He was not the greatest artist in the world, nor the greatest writer, but in mixing, mashing, mauling, manipulating, masticating, mutilating, and mystificating a moderate mastery of both, he was able to charm the socks off children, parents, and teachers alike for the better part of two generations. His name was Theodor Seuss Geisel. And since his father always wanted him to become a doctor, he wrote under the name, Dr. Seuss, preferring to save his "real" name for more serious literary efforts. He needed have bothered. There never was a more serious literary goal than teaching young people to love to read. And even today, nearly ten years after his death, he's still the best-selling author of children's books in the world.
The good doctor of juvenile letters was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, the son of the curator of the Forest Park Zoo. There's no record that the zoo ever housed Grinches, Yertles, or cats wearing hats, but there's little doubt young Theodor was intimately familiar with their zoological inspirations. Giesel graduated from Dartmouth in 1925 and immediately set sail for Oxford hoping to satisfy the dreams of his father in acquiring a doctorate in literature. Instead he met and married a Miss Helen Palmer before returning to the US to work as a cartoonist and writer for "Judge" magazine (kind of a 1930s version of 'Mad"). His work also found it's way into more upscale versions of "Life," "Vanity Fair," and "Liberty."
In 1936, while on the boat to Europe for a vacation, Geisel became fascinated by the rhythm of the ship's engines. He wrote his first book, "And to Think That I saw It on Mulberry Street." The book was published in 1937, having gone through rejection by no less than FORTY-THREE publishers (other sources set the count at 29) before a friend put up the money to see it printed. It didn't make any bestseller lists but enjoyed moderate success. The war years saw Geisel working in Hollywood for Frank Capra's Signal Corps Unit where he won a Legion of Merit and two "Oscars" for such blockbusters as "Hitler Lives" and "Design for Death," both documentaries for the military. His cartoon, Gerald McBoing-Boing also won him an "Oscar."
Dr. Seuss' first big success in publishing came in 1954 when he became aware of just how BORING most children's book of the day really were. Using a list of 223 Dolch Reading List words, he penned the words and illustrations for his immortal "Cat in the Hat." It was an instant success. In 1960, in response to a bet from humorist, Bennett Cerf, that he couldn't write a book using only fifty words, Seuss cooked up a batch of "Green Eggs and Ham." Cerf welshed on the bet. No matter, Dr. Seuss didn't need the money. A Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and a total of forty-four children's books to his credit pretty well cemented him a place in the literary hall of fame. Fortunately for all the parents and others who have had to read them aloud, the books of Theodor Seuss Geisel are loaded with grown-up wit and satire set to a catchy, if somewhat quirky, rhythm that fascinates at least through the twentieth reading. I know. I've used them dozens of times in the elementary classroom, reading aloud while my meditating munchkin moppets mull their own manifestations of Seuss' sagacious sonnets.