Baby boomers were the first lucky generation to revel in the nonsensical stories and verses of a Dr. Suess book. He would later write, “I think I had something to do with kicking Dick and Jane out of the school system.” (The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss, by Thomas Fensch c2000, p.178) In doing so endeared himself to millions of children.
Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 in Springfield Massachusetts, a town with neighbors who had names like…McElligot and Terwilliger.
“As an adult, Ted credited his mother “for the rhythms in which I write and the urgency with which I write it.” (www.seussville.com) Henrietta Seuss Geisel (known as Nettie) (Fensch, p. 27) worked in her father’s bakery before she married Ted’s father. She would memorize the names of the pies that were on special each day and “chant” them to her customers. As a little boy, his mother would chant her pie-selling rhythms to help him and his sister sleep.
Apple, mince, lemon….
Peach, apricot, pineapple..
Blueberry, coconut, custard …and SQUASH! (Fensch p.27)
Ted was known for his doodling and artwork as he grew up and went to college.
His early career he worked in advertising and as a cartoonist. His first children’s book was And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. The inspiration for its rhythm came from the droning the engines made on a luxury liner he was traveling with his wife, Helen. He couldn’t get the sound out of his head. Helen suggested that he apply the rhythm to his first book.
Writers take note: And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street was rejected by 27 publishers before finally being published by Vanguard. “It was too different; it wasn’t wholesome enough; it didn’t teach the right moral lesson; it wasn’t right for children.” (Fensch, p.66) And in a moment of serendipity that is now legend, as he stood on a New York street after the 27th rejection, he ran into someone he had known at Dartmouth, Marshall McClintock. As it happened, McClintock was children’s book editor with The Vanguard Press. “How are you Ted? And what to do you have under your arm?”(Fensch p. 66) It was the manuscript for And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Vanguard ended up publishing the book!
His next breakthrough came as a response to an article in Life Magazine, by John Hersey Why do Children Bog Down on the First R. The premise for the article was that children’s books were boring. Hersey called them “antiseptic” and called for illustrations “that widen rather than narrow the associative richness children give to words.” (www.seussville.com)“He suggested that someone – perhaps Dr. Seuss—free the nation’s children from the oh-so-dreary Dick and Jane readers.”(Fensch p.111)
Houghton Mifflin and Random House asked Ted to write a children’s reader using 220 vocabulary words; the result was Cat in the Hat. His publisher, Bennett Cerf once wagered that Ted couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less: Ted responded by writing Green Eggs and Ham. (www.seussville.com)
Friends who knew him recall Ted putting on a “thinking cap” from his amazing hat collection and wearing it to help lighten the stress of creative blocks.
When asked where do you get your ideas, he was just as likely to answer with some nonsensical string such as…. uber glitch. (www.seussville.com)
His wife Helen Palmer started the Beginning Reader imprint at Random House. Together they wrote and published books that would transform the way children would experience learning to read.
At the time of his death on September 24, 1991, some 200 million copies of his books, translated into 15 different languages, had found their way into homes and hearts around the world.(www.seussville.com)
“Nonsense wakes up the brain cells. And it helps develop a sense of humor, which is awfully important in this day and age. Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”
As quoted in “Author Isn’t Just a Cat in the Hat” by Miles Corwin in The Los Angeles Times (27 November 1983); also in Dr. Seuss: American Icon (2004) by Philip Nel, p. 38 (
Join us for a little nonsense of our own as we celebrate the birthday of the great Dr. Seuss. On Wednesday, March 3 at 3:30 kids can drop by the Library Program Room and make their very own Cat in the Hat hat! (Children aged 5 and under should be accompanied by an adult to assist them.)