Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Gwot! Horribly Funny Hairticklers" by George Mendoza: One of Steven Kellogg's First Illustrated Books!

Author: George Mendoza

Illustrator: Steven Kellogg

1967, Harper & Row, Publishers

One of the first books I remember my mom reading to me was GWOT!  Horribly funny hairticklers by George Mendoza and illustrated by Steven Kellogg, and so that is the book that I want to share with you wonderful readers today (I found it in a library sale)!

Most of us are aware of Steven Kellogg.  He is an excellent illustrator and story teller.  He is well known for the Pinkerton series of books.  My personal favorite by him is Much Bigger Than Martin (I had a big brother).  George Mendoza on the other hand is an odd duck, and that is why I blogged about him yesterday.

GWOT! was George Mendoza’s “first book for children” per the dust jacket.  This might be Steven Kellogg’s second illustrated book.  The dust jacket states that Steven Kellogg had also illustrated Mary Rodgers’ The Rotten Book, but the earliest year I can find online for that book is 1969... so GWOT! may be his first published work in book form.  But to be honest, It is really unknown to me which book came out first.

This book consists of three stories, “The Snake,” “The Hairy Toe,” and “The Hunter” (plus an unnamed three panel bonus wordless story). All have scary aspects. Although, when I read them to my then five-year-old last year, he just looked at me and said, “Was that supposed to be scary?” Of course, he was scared during the stories. I could tell. He was just trying to be brave...I think.

Ants and a hairy severed toe!

Maybe the reason this books sticks in my mind is my mother’s wonderful reading of “The Hairy Toe” story. My mother was a 2nd grade teacher and she could read a book aloud like no other. You may be familiar with this classic “jump story” because it has been re-told many times. Usually about a bone or “tailypo” or something that is dug up by an older person or a “teeny tiny” woman. They take it home and hide it or put it on their night stand or under their pillow. That night while they are in bed a ghostly voice starts softly asking for their item back. “Who’s got my bone / nasty underwear / whatever” Louder and louder… closer and closer…until the creature / ghost / zombie / whatever bursts in and says “You’ve got it!” or something like that. I’ve scared the bejeezus out of my nephews during a campfire story telling of this type of story. The version of this type of story, things are changed around a little.

In this case it is a hairy toe that is found by an old gnarled woman while digging up potatoes and picking beans. When she finds the toe, she exclaims, “Gwot!” In fact, “Gwot,” is all she says for most of the story. She takes home the toe, beans, and spuds and cooks them all up (yes, all)… and she EATS THE HAIRY TOE!

Mmm, hairy toe soup, my favorite!

“Nasty!” as my son said at this part and I agree whole heartedly. That night, sure enough, while she’s in bed she hears, “Who’s got my hair-r-ry to-o-o-e-e?” Over and over… louder and louder… (the tension is well built up for four pages)… until “…the old woman bolted up in her bed screeching – GWOT! I ATE IT!”



The wordless (except for some signs) and untitled story involves a girl who has some creatures (bats, a snake, and a huge vulture-like bird) on the outside of her house.   She tries to scare them away with a broom, but ends up getting carried away… literally, by the vulture-like bird to a fate unknown.


That thar is a snake

The story, “The Snake” involves a man who runs into a large snake on his property, and he chops its head off.  The next day his chickens are missing and he runs into a bigger snake and slices its head off.  Over and over this happens with bigger and bigger animals missing and a bigger and bigger (presumably the same) snake getting its head lopped off…  Until one day, the farmer runs into a snake that is bigger than most of his farm (and that just ate his horse!), and the farmer runs away and locks himself up in his farm forever.   In a way this is anti-climatic, but you can’t just have the snake bite the farmer’s head off to show him how it feels in a children’s book.  Hee hee hee.

Holeee crub!


"The Hunter" has the best illustrations in the book.  The story is about a "fierce" hunter name Humber and his three hounds, Sniffem, Chasem, and Catchem.  The hounds are great at tracking and cornering live prey... but the prey isn't always ferocious...

Poor teddy

This sometimes frustrates the hunter.  Then the hunter discovers the HUGE footprints of the Gumberoo! He makes sure the dogs have the scent of the Gumberoo and nothing else, and the dogs go for it.  They track for many hours, well into the night.  Humbert sits to reast and BOOM the Gumberoo literally runs him over...

Gumberoo squish mighty hunter

getting its smelly oily fur all over the hunter... uh oh.  Needless to say, the dogs smell the hunter and and he is chased until who knows what end.

And that is all the stories in this awesome little tome of scary/funny stories.  I hope you can find it and love it.   Oh, and a fun fact before you go.  George Mendoza wrote another book featuring the Gumberoo called The Hunter, the Tick, and the Gumberoo (illustrated by Philip Wende)... but it isn't recommended for kids because (from what I understand) the hunter in that book ends up incedently committing suicide (by blowing his  I'd like to see this other "Gumberoo" book someday and I hope to.

In 1989 a part 2, sort of, to this book was released. It was simply titled Hairticklers and it was illustrated by the multi-talented Gahan Wilson. It has 13 more "scary" stories to make your kids squirm.

So, goodnight, sleep tight, and don't let the Zipperump-a-Zoos bite... and don't let the Gumberoo step on you either!

Friday, August 12, 2011

George Mendoza: An Intoduction to a Prolific Author, Poet, and World Traveller

I started writing a blog about one of George Mendoza's books, and while doing so, I ran into a lot of dead ends about who exactly he is/was. So, I am going to share what information I do have.

When was George Mendoza born? I don’t know. I believe it was around 1935. A 1967 dust jacket calls him “young.” This could mean anything, but I take it to mean he was in his early 30’s because I think his first book was And Amedeo Asked, How Does One Become a Man?, a 42 page novella from 1959. So, he was about 24 at that time… So he is possibly turning 76 this year (if he is still alive). In 1955, he was married to Cindi Huber, but they divorced shortly after their son, George Mendoza Jr., was born (he is now a nearly blind artist and athlete and has written about three books). In May of 1971 George Mendoza (Sr) was 36 and he had a 2 year-old daughter. He was re-married by this time and this wife was possibly Nicole Sakora-Mendoza (this is just speculation based on the fact that this name appears in a few credits in his books).

A 1975 dust jacket states that George Mendoza also has written Television and Movie scripts. The only one that I could find was the one he co-wrote in 1978 with Michel Legrand , the ABC Afterschool Special Michel’s Mixed-up Musical Bird (they also wrote the book together). The book was illustrated by DePatie-Freeleng Enterprises Inc (mostly by an illustrator named Yakutis… who I think is Tom Yakutis who died in 2002). One article online states that he wrote/helped create things for Sesame Street, but if he did, credit hasn’t been given.

George Mendoza wrote a ton of books in the late 60’s and during the 70’s (and a few in the 1980s and a couple in the 90’s). Chances are, if you have a lot of “vintage” children’s books from this time period, you have a book or two by him. His works have been illustrated by Mercer Mayer (the rare Gillygoofang and The Crack in the Wall & Other Terribly Weird Tales), Steven Kellogg (GWOT! Horribly Funny Hairticklers), Eric Carle (The Scarecrow Clock), Joelle Boucher (Henri Mouse series), Norman Rockwell (sort of… Mr. Mendoza wrote a lot of books that have his paintings in them like Norman Rockwell’s Americana ABC and the Norman Rockwell Illustrated Cookbook), Peter Parnall (The Inspector), Doris Susan Smith (Need a House? Call Ms. Mouse!), photographer Sheldon Secunda (What I Want to be When I Grow Up featuring Carol Burnett and the Sesame Street Book of Opposites with Zero Mostel), photographer Milton H. Greene (The Marcel Marceau Alphabet Book), Robert Quackenbush (The Scribbler), the hands of Prassana Rao (Shadowplay), and many more.

Let me make a quick note here for the parents of young children… some of Mendoza’s books are controversial because of how graphic they are. I don’t own a lot of his that are in this category (yet), but I know about them from people talking about them. Like any children’s book, read it yourself first. If the head falling off in the book In A Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer (not Mendoza) doesn’t bother you or your children, then most of Mendoza’s stuff probably won’t either… but just be aware of it. Also remember, most kids can deal with more than you may believe, but YOU have control over what goes into their heads. Kids obsess over the oddest things. The previously mentioned Alvin Schwartz book includes the story “The Green Ribbon” and that was one of my biggest “freak out” obsessions as a kid.

GWOT! was George Mendoza’s “first book for children” per the dust jacket. Previously he had written The Hawk is Humming, A Piece of String (illustrated by Norma-Jean Koplin), many articles for Pageant magazine, and a lot more. By 1975, he had published over 100 books…. Probably a lot more from then through now. I have no idea if he is dead or alive. I just know that he was from Long Island (born in New York), he went to the State University of New York Maritime College and Columbia University. He loved boating in the 1950’s and 1960’s and he sailed, by himself, from New York to England on multiple occasions. He has lived in Connecticut (in New York), Paris (France), and many other places. He considers himself a poet, sailor, trout fisherman, and of course a writer. His last two known books were Traffic Jam illustrated by David Stoltz (May 1990) and Were You a Wild Duck, Where Would You Go illustrated by Jane Osborn-Smith (June 1990)… and he was never heard from again. In 1975, when asked he wanted to be when he was a little boy he stated, “An adventurer like Jack London. Now I only want to be a bird with long feathers.” He may have retired, passed away, or became a wild duck and flew away to places he did not reveal in his last book. In August of 2005, George Mendoza was still living in New York and experiencing health problems (per this article about his son).

I don’t know where you are now Mr. Mendoza – a hidden trout stream in a mountain retreat, a bird flying free, sailing uncharted waters, sipping rare coffee in Paris, in the great beyond, at a McDonald's in New York City, or somewhere else – but thank you for your books, your words, and your addition to (warping of? ha ha) children’s minds everywhere.