Apparently, I did not know Dr. Seuss. I thought I did. I thought I knew that he wrote a lot of books and that his real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel (Ted Geisel works when playing trivia night) and that he wasn’t just a writer but an illustrator as well.
That’s barely the tip of the iceberg.
If that’s also all you know, or even if you know more than that, it’s worth picking up Becoming Dr. Seuss by the biographer Brian Jay Jones, to get the whole story.
So what’s in the book? Well, it’s the entire life story of Ted Geisel from birth to death. But the care shown in Jones’ research to quote speeches and public quotes from the Geisel’s life give you a broader sense of not only who he was as a man, but who he was as an artist.
Also, what’s in a name? There’s a lot. In fact, it was a long and winding road that Mr. Theodor Seuss Geisel took to arrive at the Dr. Seuss we now know. As is often the case, his is not the only big name in this book as the good doctor crossed paths with some other legends along the way.
He took a dislike to professor Tolkien’s class at Oxford – yes that Tolkien! He worked with the director Frank Capra and Chuck Jones during his stint in the army, and at one point dismissed a future POTUS Ronald Reagan from a narrator gig during wartime filmmaking. He received an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth at the same ceremony as poet Robert Frost, and he additionally did some work with funny man Allan Sherman.
But there’s more to Dr. Seuss than those other icons he crossed paths with. This is his story, and I have to say, I’m thankful to have read it just as I’m thankful to Dr. Seuss for more than just the books he wrote. I’m thankful to the starter reading books of Dick and Jane that his books, in a word, killed.
For anyone who is interested in creating content, this is an important book about not talking down to your audience, even if they are children. This book contains some great stories about the creation of almost every Dr. Seuss title, so you’ll probably learn something about your favorite Seuss along the way.
You’ll also learn about the critical reception most of his books received, which was at times not nearly what the actual audience reception was.
Perhaps most importantly, you’ll learn about what one man can accomplish if he’s not willing to “accept the status quo.” Moreso, you’ll find what happens when you do what you love “and give it eight hours” almost every day, “though every day isn’t productive, of course.”
If I had to suggest this book on one merit, it would be for the many quotes of Seuss’s I’ve never heard or read until picking up this book. A man is more than just what he creates. In learning about the process that Dr. Seuss used to create and the work ethic and the battles he fought, my appreciation for him has grown three sizes.