August 1st, 2013 12:40 EST
Judyth Piazza chats with Howard Eisenberg Live on the AP about Guess Who Zoo
For more than half a century, 86-year-old veteran author-journalist and great-grandfather Howard Eisenberg has read his whimsical doggerel to appreciative audiences at family birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine Days, retirements and bar mitzvahs.
This year, finally, he`s publishing them. Not all -- just the whimsical Guess Who Zoo poems ballpoint-penned on postcards to his grandchildren in 1988 from a Qantas jet at 30,000 feet. The interactive poems " last word left blank so the kids could guess the animal " were written on a book and zoo tour of Australia with his late wife, Arlene, co-author of the classic What to Expect " book series. www.guesswhobooks.com (click on books)
My coat is bright and speckled
My favorite lunch is leaves
I daintily nibble down below
Or high on the tallest trees.
My neck is as long as a light pole
It makes little children laugh
When I stretch it out to lick your hand
You`ll know I`m the ________.
Early this August, as a result of a suggestion Arlene made 25 years ago, the postcard poems will be published by Mascot Books andHoward will be touring pediatric hospitals reading them to kids in long-term care. Only now he`ll be reading (and children will be guessing) not from the original postcards, but from the first three books of his publisher`s new series: Guess Who Zoo, Guess Who Farm, and Guess Who Neighborhood.
But acquiring a publisher for children`s verse was about as hard,Howard declares, as explaining to a toddler that tissues belong in bathrooms, not unrolled from the toilet to the front door. "
With the help of composer Sherwin Kaufman and producers Ann Ruckert and Jimmy The Whiz " Wisner, he set out to generate a buzz. " The group produced a Guess Who Zoo CD and created a Guess Who Zoo Troupe to perform the poems as songs at children`s museums, schools, and hundreds of birthday parties as a first step toward publishing them.
That didn`t work either. When the troupe performed in a leading publisher`s office ten years ago, Howard was told, This is the most fun I`ve had in months. " But it was a mixed message. That encouraging critique was followed by a disappointing, But, unfortunately, the poems aren`t right for us. "
In early August, Naren Aryel, founder of a small creative press in Virginia, will simultaneously publish not only Howard`s Guess Who Zoo but the Farm and Neighborhood books as well.
Will his 25-year-old postcard poem kidbook series produce a tidal wave among today`s tots or only a ripple? For a quarter of a century, the Guess Who Great-Grandpa has been waiting patiently to find out.
A Family That Writes Together:
Writing is in the Eisenberg family`s DNA. By Arlene and HowardEisenberg " was a frequent byline in Saturday Evening Post, Reader`s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Parade and dozens of other magazines for 30 years and the couple wrote four books, including a college health textbook, together. That collaboration ended brilliantly when first-time pregnant daughter Heidi Murkoff kidnapped Arlene to co-write what became the classic What To Expect " parenting series, which has been on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 630 weeks.
Son Evan Eisenberg has written two seminal books " one environmental ( The Ecology of Eden ") and the other a social history of recorded music ( The Recording Angel "). He has sold a screenplay to Warner Brothers and has written humor pieces for New Yorker, Esquire, Time and elsewhere.
Father and son are collaborating on a baseball screenplay and Evan has written additional material for Howard`s musical comedy, The Million Dollar Bet " (dad wrote book and lyrics, Evan added a song and several scenes of show-stopping dialog) which had its first cast reading last month at the Actors Theatre Workshop.
Emma Ali, the family`s first grandchild, appears to have inherited its writing gene. She`s now Life Style editor for mom Heidi`s "What to Expect" blog and its multiple millions of followers. No authorial predictions are being made as yet for Emma`s three-month-old first child, Lennox. At present, he seems more interested in tearing books than writing them.
Howard agrees with Yogi Berra that, Life ain`t over till it`s over. " (That optimistic attitude became, in fact, a song in his musical.) He begs to differ with Philip Roth, who recently announced his retirement from writing at 80. Six years beyond 80, Howard smiles, "I plan to keep going `til I don`t know whether I`m coming or going."
`s most recent book sits on bookstore shelves at the opposite end of his Guess Who demographic . Written with co-author Shirley Friedenthal and based on multiple interviews and their own experiences, it`s entitled, "It`s Never Too Late to Date." www.itsnevertoolatetodate.com
High on his lengthy to-write list is a half-completed memoir of his writing life with Arlene entitled, "A Typewriter Built for Two: My 50 Years with the Woman Who Co-wrote `The Bible.`" Second on his list is a book of wry toddler poems entitled, Good Grief! What`s Next? " based on Arlene`s admonition that, If you`re going to have a toddler, you`ll need a sense of humor. "
Where does all that creative energy come from? Vitamins, whole grains and sugar-free dining, " Howard believes. Plus swimming and water aerobics three times a week " a regimen he began 15 years ago when a prominent surgeon declared that without spinal surgery he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
The surgeon appears to have been wrong.