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Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known by his literary name, Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts, grandson of German immigrants. He was one of the most influential children’s authors and illustrators of the 20th century.
He began his art studio at Springfield Central High School. He then attended Dartmouth College and was promoted to editor-in-chief of the humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern. When he was caught drinking gin with nine of his classmates, the administration forced them all to abandon their extracurricular activities. Geisel continued to secretly write for Jack-O-Lantern under the pseudonym Seuss.
After graduating in 1925, he moved to England and attended Lincoln College in Oxford, intending to hold a doctorate in English Literature. But then he met Helen Palmer, whom he would soon marry, and returned to the United States, without the title. So Dr. Seuss never had that undergraduate degree.
The beginning of his career
He began sending articles to Life, Vanity Fair and other magazines. He drew advertising for NBC, General Electric and other companies, including the Flit insecticide.
In 1935, he drew a comic strip about a traveler named Hejji, but it was canceled after three months. The strip showed goats attached to the beard, which would reappear in its only feature film, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T. Its energetic elephants are forerunners of Horton.
In 1937, after more than twenty rejections, Geisel published his first children’s book: And To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He wrote four more books, before the start of World War II, including Horton incubating the egg.
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When the war began, Geisel turned his attention to propaganda. He published 400 political cartoons in two years for PM, a New York newspaper. He was highly critical of Hitler, Mussolini and non-interventionists. It depicted as ostriches with their heads in the sand Americans who chose to stay out of the war around them, including Charles Lindberg.
His caricatures and views from this era are compiled in the book Dr. Seuss Goes to War.
In 1943, he joined the army. He became Commander of the Animation Department of the First Film Unit. He produced training films such as Our Job in Japan and the Private Snafu series.
Seuss after the war
After the end of the war, Geisel and his wife moved to La Jolla, California. He returned to producing children’s books, such as If I Ran the Zoo in 1950.
In those days, in 1954, a Life magazine report on child illiteracy revealed that many American children were not learning to read because the books they were given were too boring.
In reaction, William Ellsworth Spaulding, of Houghton Mifflin, produced a list of 348 words that all first graders should know. He challenged Geisel to cut the list to 250 and create “a book that children can’t stop reading” using only those words. The result was El Gato overshadowed.
Geisel incorporated his political views into some of his books, including an apology for his wartime anti-Japanese views. In 1954, he dedicated Horton and the World of Who to a Japanese Friend. The book is an allegory of the bombing of Hiroshima and the American occupation of Japan after the war. It highlights how fragile a culture can be, depicting the Whoville community as a microscopic city almost destroyed by accident.
The Sneetches teach a lesson on racial equality by describing the mistreatment of the sneezing of the stars, without stars.
The pronunciation of ‘Seuss’
Alexander Liang, Dr. Seuss’ collaborator with Jack-O-Lantern, wrote the following poem to explain how that name should be pronounced:
Despite this, Geisel gave as valid the pronunciation “Suss”.
He also used the name Theo LeSieg (Geisel spelled backwards) for everything he wrote, but did not illustrate himself.
Seuss in the 21st century
After his death on September 24, 1991, he remains a popular and prolifically published author.
Geisel’s work continues to sell well in the years after his death. There have been numerous learning games and apps. El Gato Ensombrerado knows a lot about everything is a television program that covers topics of all kinds. Seuss Landing is an important part of the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida.
On Geisel’s birthday on March 2, U.S. schools celebrate Reading Day across America. Teachers, parents and students work together every year to promote early childhood literacy