boys are 11 now, twins well on their way to teendom, and
the cultural artifacts in their bedroom for the most
part reflect that: the ominous "Lord of the
Rings" movie poster on the door, the snarky
Simpsons comics taped to the wall.
when I recently checked a quiet corner for "The Cat
in the Hat" — or, more precisely, my son Calvin’s
first grade "Cat in the Hat" art project —
it was still there, untouched by time and fashion. I
asked the nearest tween, my other son, Zephy, if kids
his age like Dr. Seuss, and he did a little double-take
before fixing me with a smile that suggested I was
either A) messing with him or B) tragically clueless.
"Everybody likes Dr. Seuss," he said.
than two decades after his death, Theodor Seuss Geisel,
aka Dr. Seuss, is once again the author of a hot new
book, with preorders of "What Pet Should I
Get?" propelling it to No. 1 in Amazon’s
"stories in verse" best-seller category well
before its July 28 publication date. (The manuscript was
in a box found in his California home after his 1991
death, and his widow, Audrey, retrieved the work while
cleaning out his office space in 2013.)
House has announced a first printing of a million books,
up from initial plan of 500,000.
of whether "Pet," which was probably written
in about 1960, lives up to the hype, it’s unlikely to
affect the author’s standing as a giant of children’s
Harper Lee’s reputation rests on one book, making the
newly released "To Kill a Mockingbird" prequel
"Go Set a Watchman" a potential game-changer,
Dr. Seuss is the author of dozens of acclaimed and
beloved books, including modern classics such as
"The Cat in the Hat," "How the Grinch
Stole Christmas!" and "Yertle the Turtle and
Other Stories." The American Library Association
named an award for him; Read Across America Day — a
celebration that claims more than 45 million
participants — is held on his birthday.
laud Dr. Seuss, Hollywood retells his stories, kids
dress as his characters for Halloween.
think he’s here for the duration," says Judy
Freeman, a former school librarian and co-author of
"The Handbook for Storytellers."
nothing dated about his books. ‘And to Think That I
Saw It on Mulberry Street,’ which is his first book;
it’s still delightful. His ‘I Can Read’ books —
‘Hop on Pop’ — they’re still great. We’ve got
a lot of big-time guys now, like Jon Klassen is the
flavor of the week, and he’s adorable and funny, but I
really think there’s something about Seuss that no one
has duplicated, and that’s the combination of fantasy
with poetry and his goofy characters: characters that
are believable even though they’re wild and crazy. The
Grinch — the Grinch is here forever."
1937, when Geisel presented his first children’s book
to New York publishers, he was swimming against the
tide. Books that taught reading skills were staid and
instructive — think the bland, well-meaning "Run,
run. Run, Dick, run." repetitions in the "Dick
and Jane" readers.
a Dartmouth-educated illustrator, had already done a
cover for Life magazine and developed a high-profile
advertising campaign for Standard Oil’s Flit
insecticide. ("Flies! Flies! Flies! Who the h—
wants Flies?") He brought the same sweetly
subversive style to "And to Think That I Saw it on
Mulberry Street," his story of Marco, a boy who
imagines a parade of unlikely creatures, and the father
who doubts him.
telling such outlandish tales," Marco’s father
memorably scolds. "Stop turning minnows into
book was turned down by 27 publishers, according to
"Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat" by
Caroline M. Smith, and the author was actually heading
home to burn the manuscript when he bumped into a
college acquaintance who worked in book publishing.
I had been walking down the other side of Madison
Avenue, I’d be in the dry-cleaning business
today," Geisel would later observe.
published more than 40 books in the next 53 years,
including "Horton Hears a Who!" (1954),
"Green Eggs and Ham" (1960), "One Fish
Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish" (1960), and "Hop
on Pop" (1963).
was right at the cutting edge," says Diane Foote,
curator of the Butler Children’s Literature Center at
Dominican University in River Forest. "He was
really the first person to marry the work of learning to
read with the joy of reading itself. Even though there
are many other people who do that now, he was the
vanguard and he still does it probably better than
"The Cat in the Hat," I found it every bit as
much of an emotional roller-coaster as it was when I was
a kid, although these days I relate more to worrywart
goldfish than to those wide-eyed rascals, Thing One and
Thing Two. The illustrations are as fresh as ever, and
the power of Dr. Seuss’ deceptively simple rhymes is
all the more astonishing when you consider that the
vocabulary was taken largely from a list of 223
suggested words for young readers:
at me now!" said the cat.
a cup and a cake
the top of my hat!
can hold up TWO books!
can hold up the fish!
some milk on a dish!
can hop up and down on the ball!
that is not all!
is not all."
my favorite Seuss books when I was a kid was "Yertle
the Turtle," with its gentle yet indelible
depiction of reptile oppression and its wholly
satisfying vision of justice restored:
today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
the turtles, of course ... all the turtles are free
turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be."
an adult I often think of Yertle, who declared himself
king of all he could see and made everyone else suffer
for his vision of personal greatness. We all come upon
Yertles, and it’s helpful to be able to identify them,
whether they’re strutting across the world stage or
tormenting their bridesmaids.
think of "McElligot’s Pool," too, one of the
few Seuss books that was painted rather than inked. This
is Seuss at his most visually inventive. Fish in an
astonishing array of colors shapes and sizes ski,
parachute and strut through the glacial green waters of
our young hero’s imagination. And just when you think
you’ve seen it all — a rooster fish, a pinwheel fish
— Seuss once again ups the ante, presenting you with a
new creature that trumps anything you’ve seen before.
it’s because so many of the Seuss books have been made
into movies or TV specials, but they also seem to
surface with exceptional frequency in both pop culture
and daily life. A villain in the popular TV drama
"The Royals," for instance, referred to his
not-so-beloved niece and nephew as "Thing One"
and "Thing Two." And just a few days ago,
Zephy steered me in front of a mirror, assumed a
surprisingly convincing sneer and announced: "Look!
I can do the Grinch."
was surprised at first when Zephy said the Seuss books
were among his favorites, because I knew they were never
his No. 1 favorites. He went through a Frog and Toad
stage, a Little Bear stage and a Bob the Builder stage.
"Go, Dog. Go!" was big for a while, as were
several hamster books.
then I remembered that even my beloved "McElligot’s
Pool" was never as dear to my heart as, say,
"Winnie-the-Pooh." "McElligot" was
among my very favorite childhood reads, but it was
probably never No. 1, or not for very long.
the judges for the prestigious Caldecott Medal never
named Geisel’s No. 1: He was a finalist three times,
but never the winner, and I’m guessing that’s not
entirely coincidental. The qualities that can make a
book No. 1 on your list at any given time — hamsters,
dump trucks, a particular artistic or literary style —
may be quirky and ephemeral. The qualities that make an
author a top contender year after year, on the other
hand, are likely to be universal and enduring.
Seuss) was never really at the top of my list" is
the way Zephy puts it.
most of the books that are on the top of the list come
and go. Dr. Seuss has always stayed up there."