“Dr. Seuss” was the pen name of American author/illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991). After graduating from Dartmouth and briefly pursuing graduate study at Oxford University, Geisel began his career working as a cartoonist and as an advertising illustrator. He published his first illustrated children's book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937, by which time he was already using the “Dr. Seuss” pseudonym for his published work. Several more books followed prior to the entry of the United States into World War II, including Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), the first of many of his more than 40 children's books to become a major classic of American children's literature.
During the war, Geisel's work became more openly political, much of it involving anti-Fascist political cartoons for the Left-leaning New York daily newspaper PM. He would continue his Left-leaning politics throughout the remainder of his career, often reflecting those views in his books for children. These politics were more liberal than radical (he was essentially a New Deal Democrat), though some of his political cartoons were highly critical of anti-Communist hysteria in the United States. In 1943, Geisel enlisted in the U.S. Army as a captain, in which capacity he headed the animation department of the First Motion Picture Unit of the United States Armed Forces, charged with the production of propaganda and training films in support of the war effort.
After the war, Geisel moved to La Jolla, California, and resumed his career as Dr. Seuss, producing a string of important works, including If I Ran the Zoo (1950), Horton Hears a Who! (1955), The Cat in the Hat (1957), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960). From 1966, legendary animator Chuck Jones produced animated Page 88 | Top of Articletelevision adaptations of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Cat in the Hat, and Horton Hears a who!, bringing Dr. Seuss's work to an even broader audience. Dr. Seuss himself wrote a series of six additional animated television specials between 1972 and 1983, winning multiple Emmy Awards.
The Cat in the Hat, specifically designed to encourage children to develop an interest in and (eventually) love of reading, was both particularly successful and particularly illustrative of the didactic purpose of Geisel's seemingly nonsensical writing and drawing. He followed with a series of such books, filled with lively, lilting, rhyming language (constructed from very basic vocabularies), accompanied by amusingly zany illustrations. Some of these also had particularly strong thematic political content, as in the antiwar parable The Butter Battle Book (1984). In this sense, The Lorax (1971) is particularly effective in its presentation of the dire consequences of unrestrained capitalist expansion and of the damage that can be done through the consequent environmental destruction, in terms of both the depletion of resources and the pollution of the environment. The book is also clear in its support for the environmentalist movement, embodied in its title figure, while the dismissive attitude of the capitalist “Once-ler” toward the Lorax (whom he regards as a strident and annoying alarmist) effectively satirizes critics of environmentalism. Meanwhile, the book presents a fairly sophisticated tutorial on the workings of consumer capitalism and the ways in which a central emphasis on market expansion (and growing profits) can get completely out of control. The book even ends with a call to action that effectively places resistance to consumption-driven environmental decay squarely in the hands of the young boy who listens to the Once-ler's story—and thus in the hands of the children who are the intended audience for the book and for whom the boy serves as a stand-in.
Many of Dr. Seuss's books have remained among the leading-selling children's books on the market, even more than half a century after their initial publication. One of America's best-known and most beloved authors, Geisel won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for his “contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents.”
M. Keith Booker
Cohen, Charles. The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel. New York: Random House, 2004.
Fensch, Thomas, ed. Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss: Essays on the Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1997.
MacDonald, Ruth K. Dr. Seuss. Boston: Twayne, 1988.
Mickenberg, Julia L. Learning from the Left: Children's Literature, the Cold War, and Radical Politics in the United States. New York: Oxford UP, 2006.
Morgan, Judith, and Neil Morgan. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel. New York: Random House, 1995.
Nel, Philip. The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats. New York: Random House, 2007.
Nel, Philip. Dr. Seuss: American Icon. New York: Continuum, 2004.
Pease, Donald. Theodor Seuss Geisel. New York: Oxford UP, 2010.