MARCH 2 = “Dr. Seuss” Turns 110!

Image“Fox / Socks / Box / Knox

Knox in box./ Fox in socks.

Knox on fox in socks in box./ Socks on Knox and Knox in box.

Fox in socks on box on Knox./ Chicks with bricks come.

Chicks with blocks come./ Chicks with bricks and blocks and clocks come.

Look, sir.  Look, sir.  Mr. Knox, sir./ Let’s do tricks with bricks and blocks, sir.

Let’s do tricks with chicks and clocks, sir.”

Well sir, this is just one of his books… the one from which I can clearly recall reading with my mother. It is one of many truly delightful children’s verses written and drawn by the phenomenal Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss who was born on today’s date 110 years ago in Springfield, Massachusetts to German immigrant parents. His father, Theodor Robert Geisel ran the family brewery until it was closed by prohibition after which he ran the city parks system. It just so happens that young Theodor lives just a short distance from Mulberry Street which he would make famous in his first published work “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!” 

Ted Geisel Becomes “Dr. Seuss” 

Young Theodor attended Dartmouth College in Massachusetts, and became the Editor of Dartmouth’s humor magazine.  But he fell afoul of the law in 1925 in an interesting way which lead to his evolution into Dr. Seuss.  The night before Easter Sunday of that year, the local police chief caught Ted and some of his pals cavorting around with bootleg gin.  As a result of this heinous infraction of the law, (Above: Geisel circa 1925) the Dean of the College removed Ted from his post as Editor of the humor magazine.  Nevertheless, Ted found a way to continue to make contributions. He kept on drawing cartoons for the magazine under the alias of “Seuss”, or “T. Seuss” which was his mother’s maiden name, and his own middle name.  He simply added the title of “Dr.” some years later.  He continued to write and draw, moving to New York in 1927. 

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 He did comic strips and also some advertising for General Electric and Standard Oil.  But the Great Depression was on and his manuscripts met frequent rejections.  It was while walking down Madison Ave. in New York feeling dejected after his 27’th rejection that Ted Geisel literally bumped into an old friend from Dartmouth College, Mike McClintock.  It just so happened that Mr. McClintock had that very morning begun a job as the Editor of the Children’s Section of Vanguard Books.  The two men talked and within a few hours Geisel signed a contract from which  “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!” was published in 1937 and Dr. Seuss was on his way!

A Treasure Trove of Children’s Tales

And since then Dr. Seuss has left us a literal treasure trove of children’s tales with catching rhymes and remarkably friendly illustrations of a menagerie of characters.  For example there is Horton the elephant, who says throughout “Horton Hatches the Egg”,  “I meant what I said/ And I said what I meant/ An elephant’s faithful/ One hundred percent!” of his intention to

hatch an egg for a bird who has flown off.  Horton is a typical Dr. Seuss character who is faithful to his friends and stands by what he knows to be right.  In 1954’s “Horton Hears a Who” Horton is convinced that he has heard the inhabitants of a dust speck complete with there own little world which he must protect from destruction.  “Don’t give up/ I believe in you all/ A person’s a person/ No matter how small” is what Horton says in saving his friends from being boiled in “Beezlenut Oil”. And these are all little lessons that registered with this child, because I’ve remembered those rhymes and plot details with very little help from “Wikipedia”.  I may be a kid at heart, but I know a good plot and a great rhyme when I hear it, and happily so have millions of children over the years.

The Rhythms of the Ships Engines

Inspired by the rhythm of the ships engines in an ocean liner which he and his first wife took to Europe in 1936, the meter of Geisel’s simple tales of honesty and good faith, as well as his simple rhymes have been helping children to master their reading skills for years now and continue to do so to this day, evolving with the story-tellers medium.  He published my own favorite, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” in 1957.  This was transformed in 1966 into

the wonderful TV cartoon movie of the same name with narration by the actor Boris Karloff, who had been known as “the King of Horror” in his film career.  This then became the successful 2000 movie, “The Grinch” with the popular comic actor Jim Carrey. One of his most popular works came about because of a 1954 report published in “Life” magazine which said that much of children’s illiteracy occurred because so many children’s books were boring. The publisher “Houghton Mifflin” gave Geisel a list of words that were important for first graders to know. Nine months later, Geisel came out with “The Cat in the Hat” which used Geisel’s imaginative characters and drawings, but used a simplified vocabulary which included 236 of the words on that list which young readers could follow and understand.

A Less Than Storybook Life… 

Regrettably, Ted Geisel’s life was a less happy matter than his stories.  His first wife, Helen suffered from a long bout with cancer, and committed suicide in 1967 owing to her anguish over an affair that Ted had with Audrey Dimond, whom he married the following year.  He wound up having no children of his own with either

woman, but he quipped when asked about this; “You have ’em, and I’ll entertain ’em!” He passed away from the effects of Oral Cancer on September 24, 1991, at his home in La Jolla in California at the age of 87.  Four years after his death, University of California, San Diego’s University Library Building was in December of 1995 renamed Geisel Library in honor of Geisel and Audrey for their contributions to the library and their devotion to improving literacy.  And “Dr. Seuss” continues to be read and loved by millions of children (and “adults” like this one) all over the world.

Sources:

http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/dreeves/Fox-In-Socks.txt

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Seuss

http://www.history.com/news/9-things-you-may-not-know-about-dr-seuss

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horton_Hatches_the_Egg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horton_Hears_a_Who!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas!

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