Theodor Geisel

1904–1991
Theodor Geisel
Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known under his pseudonym "Dr. Seuss," was "probably the best-loved and certainly the best-selling children's book writer of all time," wrote Robert Wilson of the New York Times Book Review. Geisel entertained several generations of young readers with his zany nonsense books. Speaking to Herbert Kupferberg of Parade, Geisel once claimed: "Old men on crutches tell me, 'I've been brought up on your books.'" His "rhythmic verse rivals Lewis Carroll's," stated Stefan Kanfer in Time, "and his freestyle drawing recalls the loony sketches of Edward Lear." Because of his work in publishing books for young readers and for the many innovative children's classics he wrote himself, during the second half of the twentieth century Geisel "had a tremendous impact on children's reading habits and the way reading is taught and approached in the school system," declared Miles Corwin of the Los Angeles Times.

Geisel had originally intended to become a professor of English, but soon "became frustrated when he was shunted into a particularly insignificant field of research," reported Myra Kibler in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. After leaving graduate school in 1926, Geisel worked for a number of years as a freelance magazine cartoonist, selling cartoons and humorous prose pieces to the major humor magazines of the 1920s and 1930s. Many of these works are collected in The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough. One of Geisel's cartoons—about "Flit," a spray-can pesticide—attracted the attention of the Standard Oil Company, manufacturers of the product. In 1928 they hired Geisel to draw their magazine advertising art and, for the next fifteen years, he created grotesque, enormous insects to illustrate the famous slogan "Quick, Henry! The Flit!" He also created monsters for the motor oil division of Standard Oil, including the Moto-Raspus, the Moto-Munchus, and the Karbo-Nockus, that, said Kibler, are precursors of his later fantastic creatures.

It was quite by chance that Geisel began writing for children. Returning from Europe by boat in 1936, he amused himself by putting together a nonsense poem to the rhythm of the ship's engine. Later he drew pictures to illustrate the rhyme and in 1937 published the result as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, his first children's book. Set in Geisel's home town of Springfield, Massachusetts, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is the story of a boy whose imagination transforms a simple horse-drawn wagon into a marvelous and exotic parade of strange creatures and vehicles. Many critics regard it as Geisel's best work.

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, along with The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, and McElligot's Pool, introduces many of the elements for which Geisel became famous. Mulberry Street features rollicking anapestic tetrameter verse that complements the author's boisterous illustrations. Jonathan Cott, writing in Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature, declared that "the unflagging momentum, feeling of breathlessness, and swiftness of pace, all together [act] as the motor for Dr. Seuss's pullulating image machine." Whimsical fantasy characterizes The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, while Horton Hatches the Egg introduces an element of morality and McElligot's Pool marks the first appearance of the fantasy animal characters for which Geisel became famous.

The outbreak of World War II forced Geisel to give up writing for children temporarily and to devote his talents to the war effort. Working with the Information and Education Division of the U.S. Army, he made documentary films for American soldiers. One of these army films—Hitler Lives—won an Academy Award, a feat Geisel repeated with his documentary about the Japanese war effort, Design for Death, and the UPA cartoon Gerald McBoing-Boing, about a little boy who can only speak in sound effects. The screenplay for the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which Geisel wrote with Allen Scott, achieved cult status during the 1960s among music students on college campuses. Later, Geisel adapted several of his books into animated television specials, the most famous of which— How the Grinch Stole Christmas—has become a holiday favorite.

The success of his early books confirmed Geisel as an important new children's writer. However, it was The Cat in the Hat that solidified his reputation and revolutionized the world of children's book publishing. By using a limited number of different words, all simple enough for very young children to read, and through its wildly iconoclastic plot—when two children are alone at home on a rainy day, the Cat in the Hat arrives to entertain them, wrecking their house in the process—The Cat in the Hat provided an attractive alternative to the simplistic "Dick and Jane" primers then in use in American schools, and critics applauded its appearance. Helen Adams Masten in the Saturday Review marveled at the way Geisel, using "only 223 different words, . . . has created a story in rhyme which presents an impelling incentive to read." The enthusiastic reception of The Cat in the Hat led Geisel to found Beginner Books, a publishing company specializing in easy-to-read books for children. In 1960 Random House acquired the company and made Geisel president of the Beginner Books division.

Geisel and Beginner Books created many modern classics for children, from Green Eggs and Ham, about the need to try new experiences, and Fox in Socks, a series of increasingly boisterous tongue-twisters, to The Lorax, about environmental preservation, and The Butter Battle Book, a fable based on the nuclear arms race. In 1986, at the age of eighty-two, Geisel produced his most uncharacteristic book, You're Only Old Once, a work geared for the "obsolete children" of the world. The story follows an elderly gentleman's examination at "The Golden Age Clinic on Century Square," where he has gone for "Spleen Readjustment and Muffler Repair." The gentleman, who is never named, is subjected to a number of seemingly pointless tests by merciless physicians and grim nurses, ranging from a diet machine that rejects any appealing foods to an enormous eye chart that asks, "Have you any idea how much these tests are costing you?" Finally, the patient is dismissed, the doctors telling him: "You're in pretty good shape / For the shape that you're in!"

In its cheerful conclusion You're Only Old Once is typically Geisel. "The other ending is unacceptable," the author confided to New York Times Book Review contributor David W. Dunlap. In other ways, however, the book is very different in that it is much more autobiographical than any of his other stories. Robin Marantz Henig, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called You're Only Old Once "lighthearted, silly, but with an undertone of complaint. Being old is sometimes tough, isn't it . . . Seuss seems to be saying." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Jack Smith declared that in the book Geisel "reveals himself as human and old, and full of aches and pains and alarming symptoms, and frightened of the world of geriatric medicine, with its endless tests, overzealous doctors, intimidating nurses, Rube Goldberg machines and demoralizing paperwork." Nonetheless, Henig concluded, "We should all be lucky enough to get old the way this man, and Dr. Seuss himself, has gotten old."

In 2004, Random House began a yearlong celebration in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of Geisel's birth. Having sold more books for Random House than any other author, Geisel was also depicted on a stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service. The celebration included one hundred days of events in memory of Geisel held in forty cities throughout the United States. Events included live theatrical performances, readings of his works, costume character appearances, and interactive workshops. "The celebration encompasses his life as a whole and not just him as a children's book illustrator," Random House executive Judith Haut told Joy Bean in Publishers Weekly. "He revolutionized how children learned to read, and so we knew the celebration had to equal the passion people have for his books."

Career

Author and illustrator. Freelance cartoonist, beginning 1927; advertising artist, Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, 1928-41; PM (magazine), New York, NY, editorial cartoonist, 1940-42; publicist, War Production Board of U.S. Treasury Department, 1940-42; Random House, Inc., New York, NY, founder and president of Beginner Books imprint, 1957-91. Life (magazine), correspondent in Japan, 1954. Trustee, La Jolla, CA, Town Council, beginning 1956. Exhibitions: One-man art exhibitions at San Diego Arts Museum, 1950, Dartmouth College, 1975, Toledo Museum of Art, 1975, La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art, 1976, and Baltimore Museum of Art, 1987.

Bibliography

UNDER PSEUDONYM DR. SEUSS; SELF-ILLUSTRATED, EXCEPT WHERE NOTED
  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, Vanguard (New York, NY), 1937.
  • The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Vanguard (New York, NY), 1938.
  • The Seven Lady Godivas, Random House (New York, NY), 1939, reprinted, 1987.
  • The King's Stilts, Random House (New York, NY), 1939.
  • Horton Hatches the Egg, Random House (New York, NY), 1940.
  • McElligot's Pool, Random House (New York, NY), 1947.
  • Thidwick, the Big-hearted Moose, Random House (New York, NY), 1948.
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck, Random House (New York, NY), 1949.
  • If I Ran the Zoo, Random House (New York, NY), 1950.
  • Scrambled Eggs Super! (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1953.
  • The Sneetches and Other Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1953.
  • Horton Hears a Who! (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1954.
  • On Beyond Zebra, Random House (New York, NY), 1955.
  • If I Ran the Circus, Random House (New York, NY), 1956.
  • Signs of Civilization! (booklet), La Jolla Town Council (La Jolla, CA), 1956.
  • The Cat in the Hat (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1957.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1957.
  • The Cat in the Hat Comes Back!, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1958.
  • Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1958.
  • Happy Birthday to You!, Random House (New York, NY), 1959, revised as Happy Birthday to You!: A Pop-Up Book, paper engineering by William Wolff, 2003.
  • One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Random House (New York, NY), 1960.
  • Green Eggs and Ham, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1960, adapted by Aristides Ruiz as Green Eggs and Ham: With Fabulous Flaps and Peel-off Stickers, Random House (New York, NY), 2001.
  • Dr. Seuss' Sleep Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1962.
  • Hop on Pop, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1963, revised as a board book, 2004.
  • Dr. Seuss' ABC, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1963.
  • (With Philip D. Eastman) The Cat in the Hat Dictionary, by the Cat Himself, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1964.
  • Fox in Socks, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1965.
  • I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, Random House (New York, NY), 1965.
  • Dr. Seuss' Lost World Revisited: A Forward-Looking Backward Glance (nonfiction), Award Books (New York, NY), 1967.
  • The Cat in the Hat Songbook, Random House (New York, NY), 1967.
  • The Foot Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1968, adapted as a lift-the-flap book, 2002.
  • I Can Lick Thirty Tigers Today! and Other Stories, Random House (New York, NY), 1969.
  • My Book about Me, by Me Myself, I Wrote It! I Drew It! With a Little Help from My Friends Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie, illustrated by Roy McKie, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1969.
  • Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
  • I Can Draw It Myself, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
  • The Lorax, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
  • Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now?, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
  • The Shape of Me and Other Stuff, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
  • Great Day for Up!, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1974.
  • There's a Wocket in My Pocket!, Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Dr. Seuss Storytime (includes Horton Hears a Who), Random House (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
  • The Cat's Quizzer, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
  • I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, Random House (New York, NY), 1978.
  • Oh Say Can You Say?, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1979.
  • The Dr. Seuss Storybook (includes Scrambled Eggs Super!), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1979.
  • Hunches in Bunches, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
  • The Butter Battle Book (also see below), Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
  • You're Only Old Once, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
  • The Tough Coughs As He Ploughs the Dough: Early Writings and Cartoons by Dr. Seuss, edited by Richard Marschall, Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.
  • I Am Not Going to Get Up Today!, illustrated by James Stevenson, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1987.
  • Oh, the Places You'll Go!, Random House (New York, NY), 1990, revised as Oh, the Places You'll Pop-Up!, paper engineering by William Wolff, 2002.
  • Six by Seuss (includes And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street), Random House (New York, NY), 1991.
  • Daisy-Head Mayzie, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
  • My Many Colored Days, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
  • What Was I Scared Of?, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • A Hatful of Seuss (includes The Sneetches and Other Stories), Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Seuss-isms: Wise and Witty Prescriptions for Living from the Good Doctor, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • Can You Speak Gink?, illustrated by Josie Yee, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • 1 2 3, a Wubbulous Countdown, illustrated by Josie Yee, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Birthday Moose, illustrated by the Thompson Bros., Random House (New York, NY), 1997.
  • The Big Brag, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
  • (With Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith) Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
  • The Grinch Pops Up, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
  • How Do You Do?: By Thing One and Thing Two (As Told to the Cat in the Hat), illustrated by Christopher Moroney, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Gerald McBoing-Boing Sound Book, Random House (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Your Favorite Seuss, compiled by Janet Schulman and Cathy Goldmsith, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
UNDER PSEUDONYM THEO. LeSIEG
  • Ten Apples up on Top!, illustrated by Roy McKie, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1961.
  • I Wish That I Had Duck Feet, illustrated by B. Tokey, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1965.
  • Come Over to My House, illustrated by Richard Erdoes, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1966.
  • The Eye Book, illustrated by Roy McKie, Random House (New York, NY), 1968.
  • (Self-illustrated) I Can Write—By Me, Myself, Random House (New York, NY), 1971.
  • In a People House, illustrated by Roy McKie, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
  • The Many Mice of Mr. Brice, illustrated by Roy McKie, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
  • Wacky Wednesday, illustrated by George Booth, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1974.
  • Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog?, illustrated by Roy McKie, Random House (New York, NY), 1975.
  • Hooper Humperdink... ? Not Him!, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.
  • Please Try to Remember the First of Octember!, illustrated by Arthur Cummings, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1977.
  • Maybe You Should Fly a Jet! Maybe You Should Be a Vet, illustrated by Michael J. Smullin, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1980.
  • The Tooth Book, Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
SCREENPLAYS
  • Your Job in Germany (documentary short subject), U.S. Army, 1946, released under title Hitler Lives, Warner Bros., 1946.
  • (With wife, Helen Palmer Geisel) Design for Death (documentary feature), RKO Pictures, 1947.
  • Gerald McBoing-Boing (animated cartoon), United Productions of America (UPA)/Columbia, 1951.
  • (With Allen Scott) The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (musical), Columbia, 1953.
Also author of screenplays for Private Snafu film series, for Warner Bros. TELEVISION SCRIPTS
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS-TV), first aired December 18, 1966.
  • Horton Hears a Who, CBS-TV, 1970.
  • The Cat in the Hat, CBS-TV, 1971.
  • Dr. Seuss on the Loose, CBS-TV, 1973.
  • Hoober-Bloob Highway, CBS-TV, 1975.
  • Halloween Is Grinch Night, American Broadcasting Companies (ABC-TV), 1977.
  • Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?, ABC-TV, 1980.
  • The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat, ABC-TV, 1982.
  • The Butter Battle Book, Turner Network Television (TNT-TV), 1989.
OTHER
  • (Illustrator) Boners, Viking (New York, NY), 1931.
  • (Illustrator) More Boners, Viking (New York, NY), 1931.
  • (With Michael Frith, under joint pseudonym Rosetta Stone) Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo!, illustrated by Frith, Beginner Books (New York, NY), 1975.
  • Dr. Seuss from Then to Now (museum catalog), Random House (New York, NY), 1987.
  • The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
  • (Illustrator) Alexander Abingdon, Herrings Go About the Sea in Shawls—, Viking (New York, NY), 1997.
Contributor of cartoons and prose to magazines, including Judge, College Humor, Liberty, Vanity Fair, and Life. Editor, Jack-o'- Lantern (Dartmouth College humor magazine), until 1925. The manuscript The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is housed in the collection of Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. Other manuscripts are in the Special Collections Department of the University of California Library, Los Angeles. The author's books have been translated into several languages, including French, Spanish, and Latin.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Children's Literature Review, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1976, Volume 9, 1985.
  • Cott, Jonathan, Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature, Random House (New York, NY), 1983.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 61: American Writers for Children since 1960: Poets, Illustrators, and Nonfiction Authors, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
  • Fensch, Thomas, Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss: Essays on the Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel, McFarland (Jefferson, NC), 1997.
  • Greene, Carol, Dr. Seuss: Writer and Artist for Children, Children's Press (Chicago, IL), 1993.
  • Lanes, Selma G., Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1972.
  • Lathem, Edward Connery, editor, Theodor Seuss Geisel, Reminiscences and Tributes, Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH), 1996.
  • Morgan, Judith, and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography, Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
PERIODICALS
  • Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1957; April 15, 1982; April 17, 1984; June 29, 1986; January 14, 1987.
  • Education Digest, December, 1992.
  • English Journal, December, 1992.
  • Horn Book, September-October, 1992.
  • Interview, April, 1995.
  • Los Angeles Times, November 27, 1983; October 7, 1989.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 9, 1986.
  • New York Review of Books, December 20, 1990.
  • New York Times, May 21, 1986; December 26, 1987.
  • New York Times Book Review, November 11, 1952; May 11, 1958; March 20, 1960; November 11, 1962; November 16, 1975; April 29, 1979; February 26, 1984; March 23, 1986; February 26, 1995.
  • Parade, February 26, 1984.
  • Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1984; August 9, 1993; January 23, 1995; February 2, 2004, Joy Bean, "Celebrating Dr. Seuss: Random House Launches a Horton-Sized, Year-Long Tribute to Ted Geisel," p. 23.
  • Reader's Digest, April, 1992.
  • Saturday Review, May 11, 1957; November 16, 1957.
  • Time, May 7, 1979.
  • Washington Post, December 30, 1987.
  • Washington Post Book World, March 9, 1986.
  • Yankee, December, 1995.
OBITUARIES:PERIODICALS
  • Chicago Tribune, September 26, 1991.
  • Detroit Free Press, September 26, 1991; September 27, 1991.
  • Detroit News, September 26, 1991.
  • Los Angeles Times, September 26, 1991.
  • School Library Journal, November, 1991.
  • Times (London, England), September 27, 1991.

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Poems by Theodor Geisel

Poems By THEODOR GEISEL

Poet Categorization

LIFE SPAN 1904–1991

Theodor Geisel

Biography

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known under his pseudonym "Dr. Seuss," was "probably the best-loved and certainly the best-selling children's book writer of all time," wrote Robert Wilson of the New York Times Book Review. Geisel entertained several generations of young readers with his zany nonsense books. Speaking to Herbert Kupferberg of Parade, Geisel once claimed: "Old men on crutches tell me, 'I've been brought up on your . . .

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