When Whitney, our fearless leader, gave us contributors a few ideas for this month to write on and asked for pitches I immediately wanted to cover Dr. Seuss’ birthday. Lucky me, I got the go ahead!
You might remember I reviewed The Lorax back in August. I grew up with a love for Dr. Seuss and the zaniness that his style captured and I figured it would be an amazing opportunity to read more about him. I decided to read three different biographies to get an idea of who he was and how he ended up where he did. What I knew before reading them was that Dr. Seuss wasn’t his real name, he was told he wouldn’t succeed, and he had been turned down by multiple publishers before his first children’s book was published. I admit I mistakenly thought it was The Cat in the Hat; to my embarrassment I was not only wrong but it was written 20 years and 14 books after his first book!
I read three different books geared toward different age groups to learn more about Dr. Seuss.
I’ll go in age appropriate order beginning with The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull with paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. This picture book focuses on his time as a child in Springfield, MA until he was 22 and just starting his career in New York. There is a brief biography in the back as an overview of his life and a complete list of his books. I loved the paintings in this one and it is a great introduction to Dr. Seuss, but as one can imagine of a picture book it doesn’t have quite as many details as the other two books did.
The Life of Dr. Seuss: A Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel Just for Kids! by Sam Rogers is more fleshed out in its story of Dr. Seuss than the picture book. I am actually really happy with the order I read these in because this gave me just enough information to feel I knew something about Dr. Seuss without having all the details spelled out. This is a great book for middle readers and covers the entirety of Dr. Seuss’ life. It should be noted that Dr. Seuss wasn’t faithful to his first wife Helen Palmer, and she committed suicide, (both are mentioned in this book) which parents should be aware of for children who are advanced readers, but may not be ready for the content. A highlight for me about this book was the mention of the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden in Springfield, MA! Definitely on my bucket list to go and see. This book was an easy read that I would recommend for middle readers.
Finally, I read Theodor SEUSS Geisel (Lives and Legacies Series) by Donald E Pease. This one started off with me struggling to follow. I need a clear timeline and the first chapters jumped around and I really wanted it to be chronological order. As I went further on it did eventually have a more linear narration that I could easily follow and was quite engrossed in.
This book looks not only at who Dr. Seuss was but how that influenced his writing.
There are several in-depth book reviews by the author which look at Dr. Suess’s structure, how they affected the children’s book genre, and the cultural/political themes in them. While the beginning was rough, I am glad I made it through the entire book as the later chapters were fascinating. I would recommend this book to a slightly older audience, looking at high school and above.
It is always interesting to read about someone you have admired for years.
Here are some of the things I learned: Real people make real mistakes. As I read three books on him I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Dr. Seuss. There were two big character pieces that I had to reconcile. He grew up a German immigrant during World War I and had to deal with prejudice against him, but later in his life he drew anti-Semitic and racist comics. He eventually grew up and realized they were hurtful, distancing himself from those pieces of himself, writing comics to show he had changed, and blocking the reproduction of them later in his life. He cheated on his wife, Helen Palmer, while she was sick and after she had encouraged him, supported him, and collaborated with him. Eventually she committed suicide, and he married Audrey Stone Dimond, only a few weeks after Dimond divorced her husband.
Have you ever struggled when someone you admire has skeletons in their closet you didn’t know about?
I still love Dr. Seuss and was impressed with his process, tenacity, and the concept and ingenuity for his stories. He was meticulous in both his stanzas and his artwork; his early work was often in collaboration with Helen and later Audrey helped him continue to mature and find his voice. Dr. Seuss first started using Seuss as his moniker at Dartmouth college when he wasn’t allowed to work on the newspaper anymore. He submitted his comics under Seuss to be able to continue his creative outlet. He spent a year at Oxford where he met his first wife Helen Palmer before coming back to the States.
At first he found work freelancing his comics and at this point he added “Dr.” to his name to lend credibility.
In 1937, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was published after being turned down by multiple publishers. It did well but not well enough to sustain him and his wife. It wouldn’t be until after The Cat in the Hat came out in 1957 that Dr. Seuss would find stability in writing books. Dr. Seuss has several books that have political stances; from Horton Hears a Who to The Butter Battle Book, he writes with a specific purpose in mind. He thought that the best way for change to occur is to teach the children something different so they won’t want what is considered the status quo. He even allowed his book Marvin K Moody, Will You Please Go Now! to be slightly reworked to “Richard M. Nixon Will You Please Go Now!” and published in the paper during the Watergate proceedings. He continued to write until he couldn’t anymore. His last book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was published in 1990 and he passed away from cancer on September 24, 1991.
There is so much more that I could write! Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!
I will always remember “A person’s a person no matter how small!” and “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
So here are a few lists of things I learned.
- Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel March 2, 1904.
- He came from a family of German immigrants and because of that faced criticism and taunts during World War I.
- His English teacher is the one who encouraged him to go to Dartmouth.
- He wrote a comic strip at Dartmouth for the Jack-o-Lantern, even becoming the editor his senior year until a drinking incident got him booted from writing for the paper.
- Since he couldn’t use his name he started using the pseudonym Seuss. Later in his career he would add “Dr.” before it to make it seem more credible.
- He was voted “Least Likely to Succeed” in college.
- He boasted to his father he had gotten a fellowship to Oxford. His father then told the local paper.
- While Dr. Seuss had applied for the fellowship he wasn’t granted it so his father sold one of his properties in order to pay for Oxford.
- Dr. Seuss was encouraged to follow his dream of drawing instead of becoming a professor by Helen Palmer stating, “That is a good flying cow.” She later became his wife.
- Dr. Seuss struggled with racism early in his career and used his later works to help combat that.
- He specifically made some comics demeaning Jews and Japanese people.
- The first time you see his anti-semitism was in college. He made a comic catering to the stereotype of Jewish people to prove he wasn’t a Jew and get into a fraternity.
- Upon returning from Oxford he sent out his comics to several publications, eventually earning a regular job with Flit bug spray.
- While at Flit he continued to send out his work to other publications as well.
- During World War II he volunteered and was assigned to the Information and Education Division.
- 250 vocabulary max was put on “The Cat in the Hat” by the publishing company, and written in a way it could be used a a primer and replace the current “Dick and Jane” series.
- $50 for a book using 50 vocab words that six year olds could learn to read by is how “Green Eggs and Ham” came about.
- 42 total books Dr. Seuss wrote including an adult novel, “The Seven Lady Godivas,” which was a complete flop.