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Becoming Dr. Seuss

Author: Brian Jay Jones  

  • Paperback
PUBLISHED: 26th May 2020
ISBN: 9781524742799
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  • Paperback
PUBLISHED: 26th May 2020
ISBN: 9781524742799

Publisher Description

The definitive, fascinating, all-reaching biography of Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss is a classic American icon. Whimsical and wonderful, his work has defined our childhoods and the childhoods of our own children. The silly, simple rhymes are a bottomless well of magic, his illustrations timeless favorites because, quite simply, he makes us laugh. The Grinch, the Cat in the Hat, Horton, and so many more, are his troupe of beloved, and uniquely Seussian, creations.

Theodor Geisel, however, had a second, more radical side. It is there that the allure and fasciation of his Dr. Seuss alter ego begins. He had a successful career as an advertising man and then as a political cartoonist, his personal convictions appearing, not always subtly, throughout his books-remember the environmentalist of The Lorax? Geisel was a complicated man on an important mission. He introduced generations to the wonders of reading while teaching young people about empathy and how to treat others well.

Agonizing over word choices and rhymes, touching up drawings sometimes for years, he upheld a rigorous standard of perfection for his work. Geisel took his responsibility as a writer for children seriously, talking down to no reader, no matter how small. And with classics like Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Geisel delighted them while they learned. Suddenly, reading became fun.

Coming right off the heels of George Lucas and bestselling Jim Henson, Brian Jay Jones is quickly developing a reputation as a master biographer of the creative geniuses of our time.

Author Biography

Born in Kansas and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Brian Jay Jones has a degree in English from the University of New Mexico, which he immediately parlayed into a brief career as a manager of a comic book store before getting into politics and writing. For nearly ten years, he worked as a policy advisor in the United States Senate. He has also served as an associate state superintendent of education for the state of Arizona, a chief of staff for a think tank in Washington, D.C., and as a legislative aide for several elected county officials.

Brian currently lives in Virginia with his wife and dog, where he serves as the Associate Director of the Great Lives biographer speakers program at the University of Mary Washington.


Praise for Becoming Dr. Seuss

Longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Nonfiction "Becoming Dr. Seuss is more compelling than mere pop hagiography; it is sweeping in scope, unstinting in detail, and willing to criticize or contextualize when needed."--The New Yorker

"Nuanced, profoundly human, and painstakingly researched, this 496-page biography is perhaps the most complete, multidimensional look at the life of one of the most beloved authors and illustrators of our time. . . . While it is a standard biography in general terms, Jones goes above and beyond to contextualize Geisel in the larger picture at every moment of his life. [A] fascinating read that discusses the origin of the humorous, simple rhymes, bizarre creatures, and magic that characterized Geisel's books while also showing the author's more radical side as an unemployed wanderer who abandoned his doctoral studies, a successful advertising man, and a political cartoonist."--NPR

"A rich, anecdotal biography . . . Whether readers are familiar with Dr. Seuss books or not, they will find this biography absorbing and fascinating."--Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"This attractive biography should be on the bedside reading table of thousands of Dr. Seuss lovers, and deservedly so."--Library Journal (starred review)

"A warm, defining biography of one of the most beloved writers of this or any time."--LitHub

"One of the most anticipated books of Spring 2019."--Publishers Weekly

"While acknowledging Geisel's flaws and debts to others, Jones convincingly shows him as a transformative figure in children's publishing, both as an author and cofounder of the Beginner Books imprint. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find much to love in this candid but admiring portrait."--Publishers Weekly

"One of the buzziest books being released this May 2019."--O, The Oprah Magazine

"Enjoyable. Lively."--The Wall Street Journal

"Profiling cultural empires and their instigators is familiar territory for Jones, who also wrote Jim Henson: The Biography and George Lucas: A Life. It's clear that Jones is experienced in extracting details from the most innocuous letter or interview, fleshing out the lives of cultural groundbreakers we've long admired. As all successful biographers should do, Jones doesn't cheerlead his own writing style by adding unnecessary flourishes or similes; he lets the subject's actions and quotes energize the book. Thankfully, Geisel is a hilarious and insightful character whose love of literature is almost as infectious as his timeless rhymes."--The Washington Post

"A May 2019 Parade Pick"

"1 of 9 notable releases over the next two weeks."

"A loving portrait of a singularly creative man, whose influence is as strong today as ever."--AV Club

"Finally! The solution to the mystery of where Dr. Seuss earned his PhD. Brian Jay Jones also reveals the true identity of Chrysanthemum Pearl; the etymology of the word nerd; the political leanings of Horton and Yertle; and the relationship of Krazy Kat to the one in the hat. It comes as no surprise that Theodor Geisel was a born storyteller; prying truth from fact, Jones pins our favorite fabulist nimbly, colorfully, and splendidly to the page."--Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches

"Readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss may be astonished to learn in this rollicking ride of a biography that Theodor Seuss Geisel--progenitor of the most anarchic animals of all time--was himself a radically bizarre creation, every bit as strange and emotionally uncoordinated as a Snoo or a Sneetch. Childless, chain-smoking, and cocktail-swilling, bawdy and argumentative, Geisel got his unlikely start promoting Standard Oil's fly-killing insecticide (his ad campaign featured the immortal tag line 'Quick, Henry! The Flit!'); drawing coarse political cartoons (sometimes racist or misogynist); and serving as a World War II understudy to Frank Capra, making films teaching grunts to evade death and mosquitoes. His epic transformation into one of the most beloved and bestselling children's writers of all time, winner of Oscars and a Pulitzer, is a poignant, affecting tale of a man who mastered the art of concision through imagination and sheer toil yet could never bring such exactitude to his own life, callously replacing his wife and editor of forty years, a suicide, with her rival. In Jones's telling, the Seussian legacy emerges triumphant, elevating the power of children's literature. 'I no longer write for children, ' Geisel said proudly, at the end of his life. 'I write for people.'"--Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

"Once again, Brian Jay Jones takes us on a beguiling deep dive into the life of one of the leading lights of American popular culture. Written with verve and warmth and a close attention to both the life and the times in which it was lived, Becoming Dr. Seuss brims with charm and humor from beginning to end."--William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson

"Brian Jay Jones offers a richly detailed, admiring biography of Theodor Geisel, the man whom children and adults the world over would come to love as Dr. Seuss, and goes on to say [Jones] provides a meticulously detailed yet thoroughly engaging look at the life and artistry of this American original."--BookPage

"How the Seuss found his juice. The real-life tales that sparked America's favorite children's author."--The New York Post

"Worthy of a complete read."--New York Journal of Books

"An important and interesting book about an author who greatly influenced our culture and most certainly our educational system."--The Missourian

"What this biography does best is account for Geisel's demanding creative habits. He was dedicated to work and, when he had the power and leverage, he fussed over every detail of his books, from the size of the page and the font to the placement of text and picture. He insisted on the exact colors he required, and his longtime publisher, Random House, usually sensibly let him have his own way; his titles eventually sold in the hundreds of millions."--Christian Science Monitor

Excerpt from Book

Chapter 1 Minnows Into Whales 1904-1921 On paper, Mulberry Street doesn''t look like much. It''s just another residential street on the city map of Springfield, Massachusetts, a slightly bent capital letter L lying on its back, not much more than a pass-through between the busier streets of Union and Maple. The street itself is quiet and relatively nondescript, with very little indication that it''s a major destination on a map of the American imagination. But sure enough, it was here-at least as told in the tale by Springfield''s own Dr. Seuss-that a little boy named Marco used his imagination to transform a simple horse and wagon into a colorful spectacle, with a brass band pulled by an elephant-riding sultan, flanked by motorcycle policemen and confetti-dumping airplanes, while enthusiastically being reviewed by the top-hatted mayor and the town aldermen. Modern-day pilgrims still flock to Mulberry Street, slowly trolling the neighborhood, windows down, hoping to catch a glimpse of something-anything-that inspired the magnificent imaginations of Marco and Dr. Seuss. Residents smile knowingly, pausing over lawn mowers and trunks still filled with groceries to answer the same question from visiting wayfarers. "Where did Dr. Seuss live?" The answer, it seems, is as disappointing as discovering London''s 221B Baker Street is actually home to a bank, and never was home to Sherlock Holmes. Dr. Seuss didn''t live on Mulberry Street at all. Instead, pilgrims are directed to another spot on the map, another inverted L about two miles south: Fairfield Street. This is where Dr. Seuss grew up, and the house he lived in for nearly twenty years, at number 74, is still there, looking much as it did during his lifetime. Parts of Springfield, in fact, look as they did during Dr. Seuss''s day-or at least the places that shaped his imagination and influenced his art can still be seen if one knows where to look. A few blocks from Fairfield on Howard Street stands the old armory. Its curved stone turrets are reflected in the castles populating so many Seuss books. Over in Forest Park, the Barney Mausoleum-built with a family fortune earned by inventing and selling clamp-on ice skates-looms two stories above the pavement, with the curving staircases and pillared archways that would show up in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. And the nearby Forest Park Zoo? That was where "[I tried to] draw the animals," said Dr. Seuss later. "I didn''t know how to draw, so they''d come out strange." Dr. Seuss didn''t produce Springfield''s only creations. Founded by the Puritan William Pynchon in 1636 on a high bluff overlooking the Connecticut River, Springfield has been nurturing and stirring American imaginations for nearly three hundred years. American independence was won with the reliable ammunition and gun carriages produced at the Springfield Armory beginning in 1777. (A decade later, Daniel Shays-spouting a different kind of idealism-would attempt to steal muskets and ammunition from the same armory in a thwarted attempt to overthrow the government of Massachusetts.) By 1795, Springfield Armory would regularly be producing the muskets that would be carried on the shoulders of American soldiers all the way through the War of 1812 and on into the Civil War. Weaponry wasn''t Springfield''s only specialty; true, local businessmen Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson, who developed the firearms company that bore their last names, had roots in the town-but so, too, did Charles Goodyear, who discovered and patented the process for making vulcanized rubber in a small Springfield factory in 1844. A year earlier, two industrious Springfield publishers, brothers Charles and George Merriam, acquired the rights to publish Noah Webster''s An American Dictionary of the English Language, marking the founding of another iconic American brand. There was Milton Bradley, who would launch the American board game industry by cranking out the earliest incarnations of The Game of Life in his lithography studio in 1860. Over on State Street, the beloved and reliable Indian motorcycles would roll out of the company''s Springfield factory from 1901 until 1953. Even modern sports would find their origins in the town when in 1891 a Canadian-born physical education teacher named James Naismith, looking to keep his classes occupied through the long, cold Massachusetts winters, mounted a peach basket on a ten-foot pole in the gymnasium at the International YMCA Training School and-opting not to name the game after himself-christened the new game basketball. Springfield, then, could unequivocally and rightly stake a claim as a major landmark on the frontier of American inventiveness and imagination. Dr. Seuss himself was a construct of one of those unique American minds: a comfortable coat regularly shrugged on and off at will by one of Springfield''s most famous sons, Theodor Seuss Geisel. The dropped e at the end of Theodor would forever perplex journalists and copyeditors, but to Theodor-Dr. Seuss himself-it wouldn''t much matter. Everyone would always call him Ted. Theodor Seuss Geisel could trace his roots back to the German town of MYhlhausen, a tiny village squatting on the western shore of a hairpin turn in the Enz River, in what is now the German state of Baden-WYrttemberg. It was here, in 1650, that Joseph Geissel married Catharina Loth; the extra s would be dropped in later generations, and well before Ted

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