Dr. Seuss is a classic American icon. Whimsical and wonderful, his work has defined our childhoods and the childhoods of our own children. The silly, simple rhymes are a bottomless well of magic, his illustrations timeless favorites because, quite simply, he makes us laugh. The Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, Horton, and so many more, are his troupe of beloved, and uniquely Seussian, creations.
Theodor Geisel, however, had a second, more radical side. It is there that the allure and fascination of his Dr. Seuss alter ego begins. He had a successful career as an advertising man and then as a political cartoonist, his personal convictions appearing, not always subtly, throughout his books—remember the environmentalist of The Lorax? Geisel was a complicated man on an important mission. He introduced generations to the wonders of reading while teaching young people about empathy and how to treat others well.
Agonizing over word choices and rhymes, touching up drawings sometimes for years, he upheld a rigorous standard of perfection for his work. Geisel took his responsibility as a writer for children seriously, talking down to no reader, no matter how small. And with classics like Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Geisel delighted them while they learned. Suddenly, reading became fun.
I chose to read this book after receiving a free copy from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased.
I knew very little about Theodor Geisel before reading this fascinating biography. I think it would be almost impossible to find someone who hasn’t heard of Dr. Seuss. His books have helped millions of children to learn to love reading. I remember my mom reading his books to me, and I loved reading Green Eggs and Ham to my son. I have a stack of his books waiting to read to my grandson who is just a couple of weeks old.
Besides writing children’s books, Geisel was also a political cartoonist and worked in advertising. He wrote the lyrics the to the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He was also one of the producers and wrote the lyrics to the songs in the 1970 TV special “Horton Hears a Who.”
Geisel had his ups and downs like we all do, and I was surprised that he had an affair with the wife of a good friend. In 1967, his wife Helen committed suicide because she couldn’t bear to lose him. The fact that he married his lover a year or so later didn’t set well with me. However, no one is perfect and no matter what he did in his personal life, his work speaks for itself.
Although I don’t read much nonfiction, I enjoyed reading Becoming Dr. Seuss. I did think there were parts that gave a little too much information, especially at the beginning. Overall, though, it’s a book that’s an interesting read for anyone because we all know who Dr. Seuss was! Or at least we all know his works.
About the Author
Brian Jay Jones is the critically-acclaimed, bestselling biographer of some of the world’s most iconic creative geniuses. His most recent biography, Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of An American Imagination (Dutton, 2019) will be published in May 2019.
His 2016 biography of filmmaker George Lucas was the first comprehensive biography of the influential creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones in nearly two decades. George Lucas: A Life (Little, Brown, 2016) was praised as “definitive” (New York Times), “whiz-bang” (People), “must-read” (Parade) and deemed by Rolling Stone as “the one biography for casual and die-hard [Star Wars] fans alike.”
Brian’s second book, Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine, 2013) was a New York Times bestseller, and chosen as the Best Biography of 2013 by Goodreads, as well as one of the year’s Top Ten books by CNN viewers. The first full-length biography of the iconic creator of the Muppets, Jim Henson: The Biography was celebrated as “illuminating” (The Atlantic), “insightful” (Parade), “masterful” (Kirkus) and “compulsively readable” (The AV Club).
Praised by the Washington Post as a biographer of “slightly off-center American geniuses,” Brian’s biography of Washington Irving (Arcade, 2008), was hailed as the definitive biography of American literature’s first popular author and pop culture icon. The Associated Press deemed it “authoritative,” the Washington Post called it, “engaging,” while the New York Times summed it up simply as “charming.” Which pretty much made his year.
Born in the Midwest and raised in the Southwest, Brian has a degree in English from the University of New Mexico, which he immediately parlayed into a brief career as a manager of a comic book store before getting into politics and speechwriting. He spent more than two decades as a public policy analyst and speechwriter for elected officials at all levels of government, including nearly ten years in the U.S. Senate.
He lives in Virginia with his wife and a very excitable dog who refuses to stay off the furniture.