If you’ve ever had a Wocket in your pocket or you know characters like the Lorax, the Grinch or an elephant named Horton, you can probably guess who Theodor Geisel is.
His full name was Theodor Seuss Geisel. Does that help? That’s right! We’re talking about the one and only Dr. Seuss.
Theodor (“Ted”) Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Although he wasn’t a real medical doctor, his rhythmic rhymes have been the remedy for bored readers for decades.
You might be surprised to learn that Ted started his career primarily as a cartoonist and illustrator. Eventually, he began to write children’s books, which he illustrated with a unique style that has become easily identifiable with the name Seuss. He began using his middle name as his pen name in college.
A major turning point in Ted’s career came as a result of a Life magazine article by John Hersey. Hersey complained that children’s books were boring and needed inspiring illustrations, like those of Geisel and Walt Disney.
Two publishers, Houghton Mifflin and Random House, challenged Ted to write a children’s book using 220 simple vocabulary words. Ted gave the world The Cat in the Hat, and the rest, as they say, is history!
Ted’s mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel, worked in her father’s bakery as a young girl. She would memorize the names of the pies on sale each day and “chant” them to customers.
When Ted had trouble sleeping, she would sing her pie “chants” to him. As an adult, Ted gave credit to his mother “for the rhythms in which I write and the urgency with which I do it.”
His actual writing process was a bit of a mystery. Friends remember that Ted would wear a “thinking cap” from his huge hat collection to lighten his mood and work past bouts of writer’s block.
Publisher Bennett Cerf, an influential figure early in Ted’s career, once bet Ted $50 that he couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less. Ted won the bet when he wrote Green Eggs and Ham.
In addition to seven honorary doctorates from various colleges, Ted won an Academy Award, two Emmys, a Pulitzer Prize and a Peabody. Shortly before his death, Ted was asked if he had anything left to say. He thought for a while and responded, “The best slogan I can think of to leave with the U.S.A. would be: We can… and we’ve got to… do better than this.” Ted “Dr. Seuss” Geisel died on September 24, 1991, at the age of 87.
Each year on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, the National Education Association (NEA) sponsors Read Across America Day. All around the United States, thousands of schools, libraries and parents celebrate reading by bringing together kids of all ages with great books.
According to the NEA, reading is a key factor in student achievement. Researchers believe that children who spend more time reading do better in school. Each year on Read Across America Day, the NEA calls for every child to be reading in the company of a caring adult.
Spectacular Seuss facts:
- Although Dr. Seuss is famous for his children’s books, he never had any children himself.
- The word “nerd” first appeared as the name of a creature in Dr. Seuss’ book If I Ran the Zoo.
- Dr. Seuss studied at Dartmouth College in the United States and Oxford University in England.
- Every spring, more than 300,000 students receive Oh, the Places You’ll Go! as a graduation gift.
- Dr. Seuss preferred the Germanic pronunciation of Seuss, which rhymes with “zoice.”