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New cartoon-style book highlights what makes Missouri weird and wonderful

Ulaa Kuziez / St. Louis Public Radio
Writer Amanda E. Doyle and artist Dan Zettwoch's jointly created book, “Missouri Weird & Wonderful, offers a kid-friendly tour through the Show-Me State.

What makes Missouri both weird and wonderful? A new book by writer Amanda E. Doyle and artist Dan Zettwoch explores a range of persons, places and historical facts from across the state to answer that question. Aptly titled, “Missouri Weird & Wonderful,” the 48-page volume combines concise text and cartoon-style illustrations that appeal to readers of all ages.

“These are 30 to 50 word blurbs about a variety of topics,” said Doyle. “Is a kid going to pick this up, be able to read it, and be fascinated by it? Yes. However, do adults also stand and look at it for 30 minutes, and flip through and elbow each other and say, ‘Do you remember Momo the monster?’” That’s a yes, too, she added.

Momo — the Missouri equivalent of Bigfoot — is just one among the oddities and hidden gems in the book. There’s also real-life people in it, too. For historical figures like George Washington Carver, Zettwoch created illustrations that point to details about their lives and work that might be less familiar.

“A lot of American students learn about this famous African American, born enslaved, [who] rose up to become a well-known inventor and scientist. In my research, I found an incredible list of recipes of all the various things he tested making out of peanuts … some food, some nonfood, like industrial lubricants,” Zettwoch said. “I found the full recipe for peanut sausage. I've not actually tried making it, but there's some clues in the drawing about how you would go about it.”

“Missouri Weird & Wonderful” takes readers on a tour that’s kid-friendly and includes sites with more complicated backstories that invite deeper conversation. Doyle said that’s very much part of what she sees as wonderful about the book.

“We probably debated more in this [history] chapter about what gets in and what doesn't. We have had all of these cultures and all of these communities, and our state [doesn’t] always do a great job of recognizing them,” Doyle said. “I don’t think 45 words in one book is going to do it, but I think it's wonderful to realize you can go lots of places right now in Missouri and find evidence of the many Native cultures that have been here, of the immigrant groups that have been here and left their influence.”

Zettwoch agreed, noting Missouri’s geographic position and people’s movement to and through it. “From ancient Clovis-era people chasing mastodons, to Route 66, to the Trail of Tears, the whole ‘Gateway to the West’ aspect of Missouri is part of our history. Even the 1904 World's Fair touches upon a lot of the same issues of people coming and going and how we're representing ourselves, good and bad.”

The book closes with two elements that encourage further exploration of its pages and the Show-Me State.

“As an artist, I have a dream of everyone poring over these pages for hours and hours and seeing all the fun little details I put in — and having sort of an indexed scavenger hunt of things we couldn't mention by name but are embedded in these images,” Zettwoch said. “I like to also think of this book as a real-life scavenger hunt that you could take with you on a road trip.”

Related Event
What: “Missouri Weird & Wonderful” signing
When: 1-3 p.m. Dec. 16
Where: Serendipity Homemade Ice Cream (4400 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110)

For the full conversation with author Amanda E. Doyle and illustrator Dan Zettwoch — including notes about Missouri originals like burnt ends, faux ancient ruins in the Ozarks and scuba diving in a former mine — listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

What makes Missouri weird and wonderful?

“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Elaine Cha is the host/producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.