November 01, 2012

(++++) NO IFS, ANDS OR….

The Butt Book. By Artie Bennett. Illustrated by Mike Lester. Bloomsbury. $16.99.

Poopendous! By Artie Bennett. Illustrations by Mike Moran. Blue Apple. $16.99.

      Thirty-five years ago, Tarō Gomi’s Everyone Poops (called Everybody Poos in Great Britain) directly tackled a subject that had until then been pretty much verboten in children’s books. Originally written in Japanese as part of a science series, the book explained simply and directly that defecation is normal and that all animals do it – and it showed more of the process, in humans and other creatures, than kids’ books had done before. And the world did not come to an end.

      Since then, children’s-book taboos have continued to crumble, thanks to books such as Jennifer Davis’ First Comes Love, telling about where babies comes from and, yes, how they get in there.  But while some of the books, including Davis’, have had their moments of humor, they were essentially serious and certainly not written primarily to make kids laugh.  This resulted in an opportunity that knocked quite loudly for Artie Bennett, Mike Lester and Mike Moran, the result being two hilarious books about rear ends and what they are used for.

      The Butt Book features everything from people standing in underwear emblazoned with their national flags to such utterly absurd (but accurate) assertions as this: “Even mummies,/ like King Tut,/ have a well-worn,/ well-wrapped butt.”  Bennett has a great sense of the ridiculous, which Lester’s illustrations complement…well, “beautifully” may not be quite the right word, but maybe “extremely well” will do. Just think: “Elephants have mighty ones,/ while hippos have untidy ones.” Bennett is entirely shameless in the silliness of his rhymes and the images they conjure up, which is a good thing, since his conjurations produce Lester’s hilarious drawings (the prominent “mouse butt” deserves to be a classic). Bennett is smart enough to avoid saying that everything has a butt, because even though everything does indeed poop, “Snake behinds just don’t exist—/ something no snake has ever missed.”  All right, Bennett is given to hyperbole when he asserts, “Butts are vital body parts,/ important as our head or hearts.” But the book is so funny, and its ability to make age-acceptable humor out of rear ends is so delightful, that he is entitled to a touch of overstatement here and there.

      “There” would be in Poopendous!  It is entirely too tempting to call this book “No. 2.” Better just to deem it a sequel to The Butt Book, with a different illustrative style that is equally amusing and effective, as is clear in the illustration in which “Professor Pip Poopdeck” tries to help out a lady who has stepped in the stuff, as two kids, a dog, a mouse, a squirrel and even a skunk react with appropriate levels of disgust. “To read this book you must be strong./ Just hold your nose and come along!” Now who could resist such an invitation? Mike Moran’s cartoon illustrations range from the semi-realistic, as of a cat in a litter box, to the outré, as of an octopus sitting on a commode, holding toilet paper in six of its arms. Bennett again manages some mighty clever lines here: “Monkeys fling when under stress./ It helps the monkey decompress.” (That one may be in there mainly for parents.) Many of the words and illustrations are matched just perfectly: “Rabbit pellets, raccoon tubes,/ Owl whitewash, and wombat cubes,” shows all four animals on or near a tree, while Professor Poopdeck and two kids observe their, ahem, doings. The most interesting part of the book is about “the many ways dung is of use,” from dung-beetle food to manure for plants to dung used for heat, cooking and even to seal Mongolian yurts.  By the end of the book, the professor, brandishing a plumber’s helper, cheerfully asserts, “Not merely ‘Gross!’ ‘Revolting!’ ‘Vile!’/ Yes, poop can surely be worthwhile!” This may be a somewhat tougher sell than the notion that butts are legitimate body parts, but when parents put Bennett’s No. 1 and No. 2 together, they will certainly have some ways of amusing their kids and themselves, not just once but again and again. And that’s the bottom line.

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