Theodor Seuss Geisel (March 2, 1904 – September 24, 1991) was an American writer and illustrator best known for authoring popular children's books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.
His work includes several of the most popular children's books of all time, selling over 650 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death. Geisel adopted his "Dr. Seuss" pseudonym during his university studies at Dartmouth College and the University of Oxford. After leaving Oxford in 1927.
Geisel began his career as an illustrator and cartoonist for Vanity Fair, Life, and various other publications. He also worked as an illustrator for advertising campaigns, most notably for Flit and Standard Oil, and as a political cartoonist for the New York newspaper. During World War II he worked in an animation department of the United States Army, where he produced several short films, including Design for Death, which later won the 1947 Academy Award for Documentary Feature. But it was after the war that Geisel focused on his children's books, writing classics such as If I Ran the Zoo, (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), If I Ran the Circus (1956), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), and Green Eggs and Ham (1960).
He published over 60 books during his career, which have spawned numerous adaptations, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.
His long list of awards includes Caldecott Honours for McElligot’s Pool, If I Ran the Zoo, and Bartholomew and the Oobleck, and eight honorary doctorates. Works based on his original stories have won three Oscars, three Emmys, three Grammys and a Peabody. Dr. Seuss's honours include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, and the Pulitzer Prize. Dr. Seuss has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at the 6500 block of Hollywood Boulevard.
A life of service to others
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Theodor Robert and Henrietta (née Seuss) Geisel. All of his grandparents were German immigrants. Geisel was raised a Lutheran [Protestant Christian].
In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words.
Spaulding challenged Geisel to "bring back a book children can't put down". Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel's earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today. In 2009 alone, Green Eggs and Ham sold 540,366 copies, The Cat in the Hat sold 452,258 copies, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960) sold 409,068 copies—outselling the majority of newly published children's books.
Dr Seuss not only helped an entire generation of children to read, but he also taught basic ethical and moral lessons in a friendly and very effective format. He took over where religion failed. No one likes to be preached at – told they are a ‘sinner’ when they aren’t- especially by a hypocrite. Those who preach, but do not do.
The current Pope Francis, who appears to be aiming for a clear out of hypocrisy, summed up the situation extremely well when he told the clerical bureaucrats of the Roman Curia, assembled in the Sistine Chapel, that they are prone to “careerism and opportunism,” “the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre,” and “spiritual Alzheimer’s.” The church he said ‘should be like a field hospital after battle,’ a place to care for others without making distinctions based on faith or lack of faith. “It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol, or about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. The church needs to warm the hearts of the faithful . . .it needs nearness, proximity.”
‘Where?’, the Pope has asked ‘is mercy and kindness and tolerance’.
Well, it is to be found in the work of Dr Seuss. Perhaps even more extraordinary is that Dr Seuss’s books are being used by pastors in order to help people see the universal messages.
The Rev. James W. Kemp of Lexington, for example, is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and Duke Divinity School, who preached in Lexington, Winchester and Russell. He has Multiple Sclerosis and had to retire in 1996 after 15 years in the ministry. Despite being almost entirely paralyzed now, Kemp has written three books on spirituality with the help of his mother and frequently quoted Dr. Seuss, using examples from The Cat in the Hat and other books of Dr Seuss, to illustrate his books and sermons. Horton the Elephant taught Kemp’s congregations about faithfulness. Yertle the Turtle illustrated the dangers of selfishness and power. The North-going and South-going Zax were textbook examples of pride and stubbornness.
The universality of the message
Dr Seuss’s books are intended to be read by adults with children and the children themselves and the children can be aged 2 to 200. I can remember sitting in the living room, reading [I thought] to two small children because it was raining heavily outside, but I became so engrossed, I did not notice they had actually gone to play in the garden, because the rain had stopped and the sun had come out.
The messages are as relevant to adults as children . This comment is from a blog of a young lady about Oh the Places You’ll Go [provided as an observation] and its relevance to her:
Now I have to say, I love Dr. Seuss, truly I do. But I couldn’t quite equate “Fox In Sox” or “Cat In The Hat” with spirituality. But Eric has posted the words from this book on his Facebook page. Reading it there, without the colourful whimsy that is the hallmark of any Dr. Seuss illustration, that words seemed to jump off the screen.
I could see myself on this journey of life and the places he described were places I had heard about or had already been. I saw the place I was now and I suddenly saw this book in a whole new way.
Right now, I’m at the place where the streets are unmarked. I’m searching for something I haven’t quite found. I don’t know where I’m going and my instinct is to run. When I run, I go around in a circle and end up right smack in that Waiting Place, exhausted and scared, waiting for some kind of sign or direction or something to point out the safe way to go forward. I don’t like this dark place, but somehow I know this is where I’m supposed to be right now. Remembering that the journey is THROUGH the dark valley and not INTO the dark valley is key to keeping my feet moving.
In other words, these are a mystic’s messages all packaged up as modern day parables.
Many of Geisel's books express his views on a remarkable variety of social and political essentially humanist issues, for example:
- The Lorax (1971), is about environmentalism and anti-consumerism;
- The Sneetches (1961), is about treating all people as equals
- Yertle the Turtle (1958), is a plea against anti-authoritarianism and power mad control freaks
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) is about the materialism and consumerism that has overtook what is essentially a very holy season - the Christmas season
- Horton Hears a Who! (1954), is about the inequality of men, and the need to bring fairness and justice into the treatment of others even if they have no power, even if they live in a tiny country or state, even if they do apparently ordinary jobs, even if their voices are small. It is an allegory for our time because much of the story is about the need for ordinary men to band together to get their voice heard.
Life and career
Geisel attended Dartmouth College, graduating in 1925. Upon graduating from Dartmouth, he entered Lincoln College, Oxford, intending to earn a PhD in English literature. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer, his future first wife, who encouraged him to give up becoming an English teacher in favour of pursuing drawing as a career. And so Geisel left Oxford without earning a degree and returned to the United States in February 1927. His first nationally published cartoon appeared in the July 16, 1927, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. This single $25 sale encouraged Geisel to move from Springfield to New York City. Later that year, when he accepted a job as writer and illustrator at the humour magazine Judge, Geisel felt financially stable enough to marry Helen. His first cartoon for Judge appeared on October 22, 1927, and the Geisels were married on November 29. Geisel's first work signed "Dr. Seuss" was published in Judge, about six months after he started working there.
Geisel supported himself and his wife through the Great Depression by drawing advertising for General Electric, NBC, Standard Oil, Narragansett Brewing Company and many other companies. The increased income allowed the Geisels to travel. By 1936, Geisel and his wife had visited 30 countries together.
Before the War, there is no indication or hint that Seuss had any mystic inclinations, although it was clear he had a runaway imagination and a quite marvellous sense of humour. Geisel gained a significant public profile through a program for motor boat lubricants produced by Standard Oil under the brand name Essomarine, for example, which is hardly mystic territory! But he was entirely eccentric
The Author Himself Was a Cat in the Hat - By LESLIE KAUFMANFEB. 3, 2013
The Cat wore a hat. Everyone knows that.
But so did Sam-I am, the mooing Mr. Brown and the fat fish from “One Fish, Two Fish” — a tiny yellow hat.
The Grinch disguised himself in a crinkled Santa hat.
All over Dr. Seuss’s beloved children’s books, his characters sport distinctive, colorful headwear — unless they are the kinds of creatures that have it sprouting naturally from their heads in tufted, multitiered and majestically flowing formations.
So it’s no surprise that the real Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a hat lover himself. He collected hundreds of them, plumed, beribboned and spiked, and kept them in a closet hidden behind a bookcase in his home in the La Jolla section of San Diego. He incorporated them into his personal paintings, his advertising work and his books. He even insisted that guests to his home don the most elaborate ones he could find.
“Believe me, when you get a dozen people seated at a fairly formal dinner party,” his widow, Audrey, said in an interview for an 1999 educational video, “and they’ve all got on perfectly ridiculous chapeaus, the evening takes care of itself.”
Dr Seuss was a most unusual mystic. When he created, he chain smoked and indeed he died of oral cancer on September 24, 1991, at his home in La Jolla, admittedly at the age of 87. When he relaxed, he drank vodka on the rocks.
He was also married – twice. On October 23, 1967, suffering from a long struggle with illnesses including GBS - Helen was diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome, in 1954 - and cancer—Geisel's wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, committed suicide. Geisel married Audrey Stone Dimond on June 21, 1968. Though he devoted most of his life to writing children's books, Geisel had no children of his own.
Like all mystics and philosophers, however, he lived in his own private world, preferring his own company and that of his wife to any other and was very uncomfortable with cameras. Furthermore, although he received thousands of fan letters per week from children, he was actually quite frightened of them.
It would also seem that he had almost perfect perception recall remembering names, activities and images, and one of his assistants is quoted as saying he never lost the ability to see things through the eyes of a child. His father was described as a ‘quiet perfectionist’, and even as a child he was described as a loner by nature, whose best friend was his sister Marnie.
In the end, after the war, when Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California, Dr Seiss found his refuge in creating children's books and a way of expressing very difficult philosophival, moral and ethical questions in a way that was palatable to all.
Over the course of his long career, Geisel wrote over 60 books. Though most were published under his well-known pseudonym, Dr. Seuss, he also authored over a dozen books as Theo LeSieg and one as Rosetta Stone. Examples of his most popular books:
- And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, 1937
- The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, 1938
- The Seven Lady Godivas, 1939
- The King’s Stilts, 1939
- Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940
- McElligot’s Pool, 1947
- Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, 1948
- Bartholomew and the Oobleck, 1949
- If I Ran the Zoo, 1950
- Scrambled Eggs Super! 1953
- Horton Hears a Who! 1954
- On Beyond Zebra! 1955
- If I Ran the Circus, 1956
- The Cat in the Hat, 1957
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 1957
- The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, 1958
- Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, 1958
- Happy Birthday to You! 1959
- Green Eggs and Ham, 1960
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, 1960
- The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961
- Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, 1962
- Dr. Seuss’s ABC, 1963
- Hop on Pop, 1963
- Fox in Socks, 1965
- I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, 1965
- The Cat in the Hat Songbook, 1967
- The Foot Book, 1968
- I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! And Other Stories, 1969
- I Can Draw It Myself, 1970
- Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? 1970
- The Lorax, 1971
- Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! 1972
- Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? 1973
- The Shape of Me and Other Stuff, 1973
- There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! 1974
- Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! 1975
- The Cat’s Quizzer, 1976
- I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! 1978
- Oh Say Can You Say? 1979
- Hunches in Bunches, 1982
- The Butter Battle Book, 1984
- You’re Only Old Once! 1986
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 1990
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- A Visit to Theodor Geisel's La Jolla Mountaintop - May 25, 1986
- Dr Seuss - Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
- Dr Seuss - Gerald McBoing-Boing
- Dr Seuss - Green Eggs and Ham
- Dr Seuss - Horton Hatches the Egg 01
- Dr Seuss - Horton Hatches the Egg 02
- Dr Seuss - Horton Hears a Who 01
- Dr Seuss - Horton Hears a Who 02
- Dr Seuss - If I ran the Circus
- Dr Seuss - Oh the Places You’ll Go
- Dr Seuss - One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
- Dr Seuss - Sleep book
- Dr Seuss - The Cat in the Hat 01
- Dr Seuss - The Cat in the Hat 02
- Dr Seuss - The Hat as mask
- Dr Seuss - The Lorax 01
- Dr Seuss - The Lorax 02
- Dr Seuss - The Lorax 03
- Dr Seuss - The value of Home schooling, Knowing your Destiny and Patience
- Dr Seuss - To think that I saw it on Mulberry Street
- Dr Seuss - War cartoons
- Dr Seuss - Yertle the Turtle
- Dr Seuss - Your Job in Germany