Illustration. His “number two” picture book, fittingly, is entitled Poopendous! What more fertile topic could there be but poop!
Poopendous! has already picked up some great notices, including this one in the Huffington Post. “For anyone who loved The Butt Book, you must immediately go and buy Artie Bennett’s follow-up, Poopendous! It appears there is no topic Mr. Bennett can’t make funny and educational.” And the Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection weighed in: “If Dr. Seuss had decided to write about bodily functions, he probably would have come up with something as zany as Poopendous!”
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.
He is pleased to share the visionary promise of The Butt Book and Poopendous! with a wider audience.
Visit ArtieBennett.com . . . before someone else does!