Theodore Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 2, 1904. He
graduated from Dartmouth in 1925, with a BA in English literature. He went to Europe
after to study at Oxford. He then went to Sorbonne and then to the University of Vienna.
He planned on getting a doctorate in literature, but the experience was less than ideal so
he returned to the United States. (LeBeau 20)
In 1927 Geisel married Helen Palmer who was a classmate of his from Oxford.
She was also a childrens author, until her death in 1967. (Diehl 169)
Theodore started working for a magazine, Judge, in 1927. He worked there
doing cartoons and humorous ads for them. He was also submitting his work to other
magazines such as Life, Vanity Fair, and Liberty. In his ads he made a reference to an
insecticide called Flit, which were noticed and led to a tight contract to draw ads for Flit.
The contract said he couldnt do anything else. In his ad he used the saying Quick Henry,
The Flit!. He did that for 17 years, which gained him national exposure. He only did that
in the summer though, since insecticide is a seasonal thing. He went to an attorney and
found that the only thing his contract didnt forbid him to do was childrens books.
Geisels first childrens book came about in 1936 when he was on vacation in
Europe. He was listening to the rhythm of the ships engines, he came up with And to
think I saw it on Mulberry Street. It was rejected by 43 publishers that he showed it to.
Eventually a friend published it for him and it went on to at least moderate success.
During World War II he joined the army and was sent to Hollywood. Captain
Geisel would write for Frank Capras Signal Corps Unit, which he won the Legion of
Merit for. He also did documentaries such as Hitler Lives and Design for Death, which
won him an Oscar. He worked on the 5,000 Fingers of Mr. T., which was something that
he didnt enjoy. Geisel also created General Mc-Boing Boing while he was in Hollywood,
he sold it to UPA. John Hulbey designed and won an Academy award for it. Theodore
won an Oscar for it, though he had little to no part in General Mc-Boing Boing. (Diehl
In May 1954, Life magazine published an article about illiteracy among school
children. it said that children were having trouble to read because their books were
boring. Geisels publisher, from Houghton Mifflin sent him a copy of a 400 word list and
asked him to cut the list down to 250 words, which was the publishers idea of how many
words a child could absorb and write a book using the words. Nine months later, Geisel
finished the book using only 220 words, which was The Cat in the Hat, it went on to
instant success. The book used outrageous illustrations and playful sounds, and rhyming
to teach basic reading skills. (MacDonald 12)
In 1960, Bennett Cerf bet Theodore fifty dollars that he couldnt write a book
using only 50 words. The book that Geisel came out with was Green Eggs and Ham.
Cerf never paid the bet. (Bedno)
His first wife Helen Palmer Geisel died in 1967. He remarried to Audrey Stone
Diamond in 1968. Audrey had two teenage daughters who grew up on Dr. Seuss books,
they really respected his work. They had a house on top of Mt. Soladad, in La Jolla,
California, the view was one that inspired a person.
Many of his inspirations came about by accident. Horton Hatches the Egg
happened while he was sitting at his desk in his studio with the window opened and a
sketch of an elephant landed on another sketch of a tree. (Diehl 170)
The only idea that he consciously worked on was for The Lorax. He was mad at
the ecological problem and wanted to do something about it that the children could
understand. (Diehl 173)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas was written in about two months. One month on
the book and another month just on the last page. The idea of the Grinch came from
annoyance with the tradition of Christmas. The fact that stores had Christmas decorations
out in July bothered him. (Morgan 114)
He started drawing as animals as a child. He would go to the zoo with a sketch
book and spend hours there sketching. When he illustrated other authors books he used
the name Theo LeSieg, which was his last name backwards. He also enjoyed painting.
Geisel was the President of Beginner Books, which was formed by his first wife
Helen and Benett Cerfs wife. He was the policy maker, publisher, and an editor. As a
publisher he faced many pressure such as everyones opinions. If he drew a picture he
would have to worry about what the parents would say and if it would make the children
do something that would cause them to get hurt. (Wheeler 78)
He didnt mean to write his books to be used as educational. He tried to keep his
books out of teaching. They werent forced on a child, or they probably wouldnt enjoy
them as much. He just wrote books to be fun and if they were helping children learn to
read then he thought that was even better. He made reading easier by thinking of what
children might be impelled to read, what theyre interested in. He used only the essentials
in his book, which he thought were Tears, Laughs, Loves and Thrills. (Diehl 174)
Children want the same things that we want. To laugh, to be challenged, to be
Geisel felt that many new authors didnt take writing seriously, that they thought
they could just write as a hobby, on the side, but still be good at it and very successful. He
made it a point to always sit at his desk for eight hours a day, even if he wasnt coming up
He felt that kids were a very demanding audience because they could be brutally
honest. So he always put out his best work, and he never rushed.
Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, also known as Theo LeSieg, and as
the cat in the hat,is still the worlds best childrens author, even after his death on
September 24, 1991, at the age of 87. He wrote and illustrated 44 childrens books. He
won 2 Pulitzer Prizes and an Oscar. His birthday is still celebrated in elementary schools
everywhere. There are audiocassettes, animated television specials, toys and stuffed
animals of the famous characters of his stories.
Theodore Geisels nonsensical way of thinking got him very far in writing
childrens books and being recognized for doing such a great job with it. One of his most
famous quotes is:
I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary
ingredient in living: its a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a
telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at lifes
realities. (Wheeler 51)
I feel that Dr. Seuss, Theo LeSieg or Theodore Geisel is the most influential
authors of our time. His books do something that is often considered to be a very difficult
task. The task is making reading enjoyable and fun for young children. When the children
enjoy what they are reading it will encourage them to read more often. He changed the
way of reading for children all over the world. His most well known books are Horton
Hatches the Egg, Thadwick the Big Hearted Moose, Bartholomew and Oobleck, Yertle
the Turtle, The Lorax, The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch
Bedno, David. A Brief, Rough Biography of Dr. Seuss. 13 January 1995. 10 October
1999. <page maintained by David Bedno (emailprotected).
Diehl, Digby. Super Talk. Garden City, New York: Double Day & Co., Inc., 1974.
LeBeau, Joshua. Freud on Seuss. Koala Newspaper, 1989.
MacDonald, Ruth K. Dr. Seuss. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988.
Morgan, Judith. Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography. New York: Random House,
Wheeler, Jill C. Dr. Seuss. Minneapolis: Rockbottom Books, 1992.