Dr. Seuss

Theodor Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss, wrote the popular children's book The Cat in the Hat.

Theodor Geisel, better known to millions of children as Dr. Seuss, brought a whimsical touch and a colorful imagination to the world of children's books. Before Geisel, juvenile books were largely pastel, predictable, and dominated by a didactic tone. Though Dr. Seuss books sometimes included morals, they sounded less like behavioral guidelines and more like, "listen to your feelings" and "take care of the environment," universal ideas that would win over the hearts of youngsters from around the world; Geisel's 47 books were translated into 20 languages and have sold more than 200 million copies. Of the ten bestselling hardcover children's books of all time, four were written by Geisel: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and Hop on Pop.

Wrote for Adults as well as Children

Geisel's last two books spent several months on the bestseller lists and include themes that appeal to adults as well as children. "Finally I can say that I write not for kids but for people," he commented in the Los Angeles Times. Many of his readers were surprised to learn that Geisel had no children of his own, though he had stepchildren from his second marriage to Audrey Stone Dimond; he once said, "You make 'em, I amuse 'em," as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. According to the Los Angeles Times, the author also remarked, "I don't think spending your days surrounded by kids is necessary to write the kind of books I write…. Once a writer starts talking down to kids, he's lost. Kids can pick up on that kind of thing."

Practiced Drawing at the Zoo

When he was a child, Geisel practiced sketching at the local zoo, where his father was superintendent. He went on to graduate from Dartmouth College in 1925 and subsequently studied at the Lincoln College of Oxford University. After dropping out of Oxford, he traveled throughout Europe, mingling with emigres in Paris, including writer Ernest Hemingway. Eventually returning to New York, he spent 15 years in advertising before joining the army and making two Oscar-winning documentaries, Hitler Lives and Design for Death.

Geisel began writing the verses of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936 during a rough sea passage. Published a year later, the book won much acclaim, largely because of its unique drawings. All of Geisel's books, in fact, feature crazy-looking creatures that are sometimes based on real animals, but usually consist of such bizarre combinations of objects as a centipede and a horse and a camel with a feather duster on its head. Unlike many puppeteers and cartoonists who have capitalized on their creations by selling their most familiar images to big-time toymakers, though, Dr. Seuss concentrated his efforts on creating captivating books.

"Basically an Educator"

Admired among fellow authors and editors for his honesty and hard work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, according to Ruth MacDonald in the Chicago Tribune, "perfected the art of telling great stories with a vocabulary as small as sometimes 52 or 53 words." "[Geisel] was not only a master of word and rhyme and an original and eccentric artist," declared Gerald Harrison, president of Random House's merchandise division, in Publisher's Weekly, "but down deep, I think he was basically an educator. He helped teach kids that reading was a joy and not a chore…. For those of us who worked with him, he taught us to strive for excellence in all the books we published."

Further Reading on Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

See Chicago Tribune, 9/26/91; Entertainment Weekly, 10/11/91; Los Angeles Times, 9/26/91; People, 10/7/91; Publishers Weekly, 10/25/91; and the Times (London) 9/27/91.

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