One Fish, Two Fish: The Life and Times of Dr. Seuss.

In 1960, publisher Bennett Cert bet Dr. Seuss $50 that Seuss couldn't write a book using only 50 different words. So Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham, which became an instant picture book classic. Cerf apparently never paid up, incidentally. Green Eggs and Ham marked the apex of Seuss's minimalist-vocabulary period, and it was an awfully impressive feat (we used 50 different words just to tell you about it).

***

Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn't actually a doctor (at least not until his alma mater, Dartmouth, gave him an honorary PhD), but his unique poetic meter and kid-friendly, leap-off-the-page illustrations made him one of the most successful children's writers in history (220 million books sold). From books intended to teach vocabulary and reading skills (like The Cat in the Hat) to allegorical tales of power-hungry turtles and environmental destruction (Yertle the Turtle and The Lorax, respectively), Dr. Seuss was a vital innovator in the world of children's books for more than fifty years. When he arrived on the kid-lit scene, children's books were boring, lifeless tomes (once you've seen Spot run a couple of times, you're ready to give up reading for good). Dr. Seuss created picture books that we wanted to read.

***

When Dr. Seuss Goes to War, a collection of Geisel's World War II-era cartoons created for PM magazine, was published in 1999, the American public was stunned. How could the author of peace-loving, Truffula Tree-hugging children's books have penned wartime cartoons that attacked Japanese Americans and depicted the Japanese as bucktoothed buffoons? Some argued that Seuss was only reflecting his times; others argued that racism is racism (regardless of whether it's in a box or with a fox).

***

Dr. Seuss came from a long line of German brewmasters, which perhaps explains how he came to throw a drunken bash during his Dartmouth days. Due to school policy (and also federal law, since Prohibition forbade drinking in those days), Ted's excellent adventure got him fired from his position at The Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, the college's humor magazine. But the wily Geisel never let The Man keep him down: He kept writing for the Jack-O-Lantern, adopting the pseudonym "Seuss" (his middle name) to get by the censors.

***

Before he started speaking for the trees, Dr. Seuss, was, well, a sellout. For fifteen years he wrote and designed ads for the corporate monolith Standard Oil. In a series of ads hawking Standard's pesticide Flit, Geisel coined the popular catchphrase, "Quick, Henry, the Flit!" which was sort of the "Mikey likes it!" of its time.

***

While it would probably be a slight exaggeration to say that Dr. Seuss single handedly ended the Cold War, The Butter Battle Book was one of the most influential anti-arms-race books of the '80s. Telling the story of the absurd war between the Yooks and the Zooks (whose sole disagreement is whether one ought to eat bread butter side up or butter side down), Seuss subtly challenged the Reagan administration's emphasis on defense over social welfare programs. For six months, the book was on the New York Times Best Sellers list - for adults.

______

From mental_floss' book Scatterbrained, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!


Newest 5
Newest 5 Comments

The interesting thing about the racism charge is that Suess' caricatures of the Japanese were almost certainly just that -- caricatures. Several of his wartime cartoons tackled subjects like anti-Semitism and segregation in the military, and the book Horton Hears A Who was written as a cry against prejudice.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Green Eggs and Ham was the first english kids book that my mom got me when we moved to America. It was the first book I read and understood the lesson, it was so exciting to me. Not only did I learn english but I learned to always try something once before giving judgement. Lessons been with me since I was 6 years old. If I never learned that lesson I would never know that rocky road ice cream is good in a coke float . . . mmmm . . .
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Yes, but Fox in Socks was an exercise in sadism! My daughter keeps choosing it as one of her bedtime stories because it cracks her up to to hear me struggle to get my tongue around "Bim bends Ben's broom, Ben bends Bim's broom or six sick bricks tick, six sick chicks tock...then again, maybe it's my daughter who has the mean streak ; )

But yes, other than that, Suess was a trailblazer in children's writings. Aside from the environmentalism, bigotry, and xenophobia, he also tackled what must have been a touchy issue at the time in Horton Hatches the Egg about a mom who foists her baby off on someone else to raise while she takes off and indulges herself.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Commenting is closed.





Email This Post to a Friend
"One Fish, Two Fish: The Life and Times of Dr. Seuss."

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.

 

Success! Your email has been sent!

close window
X

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
 
Learn More