What do you remember about your childhood books? I’ll wager Dr. Seuss, the pseudonym of Theodore Suess Geisel, authored one you loved. Today is his birthday, and in his honor it’s National Read Across America Day.
Dr. Suess married Helen Palmer, whom he met at Oxford, and she encouraged him to pursue his drawing. They returned to the U.S. where he worked in advertising. They never had children, but he told people, “You make ‘em, I’ll amuse ‘em.” However, he wrote his first children’s book the year Helen learned she could not have children. After Helen’s death, he married Audrey Stone Dimond and became stepfather to her two daughters, Lark and Lea.
Funny how a great political cartoonist is regarded as a children’s author, and often looked down on by his peers in the literary world. Ted Geisel was a first generation American of Bavarian (German) parents. Often the target of prejudice because he looked Jewish though he was Lutheran, and because he was of German descent, his books reflect his life-long battle against bigotry. His most powerful book against prejudice is HORTON HEARS A WHO. As a result of his many books, Geisel has won too many prestigious awards to list here. In my opinion, he has also found a place in the heart of each of his readers.
Supposedly Bennett Cerf bet Ted Geisel that he couldn’t write a book using fifty or fewer different words. The result was Geisel’s bestselling book, GREEN EGGS AND HAM.
But it was not until THE CAT IN THE HAT was published in 1957 that Geisel could quit his day job in advertising. He wrote that 1957 book because he was worried that children weren’t learning to read. Rudolf Flesch’ WHY JOHNNY CAN’T READ and John Hersey’s WHY DO STUDENTS BOG DOWN ON THE FIRST R? raised questions Americans wanted answered.
William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, challenged Geisel to write a story that first graders couldn’t put down using no more than 225 different words.
Here’s an encouraging note for authors. AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET, his first published book for children in 1937, was rejected 29 times! Talk about determination! Most of us would have given up before then, wouldn’t we? He wrote the book on an Atlantic crossing in 1936, basing the rhythm on the sound of the ship’s engines.
In his final book OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO in 1990, Geisel left us with wonderful life advice.
You have brains in your head
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself