The Genius of Seuss

Dr. Seuss was much more than just a children’s book writer. He was an incredibly creative writer whose work often had a political message, be it anti-war or environmental concerns.

Theodor’s dream wasn’t to write children’s books but the contract he had with an advertising company didn’t allow him to do any other writing. His first book, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street was published in 1937. The book that made him famous, The Cat in the Hat, was his 13th. It came out in 1957.

To think: This is often used to introduce an idea which the speaker/writer finds surprising. ‘To think it’s Christmas next week, but there’s no snow and it’s still quite warm.’

Cat in the Hat was written because Theodor was worried that children weren’t learning to read. The typical primer book for children at the time, Dick and Jane didn’t motivate kids enough to read because it was so dull. An editor at a publisher’s education division challenged Theodor to write a book that ‘a first grader couldn’t put down.’ Theodor had to choose from 348 words. (Cat in the Hat has 236). He nearly couldn’t do it.  He later said, “I read the list three times and almost went out of my head. I said, I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that’ll be the title of my book. . . . I found ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ and I said, The title will be The Cat in the Hat.” The book’s runaway success led Theodor to found a division at Random House which produced books that help children learn to read. Green Eggs and Ham, also by Theodor, was another one of these books. It was written following a challenge from his editor that Theodor couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less.

When we want to say that a book is really interesting, we say, ‘I can’t put it down.’ It means I want to keep reading.

Theodor also dealt with more political themes. The rise of Hitler inspired him to write Yertle the Turtle, published in 1958. The book tells the tale of a turtle who is king of the pond but wants more. He tells all the other turtles to stand on each other’s backs so he can stand on top. Mack, the unfortunate turtle on the bottom of the stack asks for a rest, but Yertle ignores him. In the end, Mack burps, causing the turtles to fall. Interestingly, even though Theodor was quite open about the story being about Hitler, his publisher Random House wasn’t concerned about the book’s political message. However the burp bothered them.

Theodor had big ambitions for his books. He hoped they would actually inspire children to think. In an essay published in 1960 Theodor wrote, “children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on earth.”

A side note: March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the National Education Association in the US has adopted it for their annual Read Across America Day. It’s promoted as the nation’s largest reading event with schools, libraries and community centers hosting reading events every year.

And Dr. Seuss isn’t just for kids. As the author himself once said. “I don’t write for children. I write for people.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team


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Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Geisel, is known as a children’s book writer. But his books often had some very serious ideas. Theodor didn’t want to be a children’s book writer at first, but his first job didn’t let him write other books. His first book was And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street. It was published in 1937. The book that made him famous, The Cat in the Hat, came out in 1957.

Theodor wrote Cat in the Hat because he thought the children’s books at the time were boring.  Writing the book was difficult because he could only use 348 words. (In the end Cat in the Hat has 236). He nearly couldn’t do it.  He later said, “I read the list three times and almost went out of my head. I said, I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that’ll be the title of my book. I found ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ and I said, The title will be The Cat in the Hat.”

The book’s huge success meant Theodor could start up a division at Random House for children’s books.

Tell a tale is an important collocation in English. We say ‘tell a tale’. We NEVER use ‘say a tale’.

Theodor also dealt with more political themes. The rise of Hitler was the reason he wrote Yertle the Turtle, which was published in 1958. The book tells the tale of a turtle who is king of the pond but wants more. He tells all the other turtles to stand on each other’s backs so he can stand on top. Mack, the turtle on the bottom of the stack asks for a rest, but Yertle ignores him. In the end, Mack burps, causing the turtles to fall. Interestingly, even though Theodor was quite open about the story being about Hitler, his publisher Random House wasn’t concerned about the book’s political message. However the burp bothered them.

A side note: March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the National Education Association in the US has adopted it for their annual Read Across America Day. It’s promoted as the nation’s largest reading event with schools, libraries and community centers hosting reading events every year.

And Dr. Seuss isn’t just for kids. As the author himself once said. “I don’t write for children. I write for people.”

Original article by Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona. Text edited by The Word’s methodology team


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It’s almost an offense to describe Dr. Seuss as a children’s book writer. His creative mind and activist heart gave the world so much more than simple stories.

A women’s maiden name is her surname before she changed it after marrying.

Born in Massachusetts in 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Seuss was his mother’s maiden name, she was originally from Bavaria) began his literary career publishing cartoons. Being a cartoonist wasn’t the most lucrative career but Theodor lucked into an advertising job. His first ad (for a mosquito repellent) was the first ad campaign based on humor.

It wasn’t exactly Theodor’s dream to write children’s books but a clause in his advertising contract prevented him from doing many other types of writing. His first book, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street was published in 1937. The one that propelled him to fame, The Cat in the Hat, was his 13th, published in 1957. But in between books Theodor, worried by the growing tensions in Europe and the reactions at home in America, took time out of book writing and went back to being a cartoonist. From April 1941-January 1943 he wrote political cartoons for a liberal magazine, making fun of isolationists, mocking Hitler, opposing fascism and criticizing discrimination against both Jews and African Americans. The rise of Hitler actually inspired a Dr Seuss book. Yertle the Turtle, published in 1958, tells the tale of a turtle who is king of the pond but wants more. He commands all the other turtles to stand on each other’s backs so he can survey the land around him. Mack, the unfortunate turtle on the bottom of the stack pleads for a rest, but Yertle ignores him. In the end, Mack burps, tumbling the whole pile of turtles and sending Yertle flying into the mud. Interestingly, even though Theodor was quite open about the story being about Hitler, his publisher Random House wasn’t concerned about the book’s political overtones. It seems the burp at the end caused the most consternation – a burp had never appeared in a children’s book before. In 1961, his book The Sneetches demonstrated Theodor’s opposition to anti-Semitism. In the story, star-bellied Sneetches discriminate against star-less Sneetches.

Isolationists in American politics are people who believe America should not get involved in world affairs. The movement was much stronger before World War Two.

Horton Hears a Who! is one of Dr Seuss’ most activist books. It tells the tale of the Whos, inhabitants of a planet threatened with destruction unless others (like Horton) stand up for them. In the book’s refrain, ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small,’ the Whos’ small size is an arbitrary mark of difference — such as race, creed, sex or nationality.

Cat in the Hat wasn’t written with such deep undertones. Theodor was basically worried that children weren’t learning to read. The typical primer book for children at the time, Dick and Jane apparently was not motivating enough for children to care to learn. It is indeed an exceedingly dull book. An editor at a publisher’s education division challenged Theodor to write a book that ‘a first grader couldn’t put down.’ The words should be chosen from a vocabulary list of 348 (Cat in the Hat has 236). And it was that word list which was nearly Theodor’s undoing. He was used to making up any words he wanted. As he was later quoted saying,  “I read the list three times and almost went out of my head. I said, I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme, that’ll be the title of my book. . . . I found ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ and I said, The title will be The Cat in the Hat.” As with many interviews Theodor gave, much of what he said was nonsense; in fact he’s also said an image of a cat inspired the book. The book’s runaway success led Theodor to found a division at Random House dedicated to producing books that help children learn to read. Green Eggs and Ham, also by Theodor, was one of these books. It was written following a challenge from his editor that Theodor couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less.

It was never Theodor’s intention to teach children how to read. In fact, he hoped his books would actually inspire them to think. In an essay published in 1960 Theodor wrote, “children’s reading and children’s thinking are the rock-bottom base upon which this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to realize that books for children have a greater potential for good or evil than any other form of literature on earth.” In addition to the anti-war books mentioned earlier, The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book are two of his most bluntest. The Lorax (published 1971) could probably be considered one of the first ecological books for children, criticizing how humans are destroying nature. The Butter Battle Book meanwhile took on the Cold War.

A side note: March 2 is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and the National Education Association in the US has adopted it for their annual Read Across America Day. It’s billed as the nation’s largest reading event with schools, libraries and community centers hosting reading events every year.

With his fantastical characters, colors and words (the first recorded instance of the word ‘nerd’ is in Dr Seuss’ If I Ran the Zoo) Dr. Seuss’ books were never merely children’s books. In fact as the author himself once said. “I don’t write for children. I write for people.”

Jacy Meyer – Phoenix, Arizona


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