Read Seuss Across America
BY DEBBY CARROLL
If you grew up anytime after 1950, you know Dr. Seuss. You’ve read some of the 600 million copies of the 40+ classic books, seen the television shows and movies, heard of the Broadway show, and maybe even carried a lunchbox sporting one of the characters. You may not know that Theodor Seuss Geisel (Yes, that was his actual middle name, his mother’s maiden name.) attended Dartmouth and Oxford and later was an illustrator for ad campaigns, an animator, and a political cartoonist! You may remember the advertising catchphrase, “Quick Henry, the Flit,” but you probably don’t know that the bug spray ad featured a drawing by yes; you guessed it, Dr. Seuss.
He began writing children’s books in 1936 and continued until his death in 1991. His books raised the bar for children’s literature. They are so deeply woven into our literary consciousness that the National Education Association chose Geisel’s birthday, March 2nd, as National Read Across America Day.
We thought it would be fascinating to get a perspective on Dr. Seuss from someone who knew the real Theodor Geisel. We enjoyed a delightful conversation with Cathy Goldsmith, President of Beginner Books and Publisher of Dr. Seuss books.
Here is a summary of our conversation:
GRAND: Do you think he intended for some of his books to have a hidden message of sorts for grownups? Was he mindful about the fact that lots of adults would also read what he wrote?
GOLDSMITH: He absolutely intended for that to happen. Sometimes the books had important messages, as The Lorax did with its environmental lesson, or The Sneetches did with discrimination. He was able to address both audiences because he had a high opinion of children so he never wrote down to them. His goal was to teach and entertain at the same time. One of the reasons why parents and grandparents support the books as strongly as they do is because they never get bored reading them to their kids and grandkids. We know that children love to hear their most beloved books over and over. With the Dr. Seuss books reading them repeatedly is always fun.
GRAND: What do you know about his writing process?
GOLDSMITH: We know he kept notebooks beginning when he was in college. Some of those have been published while others are on display at UC San Diego. The notebooks had story ideas and art. In terms of his process, we know this. He’d work on a book for a long time but we wouldn’t see much of it until he felt it was finished. He didn’t share first drafts so it was always fun when a project showed up. We’d get a phone call saying he was making the trip from his home in La Jolla, California to our offices in New York. That was exciting because it meant he was bringing a book. Everybody, about eight people, would gather in a room and he’d read the book aloud. Being included in that meeting, as I was privileged to be five or six times, was like reaching the heavens.
“He had a high opinion of children so he never wrote down to them.”
GRAND: How would you describe his personality?
GOLDSMITH: That’s not easy to answer. When I first started working with him, I was about 28 or 29 and he was 73 or 74 so the age gap was daunting. We had a professional relationship but didn’t hang out or go to bars together. As I got to know him better, I learned he was a bit shy. He was open to hear peoples’ ideas but was not comfortable looking anyone in the eye with anything bad to say. I remember he brought in The Butter Battle Book (another book with a message, this time an anti-war lesson) and I made some suggestions about the cover. Later, someone else in the company relayed his reaction, “Tell Cathy we are going with the original cover.”
In later years I learned he was dryly funny and liked to play jokes.
GRAND: Is there one story about him you’d like to share with our readers?
GOLDSMITH: When he worked on “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” the last book published in his lifetime, he asked me to come to La Jolla to help him finish up the last touches of color. His color sense, as you can see in his books, was always different that other artists. (We even named one of his colors “Cat in the Hat Blue,” it was so distinctive.) He invited me to stay in his home. He was frail then and could only work in small bits of time. The work was so precious to me, I wouldn’t ship it back; I had to carry it on the plane. I didn’t want to stow it, either. I just held onto it the whole time. If I had to, I would have bought that book its own seat. That’s how much that project and working with him that last time, meant to me.
“The message is one I think grandparents all want to teach their grandkids – ‘There is no one alive who is Youer than You.’”
GRAND: Is there a Dr. Seuss book you’d like to recommend to our readers to share with their grandkids?
GOLDSMITH: One of my favorites is Happy Birthday to You. The message is one I think grandparents all want to teach their grandkids – “There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
GRAND: Did he leave a legacy with you personally?
GOLDSMITH: Yes. I have his photo on my wall, facing my computer. It was an honor and a pleasure to know him and to work with him. When I work with young authors and artists today, I often share some of what I learned and I think, “Yes. I learned that from Ted.”
Meet Cathy Goldsmith, publisher of Golden Books
A native New Yorker, Associate Publishing Director for Random House/Golden Books Young Readers, Cathy Goldsmith has always had a passion for art. After graduating from Cornell University, Goldsmith was drawn to the publishing world. On a friend’s suggestion, she applied for a job as assistant art director at Random House. After nearly four decades, according to Goldsmith, “I can honestly say that working with remarkable artists and writers such as Dr. Suess (aka: Theodor Seuss Geisel), and many other amazing authors and illustrators who we’ve published at Random House, I’ve enjoyed just about every moment of my career.”
The amazing works of Theodor Suess Geisel in alphabetical order
- And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, 1937
- Bartholomew and the Oobleck, 1949
- Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? 1973
- Dr. Seuss’s ABC, 1963
- Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, 1962
- Fox in Socks, 1965
- Green Eggs and Ham, 1960
- Happy Birthday to You! 1959
- Hop on Pop, 1963
- Horton Hatches the Egg, 1940
- Horton Hears a Who! 1954
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 1957
- Hunches in Bunches, 1982
- I Can Draw It Myself, 1970
- I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! And Other Stories, 1969
- I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! 1978
- I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, 1965
- If I Ran the Circus, 1956
- If I Ran the Zoo, 1950
- Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! 1972
- McElligot’s Pool, 1947
- Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? 1970
- Oh Say Can You Say? 1979
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 1990
- Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! 1975
- On Beyond Zebra! 1955
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, 1960
- Scrambled Eggs Super! 1953
- The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, 1938
- The Butter Battle Book, 1984
- The Cat in the Hat, 1957
- The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, 1958
- The Cat in the Hat Songbook, 1967
- The Cat’s Quizzer, 1976
- The Foot Book, 1968
- The King’s Stilts, 1939
- The Lorax, 1971
- The Seven Lady Godivas, 1939
- The Shape of Me and Other Stuff, 1973
- The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961
- There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! 1974
- Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, 1948
- Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, 1958
- You’re Only Old Once! 1986
- What Pet Should I Get?