I’m a Dr. Seuss fan. Well, I’m a Theodore Geisel fan. My mild obsession goes way back to my high school term paper where I researched children’s literature. Back then, we organized our research on note cards, quoted sources in ESL format, and wrote in third person. A lot has changed since then.
Dr. Seuss is not a real person, but Ted was. By real, I mean, he was a product of his time. He was more than an illustrator. He was more than a children’s author. He had hopes and dreams. He had successes. He had failures. He had foilables. He had a beginning and he had an end.
Some things about Ted Geisel make me smile.
- He created animated training films for Army recruits with Frank Capra. The star of their series was Private Snafu.
- He skewered Adolf Hitler by drawing him as an incorrigible infant in diapers. At the same time, Ted mocked American Firsters like Charles Lindberg long before the average American began to support the war efforts.
- His books usually took him a year to write. That makes me feel a lot better about my slow progress. Afterall, my word count is much larger than even the longest Dr. Seuss book.
- He wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a $50 dare that he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Ted won the bet, but it’s questionable whether his friend paid up.
- He was supported by his wife, Helen, who wrote Golden Books for children.
Some things about Ted Geisel made me frown:
- He drew profane biblical cartoons in his younger years, like “The Madonna of the Roller Skates.”
- He depended on his wife Helen to do all the chores of running a household. She took care of all the chores big and small that are necessary to run a household and business, so Ted could just focus on his books.
- He failed at film making. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was so bad hevowed never to have his books made into movies.
- He left his wife, Helen, who became so despondent she committed suicide. Ted promptly married his assistant.
- His new wife allowed Dr. Seuss books to be made into really bad movies. (Okay that might have made me smile a little bit, Karma and all that.)
On Ted’s birthday this year, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that six of the author’s titles would be pulled from publication, starting with his first book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” as well as “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” The reasoning is because of objectionable caricatures of Asians and Africans. I like to think that these books were a product of a time gone by, and Ted would be the first to say it’s time for them to go or be revised.
Ted apologized for his offensive caricatures of Japanese during WWII. I hope, that looking back, he had a few other things he’d change, too.
He created anti-Japanese caricatures during WWII, for which he expressed regret in the 1970s. After a trip to Japan in the 1950s, he wrote the book “Horton Hears a Who,” whose message “a person is a person no matter how small” is seen by some scholars as a kind of apology for his earlier work. He also revised language in later editions of “Mulberry Street” around the offensive Chinese caricature.Lark Grey Dimond-Cates
His step-daughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates says Ted lived by Democratic principles. She expressed dismay that Republican politicians like Kevin McCarthy and Ted Cruz have now turned pulling these books from publication into a conservative cause celebre: Geisel was a lifelong Democrat who was aligned with progressive social causes.
Horton Hears a Who was not, like some people like to think, a Right to Life anthem.
Loved-One wondered why Dr. Seuss Enterprises didn’t just revise the drawings. Would they still be Dr. Seuss books if they did? I wondered how many copies they sold, anyways. I’ll bet they had some monetary justification in the equation, too.
Like all people, Ted’s experiences caused him to grow. His attitudes and opinions evolved along with experience. I like to think he’d be very much in favor of retiring some of his books.
One of my favorite quotes comes from On Beyond Zebra, first published in the 1950s. I’ll add “sometimes you’ll change your mind.” Still, I’d rather not have to explain those offensive characters to my grandchildren. It’s okay. There’s a whole lot more of Dr. Seuss to love.