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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Interview and Reviews: Artie Bennett, picture book author

I am so so so thrilled to have picture book author extraordinaire, Artie Bennett, here today for a hilarious interview! Plus, you can check out my reviews of three of his books (spoilers: I LOVED them!)...

What three words best describe your picture book Peter Panda Melts Down!?
Cute, cuter, cutest!

Where did the idea for this picture book come from? Was Peter Panda Melts Down! inspired by any real-life meltdowns?
The idea came from a checklist I stumbled upon detailing the three things that are surefire hits in a kids’ book. The three things it cited were butts, poop, and pandas. Now, since I had already written about butts and poop, it was time to unleash my pen upon pandas.
    But seriously . . . being a doting uncle to my sister’s five children gave me some solid experience with meltdowns—and defusing them. And Peter Panda is himself an homage to Peter Pan, the reckless, feckless boy who never grew up. Peter Panda, however, is growing up like Topsy.

Do you have a favorite page and/or illustration in Peter Panda Melts Down!? What do you love about it?
My favorite verse is:

“Peter loves pasta, all covered with cheese.
Yet Mama knows pandas must also have peas.
But green-colored food Peter Panda pooh-poohs.
Pure panda-monium promptly ensues!”

I love the alliteration therein as well as the touch of wordplay. And I love the book’s refrain, which I had great fun composing:

Uh-oh. Here it comes. Here comes that frown.
Peter Panda melts dowwwwnnn!”

    And my favorite John Nez illustration, though it’s hard to pick just one, comes at the very end when Mama Panda can be seen slumped in a cozy armchair, utterly worn out from the day’s many Peter trials. Mama Panda has a dreamy expression and one can feel her profound relief now that Peter is asleep.

Three-year-old Peter Panda melts down when he feels angry or upset...what do YOU do when you feel a meltdown of your own coming on?
When I feel a meltdown coming on, I swear like a stevedore with Tourette’s! Naaah, not really. When I melt down, I chill. I find that exercise does wonders for keeping meltdowns at bay. And swimming is my all-time favorite thing. I’ve even coined a word for my approach to it. I like to swim till I get “lap-happy”!

You’ve explored some rather interesting subjects in your other picture books, The Butt Book and Poopendous! Why did you decide to tackle such unconventional picture-book material?
I’m often asked this question and I have to say that I never had any, ahem, posterior motive in writing The Butt Book or a particular poopensity for the subject matter of Poopendous! It’s more that I felt I could bring something original, fun, and even fascinating to these topics, which, frankly, still appeal to the six-year-old boy trapped within my aging frame. Now, from what I’ve seen, all boys and intrepid girls are drawn to these themes. And the fact that the books are in verse, which earned me the nickname “the Dr. Seuss of your caboose,” makes them that much more appealing to youngsters. Take this little nugget from Poopendous!:

“Poop from critters is called dung,
And monkey dung is sometimes flung.
Monkeys fling when under stress,
It helps the monkey decompress.
So if a monkey aims at you,
Duck behind a friend, or two!”

It conveys a fascinating fact in a fun fashion. And it even builds vocabulary with the use of “decompress.”

Out of all the books you’ve written, do you have an absolute favorite book and/or character and/or line?
Hmmm. Yes, I do, now that you mention it. My all-time favorite spread can be found in The Butt Book. The verse goes:

“An eagle’s butt soars high above.
A teddy bear’s is filled with love.”

This verse never fails to elicit sighs from the audience when I read it aloud, and I like that it endows this funny book with a soup├žon of sentimentality. You gotta have heart. But what I especially love about this spread is Mike Lester’s rendering of the majestic bald eagle, giving him a stubble-stippled rump that still cracks me up whenever I see it.

What kind of fun, silly books can we expect from you in the future?
My next picture book will publish in July 2014, when I get right back on track with Belches, Burps, and Farts—Oh My!, sure to be another crowd-pleaser. And maybe we’ll even see more adventures and misadventures from the most meltdownable panda we know, Peter Panda!

Fill in the blanks:
I’m really awesome at ice cream. You should see me put away a pint!

I’m really embarrassed to admit that the opening verse of Poopendous!—“Poop  is yucky, poop is foul. Step in poop and you will howl!” was originally “Poop is yucky, poop is foul. Poop emerges from your bowel.” But that was before I ordered “Rewrite!”

The last great book I read was Anne of Green Gables. I only just read it for the first time after a jaunt through the Canadian Maritimes, which included a lovely stop at Green Gables House in Cavendish, on Prince Edward Island, where Lucy Maud Montgomery set her classic series.

If you were to create and bake a cupcake inspired by Peter Panda Melts Down!, what would it look and taste like, and what would you call it?
Instead of a cupcake, if I may be so bold, I was thinking more of a deep-dish dessert filled with spiced apples and lots of sweet, sweet bamboo. It would be bathed in molasses and covered with a rich crust. And it would be called . . . Panda Pandowdy!

Hi! I'm the executive copy editor for a children's book publisher and I write a little on the side (but not the backside!). My itch to write brought about "The Dinosaur Joke Book: A Compendium of Pre-Hysteric Puns" when I was a much younger man, but "The Butt Book" was my first "mature" work. "The Butt Book" was showered with praise and won the prestigious Reuben Award for Book Illustration. My "number two" picture book, fittingly entitled "Poopendous!" which published to great acclaim, was the perfect follow-up. Hmmm. Do you sense a theme? However, I'm taking a slight detour with my next picture book, a more traditional, though no less hilarious, storybook entitled "Peter Panda Melts Down!" which publishes in February 2014 as panda fever sweeps the nation. But then I get right back on track with the uproarious "Belches, Burps, and Farts--Oh My!" a July 2014 publication. My claim to fame is that I was the youngest (at age thirteen) person to originate and sell a crossword puzzle to the New York Times. I went on to sell several dailies and two large Sunday puzzles to the Times before I began college. It's been downhill ever since. I live deep in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, where I spend my spare time moving the car to satisfy the rigorous demands of alternate-side-of-the-street parking. I'm pleased to share the visionary promise of "The Butt Book," "Poopendous!" and "Peter Panda Melts Down!" with a wider audience. To read more about me or my superfun books, please visit

And here we find the author extraordinaire in his natural habitat:

(I received copies of these books in exchange for my honest reviews. I don't rate picture books, I merely review them)

Peter Panda Melts Down!
by Artie Bennett
illustrated by John Nez
Blue Apple Books

Uh-oh. Here it comes. Here comes that frown. Peter Panda melts dowwwnnn!”

Poor Peter Panda. He’s only three and filled with frustration. And when things don’t quite go his way, he’s apt to throw a tantrum—in the car, in the library, in the supermarket, in the . . . He’s the most meltdownable panda we know.

Poor Mama Panda. How can she cope with Peter’s petulance while seeking to sidestep a monumental meltdown herself!? What’s a mama panda to do? Read this adorable new picture book by Artie Bennett, author of the much-lauded The Butt Book and Poopendous!, and virtuoso illustrator John Nez and find out!

Three year old Peter Panda is a good boy, but when he gets frustrated or things don’t go his way, he starts to melt down! Artie Bennett tells the adorable and relatable tale of little Peter and his Mama, as they go about their busy day filled with fun, shopping, toys, and little meltdowns.

Peter Panda Melts Down captures the life and essence of toddlers perfectly! Told in simple, yet addicting rhymes, with the fun, repeating “Uh-oh. Here it comes. Here comes that frown. Peter Panda melts dowwwnnn!”, Peter Panda Melts Down will make little readers laugh out loud and have them excitedly awaiting each melt down. Artie Bennett takes us along on Peter and Mama’s day as they grocery shop, play at the park, go to the library, and prepare for bed. Each new scene and setting will capture the attention of tiny readers with their familiarity and make for the perfect meltdown situations. Little ones will love super cute, super meltdownable Peter, while adult readers will sympathize with poor Mama...especially when Mama herself has a bit of an understandable meltdown!

John Nez’s illustrations are bright and charming, with great texture and colors. Nez really brings Bennett’s clever story to life!

Peter Panda Melts Down is a book that will entertain and captivate little readers, while amusing parents with its humorous approach to an incredibly relatable situation.

The Butt Book
by Artie Bennett
illustrated by Mike Lester

Make way for the butt!
Tall butts, short butts, round butts, flat butts.
Butts on mummies and butts on mommies.
Butts on giraffes and elephants and dogs and… FISH?
Yes, even fish butts are celebrated in this tribute to backsides, rumps, tushies, keisters, heinies, and derrieres. Dozens of funny rhymes and pages of laugh-out-loud pictures pay homage to a body part that keeps kids and grown-ups giggling with glee.
Bottoms up!

Our backsides are often overlooked or simply the, ahem, butt of jokes, but in The Butt Book, Artie Bennett shows that the butt should be celebrated! Small butts, high butts, furry butts, even polka-dotted butts- our butts are vital, useful body parts here to stay.

The Butt Book is a hilarious, yet surprisingly smart book. In fantastic, laugh-out-loud rhyming couplets, Bennett explores and pays homage to the butt and all its uses, but in a very age appropriate way. There’s nothing gross or inappropriate about this story! We learn the different names people and cultures have for the butt and how unique, yet unifying our rears are (we all have ‘em!). And I love how Bennett stresses that each person and animals’ butt is different, yet totally awesome and worthy of celebration.

Mike Lester’s illustrations are so funny and delightful! These pictures will have readers cracking (teeheehee) up and smiling big.
The Butt Book will gleefully amuse readers of all ages, and after reading it, you’ll never look at your rump the same way grab a copy of The Butt Book, give your backside a high-five, and prepare to giggle a lot!

by Artie Bennett
illustrated by Mike Moran
Blue Apple Books

Rhyming couplets feature Professor Poopdeck and two young friends as he takes them on a type of poop safari. Words for poop (i.e. guano, number two, ca-ca), its forms and styles (cubes, tubular, wet and dry), and myriad of uses (i.e. souvenirs, a means of tracking and marking, housing insulation, food, fertilizer, fuel) are all conveyed with humor and a certain demand for respect. It's a book that says: Don't just flush this stuff away! While it may dismay and stink, there's more to this stuff than you might think!

I’ll be honest, I was a bit wary of this book, but Artie Bennett has once again surprised me with his ability to take an often thought icky or awkward topic and explore it with such captivating pizzazz! In Poopendous, Professor Poopdeck takes us on a poop safari, exploring the sides to poop that we don’t often consider.

From the various words used for poop, to its many uses, Poopendous covers it all! Once again, Bennett uses funny, clever rhymes to tell his story, and he is a master at word choices, picking the absolute best ones. Like The Butt Book, this book is in no way inappropriate or gross (even if its subject is icky!). Bennett is so good at finding the balance between amusing and educational, and Poopendous is especially engaging. Little readers will certainly laugh-out-loud at the book’s charming humor, but they will also learn a great deal...I know I did!

Mike Moran’s illustrations wonderfully bring Bennett’s words to life! Moran’s bright, cartoonish pictures are absolutely hysterical. Each living creature depicted is given such amusing and captivating expressions. Moran’s illustrations are total poop...which, in this instance, is a very very good thing!

I never imagined the topic of poop could be so delightfully engaging, but Bennett has made it so. Approached with humor and thought, this icky topic has been wonderful explored in Poopendous!

I want to thank Artie Bennett for taking the time to answer my questions and for the review copies of his wonderful picture books!
:) Aeicha

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