The Lorax Before the Lorax

Dr. Seuss’ legendary The Lorax has sold 200 million copies. But did you know that a year before it entered the public consciousness, a book was published with a near-identical premise, an even sharper visual flair, and a perhaps even more poignant narrative? And that even now, over 5 decades later, the book in question has a microscopic fraction of the awareness that Dr. Seuss’ legendary environmental parable has accrued over the last 50 years?

The Lorax, himself shocked by this fact

I didn’t know it either and was floored to discover this pre-Lorax marvel, one of the best and most profound children’s books I’ve ever read. (Although it’s not truly a children’s book. In fact, the world would be better off it it had been required reading for every teenager and every adult in the last half-century.)

The masterpiece in question is The Wump World, written by brilliant storyteller and illustrator Bill Peet. It was published in 1970, one year before The Lorax came out in the summer of 1971.

The happily herbivorous Wumps, doing their thing

Peet had worked as a Disney animator for nearly 3 decades, until he clashed with Walt Disney during the early stages of production on The Jungle Book. His biggest and most impressive claim to Disney fame, for which he received relatively little credit (that I’m aware of), was both screenwriting and storyboarding the original 101 Dalmatians. It was — get this! — the first time a Disney film had ever been written by one person alone. Storyboarding was also a task that was usually given to a team of animators, but Peet did the job all by himself. Both accomplishments were unprecedented when the film was released in 1961.

So that classic Disney movie, which has now spawned multiple TV series and several live-action remakes — along with a dark upcoming prequel about Cruella de Vil that would likely make a quarter of a billion dollars if it could viably open in theaters — was the product not of Walt Disney, but of the one and only Bill Peet.

I’ll say it again, a bit louder, so the people in the cheap seats can hear me: BILL PEET IS THE REASON THAT THE MOVIE VERSION OF 101 DALMATIANS EXISTS. It’s far too late to properly credit him (Peet died in 2002), but his memory deserves to be honored.

A dozen of Bill Peet’s 101 dalmatians

When his career drew to a close, Peet had written and illustrated 35 books, the large majority of which are truly stunning in their visual design, their timeless truths, and their vividly crafted stories.

So what was the deeply Loraxian narrative contained within Peet’s marvelous and sadly overshadowed The Wump World? See if this storyline sounds familiar (either from The Lorax or from life itself).

A pastoral, idyllic world is calmly inhabited by the herbivorous Wumps, a peaceful species that resemble capybaras. But a race of humanoid creatures called Pollutians come uninvited to the Wumps’ world, to escape their own destroyed planet.

The aptly named Pollutians, showing up without an invite

They proceed to destroy the Wumps’ world with their callous, consumption-driven lifestyle, causing the precipitous decay of their environment. The Wumps retreat underground in fear and shock, to protect themselves from the giant earth-moving machines these invaders are using to replace nature with skyscrapers.

Once the Pollutians have largely ruined yet another planet — which these entitled creatures consider to be theirs to use, and use up — they become disgruntled by their own dirty air and once again depart to find a new home. Once they’re gone, the Wumps emerge from underground caves to find their planet disfigured and devastated by smog-encrusted wreckage. In the final passage of the book, Peet merges faint hope and lingering sadness when he writes:

“In time the murky skies would clear up and the rains would wash the scum from the rivers and lakes. The tall buildings would come tumbling down and the freeways would crumble away. And in time the green growth would wind its way up through the rubble. But the Wump World would never quite be the same.

A hint (but nothing more than a hint) of hope

Most of these plot points are virtually identical to that of Dr. Seuss’ rightly beloved The Lorax. A case can be made that the writing itself is even more resonant, given the dark subject matter. Peet is masterful with prose, distinctive and evocative. He can conjure the aching sadness of unchecked industrialization and the destruction of nature better than anyone. (For reference, see two of his other masterpieces, Merle the High Flying Squirrel and Farewell to Shady Glade, both of which were seminal works of literature for me as I grew up.)

That understandably doesn’t sound like the stuff of kids’ books, but somehow Bill Peet sensitively and beautifully pulls it off. Just ask my 4-year-old, who has enjoyed these books since he was in his early 3s, even well before he could understand the gravity (or even the concept) of water being polluted, or nature being pillaged.

Make no mistake: The Lorax is one of the greatest parables ever written by Dr. Seuss. It fully deserves its place in the pantheon of children’s books (along with the environmental pantheon). It’s a brilliant piece of literature, full stop.

Reading The Lorax to Greyson (when he was 3)

But the capybara-esque Wumps, who again were conceived by Bill Peet a year prior, deserve to be seated right next to the walrus-esque Lorax in those pantheons. Both were hand-drawn by ’70s-era prophets who predicted, with chilling clarity, the environmental degradation we have seen play out over the last half-century. The tragic way that we have prioritized lucrative profits over lucid prophets.

One of those prophetic men has deservedly gotten his due, and then some. But the other man has only a tiny fraction of Dr. Seuss’ name recognition. This humble blog post is my attempt to undo that inequity.

So thank you, Bill Peet. Thank you for the Wumps and for every other creature you vividly brought to life with colored pencils. May your legacy grow. May your memory never be lost. May we all, 50 years later, heed your careful (and gorgeously drawn) warnings.

And may we never merely consign your books to the children’s section.


If you see this epilogue, then thank you so much for reading this whole blog post! I am deeply grateful for your time and your interest. I always enjoy getting feedback on Facebook, so feel free to like, add a comment, or share my post if you feel so compelled. (I haven’t yet figured out how to properly maximize this site, so Facebook is the preferred place for traction and interaction.

Again, thank you. So much.


Last weekend I did something revolutionary. Something revitalizing. Something I used to do all the time but hadn’t done even once in a few years. Something that being a parent of multiple kids, and thus constantly in demand, made me forget that I could still do.

I took a hike… by myself. With ear buds, and without the kids. Just me and the woods and my favorite music.

In Colorado I hiked like there was no tomorrow. (And even more so toward the end of my 9-year stay, once I knew there soon wouldn’t be a tomorrow for me in the Rockies.) I would get out on the trails 3 or 4 times a week. At some point along the way I discovered trail running, which felt like hiking in exhilarating fast forward. I got in the best shape of my life by 2013, and I discovered almost every trail within 20 miles of Steamboat Springs, the ski town where we lived.

Then we moved east and I continued a rigorous running habit, along with hiking the Appalachian Trail. But my solitary outdoor fitness pursuits gradually, ahem, trailed off after Greyson and Violet were born, replaced by walks and hikes with the kids. Which are, make no mistake about it, a constant source of pure, unfiltered joy and my #1 favorite pastime to this day.

But hiking with the kids lacks two crucial elements that I didn’t realize how much I missed until I finally hiked alone again.

The first one is being able to hear the sound of my own thoughts, with my favorite music as the backdrop. As a parent of young children who constantly talk and sing and laugh (and fuss), after a while you start to forget that your thoughts have a voice of their own. It’s a strange luxury to hit the unmute button on that inner voice now and then.

The second one is being able to go at my own pace. To walk briskly, or run when I feel like it, or stop to take pictures when I feel like it, and cover some serious ground in the process. To actually make it to the top of a mountain! (A very small one with an adorable stature of 1,060′, but there’s no need to get bogged down by minor details. The point is that I scaled a mountain peak, you guys.)

It was a serene, no-wind, gently overcast, 35-degree February day when I embarked on my 2-hour hike. I climbed from Boiling Springs to Center Point Knob, which incidentally was the original halfway point of the mighty Appalachian Trail. Then I hiked along White Rocks Trail on a rocky ridge for a bit before scoping out a turkey vulture (which was scoping out something else, which was fortunately not me) and turning around to head back home. By the time I got back to my car, I felt as physically refreshed as I’ve felt for a while.

While I hiked, I listened voraciously and attentively to some of my favorite music: Sigur Ros, Caspian, We Lost the Sea, The Fire Theft, and — quite fittingly — Man Mountain.

I didn’t need to narrate or mediate the hiking experience for anyone else. I very much enjoy doing that for Greyson and Violet, contextualizing everything they observe in nature with both my words and the buoyant tone of my voice. But it was wonderful to be able to simply exist in each packed-powder footstep as I ascended, and then joggingly descended, the contours of the mountain. To be present in my own skin as my body experienced the myriad sensory pleasures of nature.

The fresh air and the quietude (albeit with a soundtrack) carved out a space in which my thoughts could comfortably unspool and stretch themselves out a bit. A space which simply doesn’t exist for a mom or a dad of young children in a quarantine context.

This is a space that both Danielle and I need to prioritize for ourselves, and for each other, if we want to keep from disappearing into the well-meaning but potentially self-eradicating oblivion of parenthood. We already do this a good bit by letting each other recharge with morning runs and afternoon naps. And those “power-ups” have been vital in maintaining our energy and our sanity.

However, it’s important that we each have longer chunks of time too. And by my own choice I haven’t availed myself of many of those. But this morning meet-up between me and a mountain confirmed that it’s well worth prizing that time and making it a priority.

I even took a kid-free selfie, which I almost never do. So here it is! (Don’t look too close at the chasm-sized furrow in my brow, which is the result of both the rigors of quarantine parenting and the general political turmoil of the last half-decade. I wish I could iron out that rivet from my forehead, but it will have to stand as a monument to this strange, strained moment in time.)

Fatherhood is the deepest and profoundest and most emotionally gratifying thing I have ever experienced. The past 5 years have changed me in every imaginable way. Being with Greyson and Violet makes me feel alive and infuses me with a deep, ineradicable sense of purpose. Reading to them and hiking with them are the reigning highlights of every single week of my life. There’s simply nothing more pleasurable on earth.

But man… sometimes you just have to go climb a mountain.

(Or if you’re in a pinch, a knob will suffice.)

If you see this, then thanks so much for reading! I am deeply grateful for your time and your interest in my blog. I always enjoy getting feedback on Facebook, so feel free to like, add a comment, or share my post if you feel so compelled. (I haven’t figured out how to properly maximize this site, but will get around to it one of these days.)

Again, thank you.

Roadside Assistance: A Small (and Furry) Anecdote

My kids each grab an animal every time we leave the house. They bring hard plastic animals on our jaunts to the woods, stuffed animals on our family stroller walks, and sometimes one of each on our trips to Grandma’s house. Different ones almost every day!

If those Pixar movies were right about toy sentience, then I’m pretty sure every inanimate animal in our house feels deeply loved at some point in a given month. (Or at least deeply useful, given that the kids have been utilizing some of the farm animals as snow shovels lately.)

The other day, Violet grabbed a stuffed white puppy — her “woof-woof” — to accompany her in the stroller on our lunch-break family walk. We did our usual rounds, down a quiet countryside road to our favorite farm and back. The kids happily gabbed and sang songs and delighted in seeing the cows, the sheep, and Buster the dog.

Meanwhile, Danielle and I grabbed some of the only adult conversation we can find in a given day. (Fun Fact: Expressing thoughts in complete sentences is a rare occurrence when you have small children. Who knew?)

In the midst of the kids’ cute gabbing and our conversation-grabbing, we didn’t notice until we were almost home that Violet had accidentally dropped her puppy at some point along the way. Not wanting it to be run over by a tractor on this farm-adjacent road, I assured Violet I would find her little pal and jogged home to get the minivan so I could retrace our steps. Then I drove along, scanning the margins of the road but seeing nothing. I began to envision having to be the bearer of bad news for our spunky but sensitive little animal lover. I could just imagine her saying “woof-woof?” with those big, sad eyes.

But then I saw the puppy, all the way back near the farm we had visited. He was lying on his side, his white fur blending in with the nearby snow. His wide black eyes seemed dazed and forlorn, maybe even despondent. (Darn you, Toy Story, you’ve really done a number on me!)

I pulled over and snapped a picture so I could send it to Danielle, who could show it to Violet right away and put her little mind at ease. (But let’s be honest: I also snapped a picture because I immediately envisioned putting this on social media.)

Regardless of my multiple motives, I sighed with relief that I could be a hero for Violet, striding in the doorway holding her beloved lost puppy aloft, like some noble rescuer of lost canines. I happily got back in the minivan and started heading home.

But 100 yards down the road, I realized something.

Something fairly crucial, I might add.

And that something was this:

I didn’t actually pick up the puppy.

So just to be clear: I found Violet’s lost dog, pulled over, took a few pictures of it, admired those pictures, texted one to Danielle, and then proceeded to leave that poor pitiable pup on the side of the road.

Some heroic papa I turned out to be. Assuming stuffed-animal sentience, can you imagine what that little guy thought of me as I took his picture and then drove away? Because I’d rather not.

So here are my 3 takeaways from this tiny, furry little saga:

#1 – It feels really, really good to be a hero for your kids once in a while. Violet beamed with joy when I walked into the house with her lost dog. And even now, a week later, she looks up at me and says “Papa, van, woof-woof!” nearly every day. My daring, harrowing rescue of her beloved puppy has clearly made an indelible impression on her.

#2 – Social media has done quite a number on us, especially as parents. Generating content about our kids can supersede the actual lived experience of being a parent. Sometimes we’re not fully in the moment because we want to share the moment. We can want to document a thing so much that we forget to actually do the thing. This is something our grandparents would not be able to fathom, and for good reason. Because it’s fundamentally unnatural. I have some soul-searching to do in this realm.

#3 – This puppy should be the protagonist in Toy Story 5, right? I mean, look at those eyes!

World-Weary, I Walk in the Winter Woods With My Wide-Eyed, Wonderstruck Wee Ones

This week Pennsylvania was graced with its 2nd notable snow of the season, after getting a grand total of 1 last winter. That’s a total of 3 snowstorms in the last 1.5 winters. I grew up in the Keystone State and can attest that this is not normal. In the ’80s and ’90s, we experienced several medium-to-big powder dumps every month. Snow days (remember those?) were a plentiful commodity. I’ll never forget jumping off the roof of my childhood home, under close parental supervision, into a snowdrift several feet deep. Long live the ’80s and ’90s, those glory days of winter!

Our last few snowy/cold seasons, though, have not been very snowy and not very cold, with high temperatures sometimes lingering in the 40s for weeks. This is a fact for which I’ve been quite grateful during this particular season of quarantine — so many unimpeded hikes, runs, woods walks, and playground visits! So much fresh air to alleviate our cabin fever! But I want my kids to experience some of the epic snow I remember from childhood, and this week offered them that in spades (and shovels).

While it doesn’t compare with the blizzards of either my first 18 years in Pennsylvania or the 9 years I spent in powder-heavy Colorado, the 8-10 inch snowfall we received was a wonder to behold and a delight to explore with the kids.

(It was also a mortal enemy that I resented with every fiber of my being on Monday, when my body ached with the back-breaking rigors of shoveling drifts of snow that had turned to icy-crusted wet cement in the whipping wind on our long driveway. But I don’t want to be a curmudgeon, so I’ll focus on the fun stuff.)

I admire how instinctively our kids can make their own fun. When I take them out in the woods, they’re content to bring one little plastic farm animal each, plus maybe some bubbles or a ball. We can then spend 45 minutes playing and exploring without anyone getting the least bit restless.

It’s a beautiful thing to witness the untethered joy of a human being who has not yet learned that boredom exists.

When I took the kids out to the driveway early this week, they brought their little animal (a sheep for Greyson, a horse for Violet) and quickly hatched the idea of helping me shovel. They used their animals to scrape snow off our cars, our trash can, anything they could reach that had a layer of snow. Then when we walked over to our walking path in the woods, they continued to shovel whatever they could: benches, a gazebo, tree trunks, rocks on the ground. Pretty solid work ethic, if you ask me.

The next day we paid a visit to a local tepee that someone (who deserves a firm handshake) had built in the woods a while back, which has now been upgraded to include a soft carpet of snow. After shoveling some powder off the walls and rafters, Greyson imagined a whole farmyard worth of animals inside our open-air, conical-shaped barn. He assigned each one to a different nook or cranny of the tepee. Violet was delighted by this game. I have never met anyone as thrilled by farm creatures as either of these two noted animal enthusiasts.

Two other times this week, we played with our next-door neighbors in their yard. [Fun side note: On a daily basis, Violet loves to randomly give props to the 4 members of this neighbor family in sing-song fashion: “Jan great, Erin great, Vada great, Arlo great!” It’s pretty great, you guys.] Greyson and Violet had a blast, as always, especially since they rarely get to play with anyone during quarantine. Ultra-spunky 7-year-old Vada, who simply adores our ultra-spunky 2-year-old Violet, generously offered to pull her around the yard on a black-and-yellow penguin sled. The results were unsurprisingly cute.

Meanwhile, Greyson contented himself for a while making “snow oceans” with plastic sandbox toys shaped like dolphins and starfish. Creating animal menageries has been one of his favorite pastimes for the better part of 2 years, ever since he lost interest in his previous obsession: creating vehicle menageries. It melts my heart to see that an activity this simple bring pleasure to our sweet, innocent boy.

Then there’s the tried-and-true outdoor activity I like to call Throwing Little Things Into The Creek. It’s pretty self-explanatory, really. Greyson and Violet can entertain themselves for the better part of an hour just finding little sticks and leaves and rocks and — you guessed it — gleefully tossing them into the barely-trickling creek near our house. The apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree (nor does the twig) because my brothers and I did this endlessly as kids. I don’t have a picture of them doing this in the snow, but here’s a pre-snowstorm shot of them preparing to experiment with the relative buoyancy of wood.

I’m grateful that I got to experience a sizable (at least for 2021) snowstorm with our kids, who are now both old enough to tromp through the soft white stuff in their cute rubber boots — green for Greyson, pink for Violet. Seeing the delight in their wide eyes way more than compensates for the ache in my back and the inconvenience of not being able to drive anywhere for a day or two.

And hey, it’s a pandemic. Why would we need to drive anywhere anyway? Going places is overrated. Just give me the woods across from our house and I’ll be content.

As will these two.