Meet the Dr. Seuss of the Caboose at Chester County Book Company This Weekend
● By Kevin
Artie Bennett is the executive copy editor for a children’s book publisher and he writes a little on the side, according to his bio. His first work, "The Butt Book," was published in 2010, and won the Reuben Award for Book Illustration. He's been mentioned and praised in the Huffington Post, The Show Me Librarian, The Library of Clean Reads, and the Mother Daughter Book Club.
"He and his
wife, Leah, live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, 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," according to his bio.
For more information, follow him on Twitter @ArtieBennett, or visit his website, artiebennett.com. Bennett took some time to chat with us about his upcoming visit to Chester County.
Chester County PRESS: What brings you to PA?
Artie Bennett: The last time I was at the Chester County Book Company, which was end of last year, there was a freak blizzard and we had to hightail it. [The owner] closed early, and we had to hightail it out of town. I didn’t really have a chance to explore, but this time, we hope to make a fun day trip of it. I know Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum are nearby. I want to do some exploring. I know Chester County has a rich history and it’s a very picturesque area.
I’m coming for recreation as well as the book signing. The book signing should be great fun. I'm going to be reading the two new books and then stick around and sign books and also do a little bit of exploring.
Earlier in the year in February, I released "Peter Panda Melts Down!", and in September, just a couple of short months ago, my fourth picture book: "Belches, Burps and Farts--Oh My!" came out and both have gotten great reviews. Both seem to be much coveted by youngsters.
CCP: What can visitors
expect at your upcoming visit here in PA?
Bennett: I do believe she’s having a special holiday signing that day, so I have the 2-4 p.m. space, and I will read both books, I will discuss all of my books. I love getting questions from kids. I get the darndest questions. For example, when "The Butt Book" and "Poopendous!" came out, I had an appearance and a cute little girl asked during the Q&A period, 'Why are your books so disgusting?' A small boy sitting in front of her yelled out 'They’re not, they’re funny!' I let that be the answer. What was amusing was the little girl that asked meant disgusting in a good way, because she herself would not leave without signed copies of both books. I hope that the books, with the exception of Peter Panda are disgusting in a good, lighthearted, inoffensive, smile-making way.
I’ll be discussing the science that underlies three of the four picture books. I will discuss how I came up with the ideas for the books. I’d like to talk about why Peter Panda was a departure from the genre of the other three books, which are nonfiction titles. I speak about why I enjoy writing in verse and the peculiar challenges of writing in that verse. I’ll be meeting with youngsters, telling them why I love being an author and maybe even inspiring those youngsters that have an itch to write or are developing one to pursue that muse. And of course signing copies of the books. Signed copies always make wonderful presents with the holidays coming up. I’ve had parents purchase copies and had me sign them for kids who weren’t even born yet. You can see that they appreciated not just my books but books in general and a love for books. It’s something they felt would be a special gift for their child once their child would be a little older and could appreciate how much fun a good book can be.
CCP: What is the inspiration for your books? Why do you write what you write?
Bennett: I think that somewhere deep inside is probably a juvenile delinquent. Despite my stolid exterior, I find these topics immensely amusing. I thought I could bring something different in my treatment of them. I brought humor, word play, fascinating facts and verse to these topics. I don’t know that it’s been done before. Dr. Seuss, who was my earliest inspiration had an anatomical subset of books with his bright and early book series: "The Eye Book," "The Foot Book," "The Tooth Book." He inspired my writing of "The Butt Book" and I originally thought it could be an addition to that series. I sent it to his publisher, but it turned out not to be, however it was a different publisher that loved "The Butt Book" and published it as a standalone title. Sure, I was inspired by Dr. Seuss, and kept it up going forward. When it came to "Poopendous!", I was wrestling with a theme for my No. 2 picture book when suddenly I awoke one more with the word "poopendous" on my lips and actually dreamed the word. I knew then, racing to Amazon to make sure no one beat me to the punch, I had a topic. I even had the bare bones of an ending. I knew it had to end that way in an exhilarating fashion.
I took a detour with Peter Panda. Also in verse and also hilarious with some twists along the way, I came up with a very catchy refrain that runs throughout Peter Panda. That was all a bit of a detour and then I came back to my first love, which is nonfiction picture books and verse. The title "Belches, Burps, and Farts--Oh My!" comes form the Wizard of Oz. It’s a movie I never tire of watching and there’s the famous song in there: Lions, Tigers and Bears--Oh My, which Dorothy, Tin Man and Scarecrow break into when they’re on their way to meet the Wizard. They each have desperate needs that only the Wizard of Oz can fulfill. Suddenly they hear this great roar and conjure up all of the terrors that might await them on their journey. So I had the idea about belches burps and farts, I do believe that song came instantly to mind. It’s a fun title. They can be controversial, the oh my at the end of the title is really the perfect kicker.
Before the book was out, I was at a book festival in Pottsville, and I was chatting with a reading specialist of the town about my upcoming book. I was telling her what I was calling it and that it’s a humours look at gaseous emenations and the science behind them. She said, 'Boy my students would love that book.' I then began embroidering about what would be so much fun about that book. She interrupted, 'My last name is Belcher!' I thought that was really funny. That’s one of the great joys about being a kids book author and it’s actually filled with surprises like that, surprises like a piece of fan mail... I’ve really enjoyed doing this and making appearances. What’s especially heartening is seeing kids excited about what you’ve created and books. These days there are so many grosser appeals to children's attention – electronic devices and such. But to see a kid pouring over a book and the child’s imagination begin to swell from a book; it’s a wonderful thing these days. There is a danger books will disappear. I love the fact that my books are doing their bit to keep books in the imaginations of eager youngsters and to delight youngsters. Teachers have said my books show kids how much fun books can be, which is especially important these days.
These topics have keen boy appeal and what I’ve seen is that all boys seem to be drawn to topics, and intrepid girls – there are some more comfortable with books about princesses, but other girls perhaps influenced by an older brother, love these topics and find them endlessly appealing.
CCP: Do you have future plans/ideas in mind?
Bennett: I actually do and of course it’s always up to the publisher. Ifi had my druthers, I have several really neat ideas for books, but it looks like we may be doing one of three upcoming books.
We may be doing another Peter Panda adventure. This is sort of funny: at a school appearance recently I thought I’d open the floor; I had just shared Peter Panda with the kids, they loved sharing the refrain “uh oh here comes that frown, Peter Panda melts,” they loved calling that out. A small boy thought what would make a great sequel to "Peter Panda Melts Down!" would be if he settles down. I asked, “Settle down and get married?” and the little boy screamed, “No!” with such vehement. It was funny. So maybe a sequel that maybe he gets married, that’s a possibility.
I do have a fun book all about feet. We may be going with that. Feet is an interesting topic. There’s of course animal feet, human feet, moles have feet that are turned in such a matter that it enables them to scoop dirt. They are constant tunnelers and live underground. If they didn’t have feet that allowed them to tunnel, they would be at a great disadvantage.
I also have an interesting nonfiction book
about Australia, which catalogs all of the deadly creatures, including one of
the deadliest shrugs known to man found in Australia. We may be doing one or
all of those three books which would delight me because in 2014, I had two
books come out and it’s been fun. It’s been as busy as can be, but great fun. It
seems like I hadn’t had a chance to catch my breath all year. I’ve had scores
of appearances and you have to when you have a new book coming out. It’s not something that I have to be
dragooned into doing.
CCP: What can you tribute your successes in life to?
Bennett: I think it had a lot to do with growing up, my dad was an unfulfilled writer. He was a construction worker. I recall as a little boy, he would come home at night and write in his composition books. He would write novels, novellas, short stories, poetries. He had a yen to write. I used to watch him and would read his stuff too when I was old enough to appreciate it. I thought it was darn good. He would send it out and sadly he never had anything published in his too-short lifetime. He had a drawer full of rejection slips that just grew and grew and grew. I was proud of his dictuitiveness. It’s so easy to get discouraged. This was one of his outlets from construction.
He inspired me, and when "The Butt Book" came out in January 2010, he had been gone a few years, and I’m sure he was looking down and just so happy that a member of his family was a published author. I know that was his great dream and he was never able to realize that.
I wrote, and never attempted a book until later in life. I was a journalist, news editor, etc. I used to really love what I did. I had a political beat with the county commission. It gave me an appetite for local politics and local journalism. I love what you do and I think journalists are important and they often don’t get the credit they deserve and I think all writers just need to be celebrated because the written word is such an important thing.
A good writer can take one glance away and fill one with a love for words. I grew up with an obsession for words. I still record new words. I still keep pages and pages of new fun words and expressions I stumble upon. When I was a little boy, I would deface my books with a pencil mark in the margin if there was a word I dind’t know. When I was finished, I would go to an unabridged dictionary and look up every word I didn’t know and wanted to learn the word and in it’s context and try to use it myself and eventually absorb it. I always loved big vocabulary. I was the only 9- or 10-year-old watching William Buckley’s "Firing Line." He would drop 10 dollar words I had never encountered before. I loved the comedy of W.C. Fields. He loved words and word play.
It was a boyhood love for words that led me to becoming a children's writer. All of those things created an amalgam. Here I am today just loving the fact that I've got four popular, super-fun children's books out. Do come to the Chester County Book Company on Saturday, Dec. 13, from 2 to 4 p.m. I’d love to share my books with you.