Learning to read used to mean a boy named Dick and a girl named Jane—that is, until a man named Theodor Giesel, a.k.a Dr. Seuss, came along on March 2, 1904. In 1957, a friend asked him to write a new kind of book that new readers would like. He was given a first grade vocabulary list and told to use no more than 225 of these words to write a story. He didn’t know where to start, so he just took the first two words that rhymed for the title. The Cat in the Hat was born.
Ted Geisel started using his middle name in college when he got into a bit of trouble and was suspended from writing for the school paper. The name Dr. Seuss became his trademark. “I am saving my real name for that great American novel I may someday write,” he would say. His early career was writing ad copy for Flit insect repellent and he spent the war years (WWII) making propaganda films for the army in a unit that included Frank Capra and Chuck Jones. Throughout his life he spoke his mind, evident in books like Yertle the Turtle (a protest against Hitler) and the Butter Battle Book (a protest against the Cold War).
His life as a children’s author and illustrator almost didn’t happen. His first manuscript, And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, written on the back on a napkin while listening to the rhythm of the engines on cross Atlantic voyage, was rejected 27 times. Ted Geisel is the winner of an Academy Award for Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951), and Peabody Awards for Horton Hears A Who and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. He died in 1991. For more information about Dr. Seuss, read Maryann Weidt’s book, Oh, the Places He Went! (illus. by Kerry Maguire, Lerner) or Kathleen Krull’s Boy on Fairfield Street (illus. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Random House).