Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek by Steve Senn: A Review and Appreciation

While moving from heavily illustrated books to chapter books, I had a few milestone books that I loved. To name a few: The first few books of The Little Vampire series by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg (My Friend the Vampire, The Vampire Moves In, Vampire in Love, etc…); the Bunnicula series by James Howe; the Soup series of books by Robert Newton Peck; and the one I’m going to talk about today, The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek by Steve Senn.

The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek (the version I had as a child was the Avon Camelot, 1985 paperback) by Steve Senn is a book I remember quite well from my early years of reading (although the name eluded me for YEARS). This book also introduced me to Science Fiction. I think I was a curious 9-year-old at the time when I picked the 1985 paperback up at a local bookstore. The sight of a boy waking up next to a dinosaur in the other twin bed in his bedroom – both with shocked looks on their faces – was enough for me to get it.

The story involves a human boy waking up one day in another dimension exactly like his own except this new-to-him universe is populated by anthropomorphic dinosaurs (human-acting dinosaurs). In this other dimension, humans are extinct and the dinosaurs do the exact same things that humans did in Walter’s home dimension. Much time is spent disguising Walter to look like a dinosaur so he doesn’t freak out the dinosaur population. Later the pseudo-science of inter-dimensional time travel is explained down to a fourth or fifth grade level. I remember being utterly fascinated and accepting it all as fact (major willing suspension of disbelief). There isn’t any “magic” involved, but it isn’t ultra-real science either. Just stuff kids can digest. This book made me interested in Fantasy and Science Fiction and shortly after it I was reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series.

Although I had no idea of it at the time, Steve Senn illustrated this book too (he didn’t do the paperback’s cover though, just the inner illustrations). The very cute line drawings were one thing that I really remembered about this book.

In 2009 a local bookstore of mine sadly closed and sold off their inventory. While filling a $5 bag of books I found a green hardcover of The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek without a dust-jacket. The cover looks like green, bumpy, leathery dinosaur skin (probably just leather-like). It also has an embossed picture on the front board of what looks like a happy dinosaur on it. I had no idea that this book had been in hardcover and my paperback was lost long ago. Of course, I purchased it the green volume. I even put a picture on Amazon of it.

Sometime in 2010, I figured out that Steve Senn is also known as Oscar Senn (I think Steve or Steven is his middle name, but I’ve read somewhere that Oscar is his middle name too). I found his website and wrote him a fan letter. We emailed back and forth and he sent me a picture of the original illustrated (by him!) dust-jacket for The Double Disappearance of Walter Fozbek hardcover (since mine was missing a dust jacket). I shared this picture on Amazon too.

The dust-jacket clearly states “Written and illustrated by Steve Senn.” During these conversations, it was pointed out to me that the “happy dinosaur” embossed picture was actually put on the book upside down by the publisher. I turned my copy over, and lo and behold, a very normal looking triceratops!

Further research uncovered that in 1985, there was an animated special of this book on CBS Storybreak (hosted by Robert Keeshan AKA Captain Kangaroo). I haven’t seen this animated short (about 30 minutes or less), but I’d love to.

The cover of the 1985 paperback (at the top of this blog) is by Tom Newsom and is based on an inner illustration by Mr. Senn that he drew in 1980.

Tom Newsom is a prolific artist. I have a ton of books with his art on the cover (Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard, James Howe’s Celery Stalks at Midnight, Ellen Conford’s Diary of a Monster’s Son, three more of Mr. Senn’s books, and many more). He also has painted some pretty popular Santa Claus art.

If you really enjoyed this book, there are two more written in the same universe…so to speak. Not the dinosaur universe, but Walter’s “normal” universe. These books are Ralph Fozbek and the Amazing Black Hole Patrol (Avon Camelot, 1986) and Loonie Louie Meets the Space Fungus (Avon Camelot, 1991: Steve Senn writing as Oscar Steven Senn). Both feature boys having science-fiction-y fantastic adventures and are quite fun.

That's all for now.  Join us next time for... RRRAWWWWRRR!   AAAaaaaarrrrggghhh!!! Dinosaaaaaaurrrrr! I've gotta run... fast!


Adam16bit said...

I have seen the CBS Storybreak episode and it was pretty cool from what I remember, which admittedly was a long time ago. I had (as far as I know, I no longer have) a VHS tape of it off the TV. I was actually looking for any info on someone writing it up when I found your blog post - thanks for posting! It was great to read.

cruelshoes1 said...

I wish someone would post it on YouTube or release it on DVD/Blu-Ray. There is a video of a girl talking about her favorite part of Walter Fozbek.

vhic cosang said...

This is the first book i ever finished reading way back in 1995. I even wrote a book report about it...I feel amazed to come across this blog/article

good days said...

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