Hooray for Dr. Seuss! - A Brief Biography

Creator of The Cat in the Hat and Other Classic Kids' Books

Your Favorite Seuss - Book Cover of Dr. Seuss Story Collection
Your Favorite Seuss: A baker's dozen by the one and only Dr. Seuss. Random House

Who Was Dr. Seuss?

The biography of Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, reveals that the impact he had on books for children has been an enduring one. What do we know about the man known as Dr. Seuss who created so many classic children's books, including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham? For several generations, picture books and beginning readers books by Dr. Seuss have delighted young children.

 

Although Dr. Seuss died in 1991, neither he nor his books have been forgotten. Every year on March 2, school children across United States and beyond celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday with skits, costumes, birthday cakes, and his books. The American Library Association named the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, a special annual award for beginning reader books, after the popular author and illustrator in recognition of his pioneering work in the development of children's books written at the appropriate reading level for beginning readers that are also entertaining and fun to read.

Theodor Seuss Geisel: His Education and Early Employment

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925, but rather than earning a doctorate in literature at Oxford University as he originally intended, he returned to the United States in 1927. During the next two decades he worked for several magazines, worked in advertising, and served in the army during World War II.

He was stationed in Hollywood and won Oscars for his work on war documentaries.

Dr. Seuss and Children's Books

By that time, Geisel (as Dr. Seuss) had already written and illustrated several children's books, and he continued to do so. His first children's picture book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was published in 1937.

Dr. Seuss once said, "Children want the same things we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained, and delighted." Dr. Seuss' books certainly provide that for children. His witty rhymes, engaging plots, and imaginative characters add up to fun for children and adults alike.

Dr. Seuss, A Pioneer in Developing Books for Beginning Readers

It was his publisher who first involved Geisel in creating entertaining children's books with a limited vocabulary for beginning readers. In May 1954, Life magazine published a report about illiteracy among school children. Among the factors cited by the report was the fact that children were bored by the books that were available at the beginning reader level. His publisher sent Geisel a list of 400 words and challenged him to come up with a book that would use about 250 of the words. Geisel used 236 of the words for The Cat in the Hat, and it was an instant success.

The Dr. Seuss books definitively proved that it was possible to create engaging books with a limited vocabulary when the author/illustrator had both imagination and wit. The plots of the Dr. Seuss books are entertaining and often teach a lesson, from the importance of taking responsibility for the earth and one another to learning what is really important.

With their quirky characters and clever rhymes, the Dr. Seuss books are great to read aloud.

Children's Books by Theodor Seuss Geisel

Picture books by Dr. Seuss continue to be popular read alouds, while books by Geisel for young readers continue to be popular for independent reading. In addition to those written by Dr. Seuss, Geisel also wrote a number of beginning readers under the pseudonym Theodore Lesieg (Geisel spelled backwards). These include The Eye Book, Ten Apples Up on Top, and Many Mice of Mr. Price.

Although Theodor Geisel died at the age of 87 on September 24, 1991, his books and Dr. Seuss and Theodore Lesieg did not. They continue to be popular as do books "in the style of" the original Dr. Seuss.  In addition, several collections of "lost stories" by Dr. Seuss have been published in the last few years and in 2015, his unfinished picture book What Pet Should I Get? was completed by others and published.

If you or your children have not read any of Dr. Seuss' books, you are in for a treat. I particularly recommend The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Lorax, And To Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street and Oh, the Places You'll Go. For more about these books, see Favorite Picture Books and Beginning Readers by Dr. Seuss. To learn about a good collection of Dr. Seuss's stories, read my review of Your Favorite Seuss. For a directory of my Dr. Seuss articles and reviews, see All About Dr. Seuss and His Books. For more about Theodor Seuss Geisel, watch the About.com video Dr. Seuss Author Profile.

Theodor Geisel once said, "I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells."* If your brain cells need a wake-up call, try Dr. Seuss.

(Sources: About.com Quotations: Dr. Seuss Quotes*, Seussville.com, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith and Neil Morgan)