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CDB! (See the Bee) by William Steig

William Steig's CDB!

Creative Letter Play

By Chris Dunmire

In my 52 Projects interview, I made the quip in response to Jeffrey Yamaguchi's "Any good summer creativity prompts?" question that my suggested "family-friendly prompts are brought to you by the letters C, D, B." Unknown to some, that was an embedded joke that combined a Sesame Street callout with a reference to William Steig's 1968 classic children's book titled CDB! (which translates to "See the Bee!").

I first read Steig's CDB! two decades ago when I was in elementary school and it left such an indelible impression on my young mind that I never forgot the creative way the author used letters that sounded like words to tell stories through the pages of the book. Deciphering what was happening in the story required creatively 'thinking outside the box' to translate the given letters into words to explain the illustrations on each page. It was okay if you got stuck too — the answer key to all of the stories simply awaited at the end of the book.

Here's some examples:

  • CDB! (See the Bee) by William SteigOn page 8 a hen sits contentedly on a nest of eggs. The letters above her say "D N S 5 X." which creatively translates into the words "The hen has five eggs."
  • On page 13 a boy is pointing down at his pet dog with the admonishment "I M A U-M B-N. U R N N-M-L." which translates into "I am a human being. You are an animal."
  • Page 15 shows a deer standing in a bush of green foliage with the caption "D D-R S N D I-V." which of course means "The deer is in the ivy."

The book is filled with word-puzzling pages like this that undoubtedly delights most seven-year-olds. It certainly delighted me. And because I never forgot the title letters C-D-B! and its unique usage of letters for words, I know this book was influential in the forming of my own love for puns and creative word play.

After the 52 Projects interview I started thinking more about the CDB! book and wondered if my local library had a copy. I learned that they did, so I went and checked it out on Tuesday and spent some time going down memory lane. The copy they had was the revised format edition from 2000 (the original was 1968), where all of the original black-and-white illustrations are now rendered in watercolor paint.

I was surprised to learn as I read the inside of the jacket cover that the author, William Steig, was born in 1907 and wrote CDB! when he was in his 60s. It also said:

"William Steig has been creating award-winning books for children for more than three decades. Included among these are Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, for which he won the Caldecott Medal, The Amazing Bone, which was a Caldecott Honor book, and two Newbery Honor books, Doctor De Soto and Abel's Island. Most recently, he wrote and illustrated the best-selling Pete's a Pizza and illustrated Arthur Yorinks' The Flying Latke."

The author's notable accomplishments reinforces two things to me about living a rich creative life:

  1. we're never too far along in our lives to accomplish great things, and
  2. our creative minds will stay sharp if we continue to make use of them through all of the seasons of our lives.

N Q, for this wonderful lesson, Mr. Steig. •

© 2006 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

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