3/2/13

Happy Birthday Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss

On March 2, 1904, one hundred and nine years ago, Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Massachusetts.

His mother's maiden name was the origin of his middle name, and ultimately his best-known nom de plume, although he also published as Theo LeSieg, an obvious anagram.

Geisel didn't always write books for kids. According to Wikipedia, while in college at Dartmouth he was working at the school humor magazine when he was caught drinking gin while on the job and banned from the publication.  To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern without the administration's knowledge, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name "Seuss."


After college, he worked in advertising, and when the US joined World War II, he worked to create propaganda for the War Production Board and the US Army.  Later he illustrated various books, including The "Pocket Book of Boners", a sort of "Kids say the darnedest things" compilation.

Of course, after he wrote "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street", he shot straight to stardom, right?  Not really. Even getting that book published was apparently difficult. Sources say it was rejected between 27  and 43 times before being published by Vanguard Press.

Mulberry Street, however, was pretty complex compared to Cat in The Hat, or Green Eggs and Ham.
Bennett Cerf, Theodor Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) editor, challenged him to write a book using 50 words or less. He actually made this challenge when Seuss was writing The Cat in the Hat (which used 225 words) but Geisel never backed down from a challenge and wrote Green Eggs and Ham with exactly 50 different words. Those words are:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

Even though they are books for kids, there's something in the simple language that Dr. Seuss uses that sticks in your head, almost like an advertising jingle. In the middle of "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish" there's a happy hobo who expresses his human state:

"A gherkin is a native who runs after people with a knife" (from "The Pocket Book of Boners)

My hat is old.
My teeth are gold.
I have a bird I like to hold.
My shoe is off.
My foot is cold.

My shoe is off.
My foot is cold.
I have a bird I like to hold.
My hat is old.
My teeth are gold.
And now my story is all told.

Is this existential or what? Clothing, money, health, friendship, suffering, death -- summed up in rhyme.

A couple years ago I wrote another blog post pondering a fellow called Marvin K. Mooney. The library summarizes "Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now?" as: "Suggests in rhyme a number of ways for Marvin K. Mooney to travel as long as he gets going--now! In merry verse and illustrations, Marvin is asked to leave by every conceivable means of transportation."  You can read my post here.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss, and thank you. You're not just for kids.
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