Probably the foremost children’s book author of the 20th century died on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, published 46 books for children including a new kind of first reader that sent Dick and Jane into well-deserved retirement.
Dr. Seuss was born in the early 1920s, when Geisel (born in 1904) was attending Dartmouth College. Among his pursuits there was work on the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, for which he rose to the rank of editor-in-chief. However, one dark day at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drinking gin at a party in his room. This was frowned upon by the Dean, who insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern surreptitiously, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. (Other pseudonyms included Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.
Geisel had a successful career in advertising (Flit, Standard Oil, U.S. Army) and as an editorial cartoonist denouncing fascists, racists, isolationists and Republicans. But it was his children’s books that gave him lasting recognition. His first, published in 1937, was And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He followed with such celebrated books as The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. In 1954, Geisel was challenged to write a book using only 250 words appropriate to beginning readers, “a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, using 236 of the words given to him, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat.
Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind. “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” he said.
Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”
“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”
“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”
“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”
“Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive…. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.”
Froggie went A-forecasting
On September 24, 1788, the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser described a rather ingenious barometer devised by an unnamed Frenchman. The instructions: Equip a clear glass bottle with earth and water to a depth of about four fingers and a tiny ladder that reaches from the bottom to the lower part of the neck. Find a small green frog and put it in the bottle. Cover the bottle with ap iece of parchment pricked with a pin to admit air. As long as the weather remains fair, the frog will perch at the top of the ladder, but if rain approaches the frog will go down into the water.
On the other side of the little doorway (which didn’t seem little at all any more), Alice passed through the loveliest gardens she had ever seen, filled with beds of bright flowers and dear little ponds. Along the way she passed several signs that said: Make Donaldland Great Again At one of those ponds, she spotted a queer-looking group of animals marching around it. “Curiouser and curiouser,” she said, although everything was curious today. There was a Duck and a Dodo, a Lory, an Eaglet and a Mouse. They moved about the pond, each at its own pace, some faster, some slower, some stopping now and then, some bumping into one another, until the Dodo suddenly cried out “The Caucus-race is over.”
“Who has won?” they all shouted.
The Dodo thought for a moment then said: “Everyone. We all have won.” Everyone cheered. Alice, who was now standing among them, asked: “What is a Caucus-race?”
The Dodo pressed a finger to its forehead and thought some more. “It’s like a real caucus only it’s not, because we’re not invited to real Caucuses anymore. We used to be GOPPs, but we’re outcasts now. We’ve been tweetstormed by the Queen.”
Alice was filled with questions, and she blurted them right out: “What’s a GOPP? What’s a tweetstorm? What kind of animal are you?”
“I’m a Dodo.”
“Aren’t Dodos extinct?”
“Might as well be. I guess I’m a Dodo In Name Only. And a GOPP in Name Only.”
“You haven’t told me what a GOPP is,” Alice complained.
“A Grand Old Party Pooper. Except things aren’t so grand anymore.”
“Because you’ve been tweetstormed?”
“Yes. A tweetstorm is a weapon the Queen uses to show his displeasure.”
“His displeasure? I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t understand,” said the Dodo. “You’re a girl.”
“I resent that.”
“I imagine so. But some people have to be girls.”
“I mean I resent your suggesting that girls are somehow inferior.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” said the Dodo. “The Queen has decreed it so.”
“Why would she . . . ?
“Are you saying the Queen is a he?”
“I’m only saying what is so.”
“Why is he a Queen and not a King?”
“Queens are more statuesque, better looking, smarter and more powerful. That’s what he says. And queenliness is next to godliness, after all.”
“And he, the Queen, doesn’t like girls.”
“Well, he does like to grab them,” said the Dodo.
“That’s awful,” said Alice angrily.
“He does have big hands and a big . . .”
“Heart,” interjected the duck, speaking for the first time. “We try not to notice. It’s easier that way.”
“He says they like it,” said the Dodo. “And who wouldn’t want to be grabbed by royalty or a television star?”
“Me, that’s who,” Alice growled.
This conversation was fortunately interrupted by the Lory who held up a smartphone and announced: “Incoming tweet.”
They all gathered around and read: “White Knight and his gang of 13 wicked democreeps are DESTROYING our GRATE country. Dumb Southern White Rabbit recuses himself. SAD!!”
And another: “White Knight is Black Knight. White Rabbit too. Lyin’ Dodo, Little Mouse, Crooked Lory, Leaking Duck, all lowlifes. Off with there HEADS!!”
The animals began to sob and mutter and lament the unfairness of their situation, giving Alice the perfect opportunity to slip away and continue her exploration of the lovely gardens.