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How Dr. Seuss’s publisher helped finish a forgotten book

In 2013, an unfinished book by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was discovered in a box. Now “What Pet Should I Get” has been published and become an instant bestseller. It was completed by Cathy Goldsmith, who worked with Geisel on his last six books. Goldsmith and children's book author and illustrator Greg Pizzoli join Jeffrey Brown.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Finally: Dr. Seuss' popular empire is about to grow once again. A newly published book of his immediately shot up to number one on the Amazon bestseller list today.

    Jeffrey Brown has more on its interesting backstory and the enduring appeal of the children's author.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Ah, the choices that life presents. For example, "We want a pet. We want a pet. What kind of pet should we get?"

    Those are the opening lines of a new book, actually, an old one, never finished, until now, by Theodor Geisel, who, as Dr. Seuss, wrote and illustrated such classic children's books as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham," 44 books in his lifetime — he died in 1991 — that have sold more than 650 million copies and counting.

    Now comes "What Pet Should I Get?" discovered in a box in 2013 and completed by Cathy Goldsmith, who worked with Theodor Geisel as a designer and art director for his last six books. She continues to work at Random House, which has just published the new book. Also with us is author and illustrator Greg Pizzoli. His debut picture book, "The Watermelon Seed," won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award in 2014.

    So, Cathy Goldsmith, let me start with you. And let me ask, what do you make of this book and what should we make of this book? Why did Theodor Geisel set it aside?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH, Random House:

    Well, I think that he set it aside mostly because he got involved in other things. He was famous for always working on more than one project at a time.

    And I just think this was one that he wrote and moved on almost immediately afterwards to "One Fish, Two Fish."

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    How much work did you have to do on it to bring it to publication?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Well, in the box, we found the complete black line art for this book and also the manuscript. What we didn't find were the color specs for the book.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, so, therefore, what did you do?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    So that fell to me to try to work out a color scheme for this book that would be consistent with what Ted himself might have done if he were still with us today.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Which meant what, looking at the kind of work around that time? How did you figure it out?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Because I think it's so closely related to "One Fish, Two Fish," I started with the color palette for that book and then worked out what needed to happen in this book to make this book work.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So, Greg Pizzoli, two children in this book, they're trying to decide on a pet. They start with a dog and cat. And then, in Dr. Seuss fashion, they imagine ever more extravagant types of animals. What did you see in this book?

  • GREG PIZZOLI, Children’s Book Author:

    Well, I'm a cat person, so I was hoping for the cat.

    But I have found this the Dr. Seuss that I have loved since I was a child, the fun rhyming text, the amazing illustrations, and the Dr. Seuss that we all love.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Tell us more. What accounts for that love or that readership?

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Well, I think, you know — particularly, I think, when people think of Dr. Seuss, they think of his rhyme to verse, that very particular imaginative quality he had with language.

    But I think, as an illustrator myself, I was looking at the books today and just marveling at the pen and ink illustrations, and how he was able to do so much in the illustration that wasn't being said in the text itself.

    And, Cathy, I have to say, the colors look great, so great job.

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Thank you for that.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The line in this book that got me, and it kind of brought me back to reading Dr. Seuss as a kid, he says, "Oh, boy, it is something to make a mind up," you know that very human moment of, I can't decide, but I have to decide.

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Right.

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    I think — yes, I think this book not only is about choosing a pet, but it's really about making a choice.

    And it's a problem that children and adults have throughout their lives at various times.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Tell us more, Cathy Goldsmith, about Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Geisel, the man. He's described often as a perfectionist. I saw where he said, "I know my stuff looks like it was rattled off in 28 seconds, but every word is a struggle and every sentence is like the pangs of birth."

    That's quoting him.

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Well, that is a quote that he made, yes.

    And I think it really described the way he worked. He rewrote and rewrote and redrew and seldom actually shared a project with those of us at Random House until he was well into it and knew that he was on the path to being finished with it. But he also expected the same thing of those around him, which is why we take taking care of his legacy so seriously at Random House.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Well, Greg Pizzoli, you were talking about the drawing itself. He was — he could have done a lot with his art. I mean, he could have done many other things, but he put it in the service of children's books.

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Right. He did political cartoons during World War II. He was, you know, a very fantastic sculptor.

    He really could have done anything, and he chose children's books. He saw children's books, children's publishing as a legitimate art form worthy of his particular genius, and in doing so, he elevated the field. I think he should be very largely credited for the sort of golden era of picture books we're seeing today.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Cathy Goldsmith, any reservations? Was there ambivalence for you or for Random House or for his widow, for anybody involved here, in bringing this to the public?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Not at all. We have a tremendous respect for the legacy of what Dr. Seuss did when he left us, and we wouldn't have published this book if we didn't feel that it fit very nicely and reputably into his work.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Is there possibly more to come then?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    I don't — there was nothing else found in that box that was complete, so, no, there's no other new books coming down the line.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, Greg Pizzoli…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Send any of those ideas to me, Cathy. That's fine.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Send them to you?

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    We can talk.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And you would like to complete them?

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Yes, I will finish them up, yes, yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    All right, Greg Pizzoli, Cathy Goldsmith, thank you both so much.

  • CATHY GOLDSMITH:

    Thank you.

  • GREG PIZZOLI:

    Thank you.

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