When I was an elementary school student in Tokyo in the 1980s, my classmates and I loved reading. We would often be found lost in the books of Roald Dahl, E.B. White, Jack London, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, among others, in the library, hallways, or on the long, monotonous school bus rides.
One of our favourite picture books was by a lesser-known author, and told the story of an old explorer, who travelled the world to document its colourful monsters. This explorer had managed to discover and catalog all existing monsters except one species, which had proved elusive. Part bestiary, part alphabet book, this was the story of the explorer’s (futile?) quest to find traces of this last, mythical monster.
Our teachers, typically so supportive of reading, seemed to frown upon this book—they felt that it was not sufficiently educational or moral, but we loved it. As there was but a single copy of this book at the library, we had to eagerly wait for it to be returned before—at long last!—enjoying it ourselves.
As an adult, I often thought of this book, recalling how much my brother, friends and I enjoyed it, yet failing to recall its author’s name and very title. Indeed, unlike ubiquitous classics such as Charlotte’s Web, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Witches, it never surfaced for me to serendipitously happen upon it, whether in my adolescence or time in college. Occasionally, I would ask colleagues and peers if the book’s plot was familiar to them, sadly to no avail. Even my wife, a picture book writer and illustrator herself, could not identify this now mysterious book.
How does one look online for a picture book, when the only search terms are ‘monster,’ ‘explorer’ and ‘alphabet’? The mission’s difficulty is evident to anyone who has used a search engine. Undeterred, I spent innumerable fruitless hours prowling the worldwide web in hope of a chance encounter. Nevertheless, the search appeared to be hopeless, proving vain for 20 years.
Until one day, I found the book.
There it was! Casually mentioned on an obscure blog which I was cursorily browsing: Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-zoo. My quest for this book had mimicked the
explorer professor’s hunt for the elusive monster, filling both his life, and mine, with happiness and purpose.