on July 27, 2010
Although well-researched and rife with literary analysis, it was remarkably short on psychological insight into Ted Geisel's personality and personal life. I finished the book still asking what was Geisel really like and how was that reflected in his work. I was also left wanting much more detail on how he and his first wife developed ideas together, which is mentioned in passing but never illustrated, if I can use that phrase. Pease spends much time analyzing the construction of Geisel's best known books, so I imagine this would be worthwhile for literary scholars, but to a fan of Dr. Seuss's whimsy, the book is dull and lifeless.
Theodor and Henrietta Geisel were a prosperous lot whose family business, the Kalmbach and Geisel Brewery, "provided [them] with their livelihood as well as their social standing." (p. 5) Their children, Theodor and Marnie, benefited from their elevated social status and were nurtured in a loving family. Theodor's mother, "Nettie" as she was called, encouraged his creatively with "language games," instilling in his a love of language through "the music of words." His unusual artistic expression evidenced itself when caricatures of wild, imaginative animals were drawn into the wallpaper in his room. Undoubtedly, "the bilingual environment in which Ted grew up fostered his knack for making up nonsensical-sounding names for the fantastic creatures" he set into the wallpaper as a child and later his drawing board. (p. 10) For all intents and purposes, it appeared to be an idyllic childhood, but circumstances would soon change all that.
The winds of war soon found themselves entering the streets of Springfield, Massachusetts where anti-German sentiment quickly forced its way into ten-year-old Theodor's life. He began to experience the bullying verbal abuse of his classmates at school, a place where the once privileged child felt no different than any other. He, like any other American, wanted to show his patriotism for his country and began to sell U.S. Liberty Bonds. He sold so many, including $1,000 worth to his grandfather, he was selected to receive a medal from Theodore Roosevelt, but they ran out of them when it came for the then fourteen-year-old boy to receive his. He was not the recipient of a cheap metal pin, but rather the wrath of a man he admired. "What's this little boy doing here?" It was an "emotional scar that stayed with Ted throughout the remainder of his life." (pp. 15-16) The family misfortunes had only just begun.
Ted Seuss Geisel's privileged life was gone as was his German-American identity. Prohibition has destroyed the underpinnings of the family's financial security and in an effort to cope he "retreated behind a series of masks." His youthful antics at Dartmouth would heighten his feeling of loss as the "violation of liquor laws" with his friends lost his coveted position of the campus humor newspaper, "The Jack-O-Lantern." He adopted his mother's maiden name, Seuss, as a moniker and defied the dean as he continued to pen cartoons for the paper. As in keeping with the times, "no ethnic group was spared lampooning in Ted's contributions to the `Jack-O-Lantern.'" Later, after his graduation from Dartmouth, a chance meeting during his short stint at Oxford University would "significantly [alter] the direction of his life." (p. 40) Ted would meet Marian Helen Palmer.
This is an amazing look at the intellectual and psychological underpinnings of Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss. The first and latter parts of this book contain much of the standard biographical information that many people may be looking for. The first part deals with a light overview of his ancestry, childhood, the family misfortune, and youthful foray into the adult world. The latter part primarily deals with Helen's departure from his life, his "quest for a substitute family," and the entrance of Audrey Stone Diamond. If one wants a more complete, intimate biography of Seuss, they might want to look elsewhere. Mind you the reading of this book is quite smooth, but does seem to be subtly sectionalized.
The central theme of this book deals with the motivation behind his writing. I thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual banter and speculation as to why he penned certain stories. For example, we are able to read about the opinions of others such as Henry Jenkins: "He emphasized with children's struggle against the corrupting influence of grown-up hatreds, and he trusted that writing children's books would enable him go better the world." (p. 75) The book is liberally illustrated with black and white cartoon drawings, including the now racist and xenophobic kind Theodor later tried to make amends for. There is an excellent index in the back matter and literary citations. If you are into literary biographical psychology that reads extremely well, you'll find this book about one of the best children's writers, Dr. Seuss, to be especially enlightening.
on April 17, 2010
Highly readable, deeply informative, this is a lively take on the life of our most famous children's author. Much less academic - or heavy - than previous works on Seuss, it covers both his life and work while unraveling aspects of his life readers probably don't know much about: his relationship with his mother (who gave him the name Seuss), his rowdy days at Dartmouth, his work for the New Yorker, his first wife's suicide and, of course, how he came up with some of the most memorable characters in all of literature.
on September 21, 2010
Professor Donald Pease has captured the genius of Theodor Seuss Geisel, along with the profound brilliance of Dr. Seuss' creativity and legacy. Children throughout the world have learned to laugh with Dr. Seuss and the Cat in the Hat and others. Lesser known, but equally brilliant, are Dr. Seuss political cartoons which spanned four decades. Don Pease captures it all, and we all laugh a bit deeper from reading his account of this one of a kind, Dr. Seuss. Dave Halloran, Altamonte Springs, Florida
on May 7, 2011
The stars were in alignment. As the first wave of Baby Boomers reached reading age, Theodore Seuss Geisel made a career decision that changed the culture of learning in this country. In 1953, Dr. Seuss decided to devote himself to creating children's books that would not only make children want to read, they would teach them how. In the process they would learn self-respect, ways to give free play to their imaginations, how to hold their own with grownups and to be thoughtful, open-minded citizens and guardians of the planet earth. Horton the Who, The Cat in the Hat and their circle of extraordinary half-human, half-animal friends saw to that. Dick and Jane were history.
"Theodore SEUSS Geisel," is the ninth title in the Oxford University Press "Lives and Legacies" series of compact biographies. It focuses most of its attention on Geisel's children's books and on the sources of his inspiration and motivation for creating them. Unlike literary biographies of, say, Fitzgerald or Hemingway, the reader of this work may hold the author's feet to the fire by opening the Dr. Seuss book being considered and read along as Pease deals with it. Not only does this make reading the biography more useful, it allows you to test the validity of Pease's observations. I did this with "The Butter Battle Book", which spells out the hopelessness of nuclear war, and with "The Sneetches and Other Stories" where Dr. Seuss deals with the pernicious effects of racial prejudice. My take: Pease's critical assessments of the Dr. Seuss books are apt and authoritative.
With some 30,000 children's books published in this country every year, it's comforting that virtually all of the Dr. Seuss books are still in print - Amazon has 1862 entries for Dr. Seuss - and still enchanting children and helping them learn how to read. Not only that, the Dr. Seuss books encourage their readers' independence, value their imagination, and give them confidence to think for themselves.
End note. Among Geisel's other extraordinary achievements is his work as an editorial cartoonist for the short-lived "popular front" newspaper PM during the early years of WW II. Many of these cartoons are reproduced in "Dr. Seuss Goes to War - The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodore Seuss Geisel" by Richard H. Minear (The New Press, 1999). In his introduction to this book Art Spiegelman says of Geisel's work "[t]hese are virtually the only editorial cartoons outside the communist and black press that decried the military's Jim Crow policies and Charles Lindbergh's anti-Semitism." Spieglman added, Geisel's cartoons "let us know what happens when Horton hears a Heil." FYI, the paperback edition of this book is available from Amazon.
on March 2, 2011
Dr. Suess is one of Dartmouth's favorite sons, and yet few of us know much about Theodor Seuss Geisel, the D'25 son of a brewer who drew naughty cartoons for the Jack-O and made war movies for the military. In his book, Theodor SEUSS Geisel Dartmouth Professor and MALS director Donald Pease shows us the flesh-and-blood man behind the most celebrated children's books in America. We see how Geisel's shame and ostracism due to his German ancestry in WWI America inspired him to take refuge in satire. We learn how he adopted his now famous pen-name to circumvent the administration's suspension of his extracurricular activities after H-Po caught him drinking during prohibition. We see the development he experiences, from a war-cartoonist and political satirist to an author/illustrator primarily for children, and we take note of the tragedies that befall him, notably the suicide of his first wife.
Anyone who has ever taken a class with Don Pease, knows his signature voice and manner of speaking, both of which come off beautifully in the book. Normally his high-brow, idiosyncratic, and deeply passionate deconstructions (peppered with words of his own invention) are reserved for the 'high' American literature covered in his classes, and so it is actually funny to see him apply the same focused lens to The Cat in the Hat and And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Pease is a gifted storyteller and is even more gifted at peeling back the layers of meaning found even in the child-oriented work of Dr. Seuss. His book is a quick and enjoyable read, and yet nothing seems missing.
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