Theodore Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 2, 1904. He graduated from Dartmouth in 1925, with a BA in English literature. He went to Europe after to study at Oxford. He then went to Sorbonne and then to the University of Vienna. He planned on getting a doctorate in literature, but the experience was less than ideal so he returned to the United States. (LeBeau 20) In 1927 Geisel married Helen Palmer who was a classmate of his from Oxford.
She was also a children’s author, until her death in 1967. (Diehl 169) Theodore started working for a magazine, Judge, in 1927. He worked there doing cartoons and humorous ads for them. He was also submitting his work to other magazines such as Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty.
In his ads, he made a reference to an insecticide called Flit, which was noticed and led to a tight contract to draw ads for Flit. The contract said he couldn’t do anything else. In his ad, he used the saying “Quick Henry, The Flit!”. He did that for 17 years, which gained him national exposure.
He only did that in the summer though, since insecticide is a seasonal thing. He went to an attorney and found that the only thing his contract didn’t forbid him to do was children’s books. (Diehl171)
Geisel’s first children’s book came about in 1936 when he was on vacation in Europe. He was listening to the rhythm of the ship’s engines, he came up with “And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street.” It was rejected by 43 publishers that he showed it to.
Eventually, a friend published it for him and it went on to at least moderate success. (Morgan 43) During World War II he joined the army and was sent to Hollywood. Captain Geisel would write for Frank Capra’s Signal Corps Unit, which he won the Legion of Merit for. He also did documentaries such as Hitler Lives and Design for Death, which won him an Oscar. He worked on the 5,000 Fingers of Mr. T., which was something that he didn’t enjoy.
Geisel also created General Mc-Boing Boing while he was in Hollywood, he sold it to UPA. John Hulbey designed and won an Academy award for it. Theodore won an Oscar for it, though he had little to no part in General Mc-Boing Boing. (Diehl 172) In May 1954, Life magazine published an article about illiteracy among school children. it said that children were having trouble to read because their books were boring.
Geisel’s publisher, Houghton Mifflin sent him a copy of a 400-word list and asked him to cut the list down to 250 words, which was the publisher’s idea of how many words a child could absorb and write a book using the words. Nine months later, Geisel finished the book using only 220 words, which was The Cat in the Hat, it went on to instant success.
The book used outrageous illustrations and playful sounds, and rhyming to teach basic reading skills. (MacDonald 12) In 1960, Bennett Cerf bet Theodore fifty dollars that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. The book that Geisel came out with was Green Eggs and Ham. Cerf never paid the bet. (Bedno) His first wife Helen Palmer Geisel died in 1967.
He remarried Audrey Stone Diamond in 1968. Audrey had two teenage daughters who grew up on Dr. Seuss’s books, they really respected his work. They had a house on top of Mt. Soledad, in La Jolla, California, the view was one that inspired a person. Many of his inspirations came about by accident. Horton Hatches the Egg happened while he was sitting at his desk in his studio with the window opened and a sketch of an elephant landed on another sketch of a tree. (Diehl 170)
The only idea that he consciously worked on was for The Lorax. He was mad at the ecological problem and wanted to do something about it that the children could understand. (Diehl 173) How the Grinch Stole Christmas was written in about two months. One month on the book and another month just on the last page. The idea of the Grinch came from annoyance with the tradition of Christmas.
The fact that stores had Christmas decorations out in July bothered him. (Morgan 114) He started drawing as animals as a child. He would go to the zoo with a sketchbook and spend hours there sketching. When he illustrated other authors’ books he used the name Theo LeSieg, which was his last name backward. He also enjoyed painting. Geisel was the President of Beginner Books, which was formed by his first wife Helen, and Benett Cerf’s wife.
He was the policymaker, publisher, and editor. As a publisher, he faced much pressure such as everyone’s opinions. If he drew a picture he would have to worry about what the parents would say and if it would make the children do something that would cause them to get hurt. (Wheeler 78) He didn’t mean to write his books to be used as educational.
He tried to keep his books out of teaching. hey weren’t forced on a child, or they probably wouldn’t enjoy them as much. He just wrote books to be fun and if they were helping children learn to read then he thought that was even better. He made reading easier by thinking of what children might be impelled to read, what they’re interested in. He used only the essentials in his book, which he thought were “Tears, Laughs, Loves and Thrills.” (Diehl 174) “Children want the same things that we want.
To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained.” (Bedno) Geisel felt that many new authors didn’t take writing seriously, that they thought they could just write as a hobby, on the side, but still be good at it and very successful.
He made it a point to always sit at his desk for eight hours a day, even if he wasn’t coming up with anything. He felt that kids were a very demanding audience because they could be brutally honest.
He always put out his best work, and he never rushed. Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, also known as Theo LeSieg, and as the cat in the hat, is still the world’s best children’s author, even after his death on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87.
He wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books. He won 2 Pulitzer Prizes and an Oscar. His birthday is still celebrated in elementary schools everywhere.
There are audiocassettes, animated television specials, toys, and stuffed animals of the famous characters of his stories. Theodore Geisel’s nonsensical way of thinking got him very far in writing children’s books and being recognized for doing such a great job with it.
One of his most famous quotes is: “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living: it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” (Wheeler 51) I feel that Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg or Theodore Geisel is the most influential authors of our time. His books do something that is often considered to be a very difficult task.
The task is making reading enjoyable and fun for young children. When the children enjoy what they are reading it will encourage them to read more often. He changed the way of reading for children all over the world.
His most well-known books are Horton Hatches the Egg, Thadwick the Big Hearted Moose, Bartholomew and Oobleck, Yertle the Turtle, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Bedno, David. A Brief, Rough Biography of Dr. Seuss. 13 January 1995. 10 October 1999. <page maintained by David Bedno (email@example.com).
Diehl, Digby. Super Talk. Garden City, New York: Double Day & Co., Inc., 1974.
LeBeau, Joshua. Freud on Seuss. Koala Newspaper, 1989.
MacDonald, Ruth K. Dr. Seuss. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Morgan, Judith. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1995.
Wheeler, Jill C. Dr. Seuss. Minneapolis: Rockbottom Books, 1992.
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