Character Creation, 2011
It’s hard to imagine a time before we all knew the mischievous Cat in the Hat or Sam I Am who didn’t like green eggs and ham. With more than 45 children’s books to his credit, Dr. Seuss has sparked imaginations and created a love of reading in children for generations.
Dr. Seuss is the pen name of the Theodore Seuss Geisel, who was born in 1904 in Springfield, MA. He wrote his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1936 while on an ocean liner. He claimed that the rhythm of the ship’s engines playing in his head inspired the cadence and rhymes that he penned to page.
Twenty-seven publishers rejected the manuscript, stating it was too “different.” Geisel was about to give up and return to his career in advertising when he had a serendipitous meeting with an old college friend now in publishing who was willing to give this oddball book a shot.
The risk paid off. Over the next few years Dr. Seuss earned critical acclaim for several new books, among them Horton Hears a Who, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
After a stint in the Army in WWII where he was assigned to write films for soldiers, Geisel returned his literary career – prompted in part by a 1954 Life Magazine report that children were having trouble learning to read because they found books boring. As a challenge, Geisel’s publisher sent him a list of 400 words a first grader could read and asked him to write a book. Using only 220 of them, Dr. Seuss came back with The Cat in the Hat, which became one of the defining books of his career and was anything but boring. That same year, he published How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
In 1960, the publisher posed a new challenge: that Geisel wouldn’t be able to write an entire book using only 50 words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham. Geisel collected on the bet.
Dr. Seuss continued to write, illustrate, painting and sculpting up until his death in 1991.
The beauty of a Dr. Seuss book, many experts will claim, is that it can be enjoyed on so many levels. It’s an escape into story, a romp through word play, a visual delight, and always a lesson to be learned…. Even if you didn’t know you were learning it.