They say it all started when Gerald was two—
That’s the age kids start talking—least, most of them do.
Well, when he started talking,
you know what he said?
He didn’t talk words—
he went boing boing instead!
So goes the hilarious tale of a boy who was a little bit different—a tale that only Dr. Seuss could create. Based on the Academy Award-winning motion picture!ype for one of Random Houses best-selling series, Beginner Books. This popular series combined engaging stories with outrageous illustrations and playful sounds to teach basic reading skills. Brilliant, playful, and always respectful of children, Dr. Seuss charmed his way into the consciousness of four generations of youngsters and parents. In the process, he helped kids learn to read.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and three Academy Awards, Seuss was the author and illustrator of 44 childrens books, some of which have been made into audiocassettes, animated television specials, and videos for children of all ages. Even after his death in 1991, Dr. Seuss continues to be the best-selling author of childrens books in the world.
Now that generations of readers have been reared on The Cat in the Hat and Fox in Socks, its easy to forget how colorless most childrens books were before Dr. Seuss reinvented the genre. When the editorial cartoonist Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street in 1936, the book was turned down by 27 publishers, many of whom said it was too different. Geisel was about to burn his manuscript when it was rescued and published, under the pen name Dr. Seuss, by a college classmate. Over the next two decades, Geisel concocted such delightfully loopy tales as The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Horton Hears a Who. Most of his books earned excellent reviews, and three received Caldecott Honor Awards. But it was the 1957 publication of The Cat in the Hat that catapulted Geisel to celebrity. Rudolf Fleschs book Why Johnny Cant Read, along with a related Life magazine article, had recently charged that childrens primers were too pallid and bland to inspire an interest in reading. The Cat in the Hat, written with 220 words from a first-grade vocabulary list, worked like a karate chop on the weary little world of Dick, Jane and Spot, as Ellen Goodman wrote in The Detroit Free Press. With its vivid illustrations, rhyming text and topsy-turvy plot, Geisels book for beginning readers was anything but bland. It sold nearly a million copies within three years. Geisel was named president of Beginner Books, a new venture of Random House, where he worked with writers and artists like P.D. Eastman, Michael Frith, Al Perkins, and Roy McKie, some of whom collaborated with him on book projects. For books he wrote but didnt illustrate, Geisel used the pen name Theo LeSieg (LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards). As Dr. Seuss, he continued to write bestsellers. Some, like Green Eggs and Ham and the tongue-twisting Fox in Socks, were aimed at beginning readers. Others could be read by older children or read aloud by parents, who were often as captivated as their kids by Geisels wit and imagination. Geisels visual style appealed to television and film directors, too: The animator Chuck Jones, who had worked with Geisel on a series of Army training films, brought How the Grinch Stole Christmas! to life as a hugely popular animated TV special in 1966. A live-action movie starring Jim Carrey as the Grinch was released in 2000. Many Dr. Seuss stories have serious undertones: The Butter Battle Book, for example, parodies the nuclear arms race. But whether he was teaching vocabulary words or values, Geisel never wrote plodding lesson books. All his stories are animated by a lively sense of visual and verbal play. At the time of his death in 1991, his books had sold more than 200 million copies. Bennett Cerf, Geisels publisher, liked to say that of all the distinguished authors he had worked with, only one was a genius: Dr. Seuss.
Good To Know
The Cat in the Hat was written at the urging of editor William Spaulding, who insisted that a book for first-graders should have no more than 225 words. Later, Bennett Cerf bet Geisel $50 that he couldnt write a book with just 50 words. Geisel won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, though to his recollection, Cerf never paid him the $50. Geisel faced another challenge in 1974, when his friend Art Buchwald dared him to write a political book. Geisel picked up a copy of Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! and a pen, crossed out each mention of the name Marvin K. Mooney, and replaced it with Richard M. Nixon. Buchwald reprinted the results in his syndicated column. Nine days later, President Nixon announced his resignation. The American Heritage Dictionary says the word nerd first appeared in print in the Dr. Seuss book If I Ran the Zoo: And then, just to show them, Ill sail to Ka-Troo / And bring back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo / A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too! The word grinch, after the title character in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, is defined in Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary as a killjoy or spoilsport.