Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel) wrote 63 books for children. Looking for one of them? You won't find them at my library today. They're all checked out.
Why the run on Dr. Seuss books this week? As Jen talked about yesterday, Dr. Seuss' birthday (March 2) is also designated as Read Across America Day. People from all walks of life read books to children on this special day and many of them select Dr. Seuss books to read.
Ted Geisel's popularity isn't limited to March by any means. As someone who has worked in bookstores and libraries, I've found that in both venues Dr. Seuss books are consistently the most frequently checked out, purchased, and requested picture books and early readers. His books just have that special, magical something that we all look for when we read a children's book. As President Obama said in his proclamation for Read Across America Day yesterday, Dr. Seuss' "imaginative tales have helped generations of children learn to read, and they hold a cherished place on bookshelves in homes across America."
When Ted Geisel started out, success seemed a long way off. After illustrating two books written by Alexander Abingdon, (Boners and More Boners) Ted decided to strike out on his own, but it didn't go so well. Twenty seven publishers rejected And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, the first chidren's book that he both wrote and illustrated. Here's how the book finally ended up being accepted:
"On the blustery day he learned of his twenty-seventh rejection, Ted fought back frustration and anger and decided to return to his apartment, stage a ceremonial burning of the now tattered manuscript, and get back to cartooning for adults. As he walked grimly along Madison Avenue, he was hailed by Mike McClintock, who had been a year behind him at Dartmouth.
"What's that under your arm?" McClintock asked.
"That's a book that no one will publish. I'm lugging it home to burn."
McClintock smiled. Three hours earlier he had become juvenile editor of Vanguard Press. "We're standing outside my new office," he said. "Come on up and let's look at it."
Half an hour later McClintock took Ted in to meet James Henle, editor of Vanguard Press. Henle agreed to publish the book."
(From Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel by Judith and Neil Morgan, page 82, hardcover edition).
Here are some of my other favorite Dr. Seuss facts:
- He won the Pulitzer Prize, two Oscars, two Emmys and the Peabody Award, but the most famous American children's book illustrator never won the biggest award in his own field: the Caldecott medal. He received Caldecott honors for McElligott's Pool (1948), Bartholomew and the Oobleck (1950) and If I Ran the Zoo (1951).
- At the end of college, he was voted the "least likely to succeed" by his fellow members of the Casque and Gauntlet honor society at Dartmouth. Clearly his high school friends at Central High School in Springfield, Massachusetts were more omniscient: they voted him Class Artist and Class Wit.
- His editor, Bennett Cerf, bet him fifty dollars that he could not write a book with a vocabulary of fifty words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, which in 2001 was ranked by Publisher's Weekly as the fourth-bestselling English-language children's book of all time. Bennett Cerf made good on his bet, but I have a feeling that Ted made more than $50 from the book.
- He was the Berenstains first editor. He wasn't wild about their idea to write books about bears, though. He said they'd never sell. Obviously they did and after their first book The Big Honey Hunt was published, they wrote 16 more books for Ted's Beginner Books company. He was the one that shortened the author's names to "Stan and Jan" from Stanley and Janice and he also named the series "The Berenstain Bears." For more information about how Beginner Books was started, see Terry's great post on the subject.
The advertisement for And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street urged: "Booksellers, hitch on! This is the start of a parade that will take you places!"
Truer words were never spoken. The parade of Dr. Seuss books stretched from Mulberry Street in 1937 to Oh, The Places You'll Go! in 1990. Three more books were published after he died in 1991. The parade is still going on; almost every one of Dr. Seuss' books are still in print, which is truly a remarkable thing. You can find a full list of his books here.
If you're ever in San Diego, be sure to check out The Dr. Seuss Collection at the Mandeville Special Collections Library at UC San Diego. It contains everything from the original art for nearly all of his books to notebooks he doodled on in college, fan mail and Seuss products.
What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Which ones do your kids love? What is the first Dr. Seuss book that you remember yourself or your kids reading? Did you read a Dr. Seuss book for Read Across America Day? What's your favorite Dr. Seuss memory. I'd love to hear all about it.
I've got my own brand new Dr. Seuss memory from something that happened after I finished writing this post. My son (who loved seeing all the pictures in the post) asked to read Dr. Seuss books last night. And for the first time, he read a book he'd never seen before by himself from beginning to end! It was The Eye Book by Theo. LeSieg (one of Ted's pen names). A great book for beginning readers.
The photo of Michelle Obama reading The Cat in the Hat yesterday is from Getty Images. The photo of Dr. Seuss drawing sketches for the television special How the Grinch Stole Christmas is from the Wikimedia Commons.