Few names have become as familiar to children and parents as that of the beloved author/illustrator, Dr. Seuss. From his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (published in 1937) to his last, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, published 50 years later, Theodor Seuss Geisel’s picture books have always aroused a sense of wonder and excitement on the part of children who read or listen to them.
February 25 to March 1 is “Dr. Seuss Week” in the United States this year - an appropriate time to reflect upon the origins of some of his best-known stories.
You may not know that The Cat in the Hat was actually written in response to the traditional “Dick and Jane” readers. Seuss was challenged by a director of Houghton Mifflin Publishing to create an easy-to-read story which children would actually want to read (instead “the mind-numbing dullness of Dick and Jane and their mundane lives that consisted mostly of watching Spot run.”)
Years later, Seuss said that he took great pride in helping to oust the Dick and Jane stories from many American school libraries!
Then Seuss was asked to create a fun-to-read children’s story using no more than 50 unique words – a seemingly impossible task. The wildly successful result was the beloved story, Green Eggs and Ham.
Some of his books, although seemingly nonsensical, reflected Seuss’ own social and political views. The Sneetches reflected his views on racial equality; Yertle the Turtle, his mistrust of dictators such as Adolf Hitler; The Butter Battle Book, his anxiety about the arms race, and The Lorax expressed his disgust with consumerism and anti-environmental practices. (The book became a rally cry for environmentalists, but the logging industry claimed that The Lorax – which spoke about the wanton destruction of natural resources such as trees – was unfair. In fact, the lumber industry actually commissioned a children’s book to present the opposite point of view!)
Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, published in 1957, was also a criticism of consumerism – particularly of Christmas-season consumerism. (In this tale, the Grinch and his dog stole all the Christmas presents, dinners and decorations in Whoville, anticipating that the Whos would be devastated and their Christmas ruined. When the Whos continued their happy celebrations instead, the Grinch realized that Christmas means much more than presents and feasting.)
Perhaps one of the most surprising truths about this iconic author is that he almost wasn’t an author! That’s right – his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected no less than 27 times by the publishing industry, until Vanguard Press finally accepted it.
The world of children’s literature owes a huge debt to Vanguard Press ... and to the fertile imagination and wit of Theodor Seuss Geisel, 16 of whose books are on the Publisher’s Weekly’s list of the 100 of the Top-Selling Hardcover Children’s Books of All Time.
If your favourite Dr. Seuss book isn’t on the shelves of the Stratford Public Library at this time, you can make a request for it online, by email, by phone, or in person. The Library offers various biographies about this notable author, such as The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss by Charles D. Cohen – or you can visit the database Something about the
Author, available from home or in the library at www.stratford.library.on.ca/kids/subjects/encyclopedias.html.
– Sally Hengeveld, librarian