The Cabinet of Dr. Seuss

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

(Vanguard, 1937; Random House, 1988), $9.95

Horton Hatches the Egg

Random House, $10.95

McElligot’s Pool

Random House, $8.95

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Random House, $9.95

Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose

Random House, $3.95 (paper)

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Random House, $12.95

If I Ran the Zoo

Random House, $3.95 (paper)

Horton Hears a Who

Random House, $10.95

On Beyond Zebra!

Random House, $3.95 (paper)

If I Ran the Circus

Random House, $3.95 (paper)

The Cat in the Hat

Random House, $6.95

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Random House, $6.95

The Lorax

Random House, $11.95

The Butter Battle Book

Random House, $9.95

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Random House, $12.95

Theodore Seuss Geisel, known to millions as Dr. Seuss, is the most popular living juvenile author in America today. Almost everyone under forty was brought up on his books and cartoons, and even those who didn’t hear the stories read aloud or see them on TV probably met his fantastic characters at school. Beginning with The Cat in the Hat in 1957, Seuss revolutionized the teaching of reading, managing to create innovative, crazily comic tales with a minimum vocabulary (The Cat in the Hat uses only 220 words). The inventive energy of these books and their relative freedom from class and race norms made middle-class suburban Dick and Jane look prissy, prejudiced, and totally outdated.

What made it all the more wonderful was that Dr. Seuss’s life was a classic American success story. He began as a cartoonist and advertising artist; his “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” drawings showing a citizen attacked by giant insects, half-comic and half-threatening, were widely reproduced. But his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by forty-three publishers; it was finally printed in 1937 only as a favor by a friend.

Why didn’t editors see at once what a winner Seuss would be? Partly because of his artistic style, which was unabashedly cartoon-like and exaggerated in an era when children’s book illustration was supposed to be pretty and realistic. Perhaps even more because of the content of his stories, especially their encouragement of wild invention and, even worse, the suggestion that it might be politic to conceal one’s fantasy life from one’s parents. Children in the Thirties and Forties were supposed to be learning about the real world, not wasting their time on daydreams, and they were encouraged to tell their parents everything.

Marco, the hero of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, is warned by his father at the start of the book to “stop telling such outlandish tales” about what he sees on the way home from school. Yet the very next day his imagination turns a horse and wagon, by gradual stages, into a full-blown parade with elephants, giraffes, a brass band, and a plane showering colored confetti—all portrayed by Seuss with immense verve and enthusiasm. Marco arrives home in a state of euphoria:

I swung ‘round the corner
And dashed through the gate,
I ran up the steps
And I felt simply GREAT!
FOR I HAD A STORY THAT NO ONE COULD BEAT!

Then he is quizzed by his father about what he has seen. His reply is evasive:

Nothing,” I said, growing red as a beet,
“But a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street.”

The message that it is sometimes, perhaps always, best to conceal one’s inner life reappears in The Cat in the Hat. Here “Sally and I,” two children alone and bored on a rainy day, are visited by the eponymous Cat. He proceeds to totally destroy …

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