“Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination,” is an interesting biography of Dr. Seuss.
Ted, as he was known, began his professional life as an advertising man, a political cartoonist and an illustrator. He would, of course, become a well-known and beloved children’s author and animator for the screen.
His first children’s book, “And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street” was published in 1937. Geisel went on to write 60 more books, with several being adapted for the stage, screen and television. He won several awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
As a former early childhood teacher, I was amazed at how Geisel transformed children’s literature. He refused to “dumb down” his work, believing that children are smart enough to figure it out. At the time he began writing, there were word lists for different age groups, designed by teachers, librarians and publishers. The authors couldn’t deviate from this list. Geisel hated the list, finding it constraining and limited. Eventually, because of Geisel, the list was abandoned.
Geisel saw the new medium of television as a threat. He feared children would not read because they would be watching television. This made it important to him that he write fun books that children and parents would like to read together. His rhyming and artwork drew them in. He was a perfectionist in his writing and drawing, some of his books taking months to write. He never started with a moral or a lesson. He thought that was insulting to children. He just wanted children to enjoy reading.
Geisel became a wealthy man from advertising, and from writing and marketing his product. He and his first wife Helen traveled the world several times. She was his collaborator and sounding board. They could not conceive children and this was a very private heartbreak for them. It was shared with only a very few people. After his wife’s suicide, Geisel remarried.
This gifted author was involved in all aspects of publishing his books and in their adaptations for screen and television. He drove some people to distraction, but his persistence paid off in delighting children. He was a gracious, kind and humble man.
My only negative comment is that this biography could have been a little shorter because it drags at times. But overall, I found it to be an important and interesting book about an author who greatly influenced our culture and most certainly our educational system.