“ ‘I wish,’ yelled the duck, and he started to scream,/ ‘For eight thousand buckets of purple ice cream!/ A trunk full of toothpaste! A big kitchen sink!/ And lots of brass keyholes! And gallons of ink!’ ” This vociferous narrator, a greedy duck named McKluck, learns a lesson in the title story of The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, a collection of seven tales by Seuss that were published in Redbook in 1950 and 1951. They are appearing in book format for the first time, accompanied by newly enhanced Seuss illustrations, in this September release from Random House. The stories had a rather peripatetic journey to their current hardcover incarnation.
Charles D. Cohen, a Seussian scholar and collector who is also a dentist practicing in South Deerfield, Mass., conceived of and contributed an introduction to The Bippolo Seed. After viewing a touring exhibit, “Dr. Seuss from Then to Now,” in 1988, and poring over the details in the book published in conjunction with the exhibit, Cohen tried to track down some magazine covers that Ted Geisel had done in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The misinformation he encountered in his search led him ever deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole.
In his travels, he came across the “lost” Seuss stories, which he photocopied, and he later purchased the magazines that contained them on eBay and other Web sites. “These were not stories that were found in a drawer after his death,” says Cohen. “Ted Geisel felt very strongly about them. They were good enough to be published in magazines and Ted drew from this pool of stories when he created the popular Yertle the Turtle and The Sneetches collections. When I started looking for the magazines, no one seemed to know that they contained Seuss stories, and I could pick them up for three or five dollars.” He eventually posted extra copies of the magazines with the stories for sale online, and one auspicious buyer snatched up several of them.
That purchaser was Cathy Goldsmith, v-p and associate publishing director of Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group, who has worked at the house since 1977 and was the art director for Geisel’s last books, among them Hunches in Bunches, You’re Only Old Once!, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! “I had been talking to Stan Berenstain, who told me he couldn’t believe how much Berenstain Bears stuff there was for sale on eBay,” says Goldsmith. After that conversation, she immediately set out to learn “how much Seuss stuff I might find on eBay, and I ran across someone—turns out it was Charles—selling what he claimed were old Seuss magazine stories from the early 1950s. Ted had never mentioned that he wrote for magazines, but I took one look at the stories and the art and there was no question in my mind that they were genuine.”
Goldsmith purchased copies of several stories from Cohen—none of which actually appears in The Bippolo Seed—which sowed the seeds for a mutually beneficial creative relationship. After the art director learned of Cohen’s ardent interest in Seuss, she and Kate Klimo, v-p and publisher of Random House/Golden Books Young Readers Group, headed to Massachusetts to meet him.
“It was 11 or 12 years ago that we visited Charles at his home, which is literally a Seuss museum,” says Klimo. “Not only did he have a fascination with and vast knowledge of Ted, but he had a collection of Seussiana that could rival anybody’s. He pitched us the idea of publishing Ted’s magazine stories as books. We realized that any one of them could easily hold its own as a book, but didn’t have enough illustrations to sustain the story. So we decided to anthologize them.”
But other Seussian projects delayed that plan. “We realized that the Seussentennial—the 100th anniversary of Ted’s birth—was coming up, so we asked Charles to collect his knowledge, his thoughts, and lots of visuals into a book for us to celebrate the occasion,” says Klimo. Cohen agreed, and Random House published that book, The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss, in 2004.
Then the publisher further tapped into Cohen’s Seussian expertise, Klimo says, by engaging him to write introductions to several 50th anniversary editions of Seuss classics, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and Yertle the Turtle. “And then, in a lull between anniversaries, Charles reminded us that we had talked about doing a collection of Ted’s magazine stories. So we approached Ted’s estate, and the estate was all for it.”
Goldsmith’s own expertise was utilized as she tackled the job of enhancing Seuss’s nearly 60-year-old drawings. “The stories are complete and satisfying—they are not at all second-class citizens—but if we published them with the tiny spot illustrations in one or two colors that ran in the magazine, the book wouldn’t get the recognition it deserves in the marketplace,” she explains. “We kept the black line art and blew it up, but did not create any new art per se and didn’t draw any new backgrounds.”
Perhaps Goldsmith’s biggest challenge was adding the color to Seuss’s magazine art. “I worked for a long time to do what I thought Ted might do to put them in color if he’d been allowed to do so,” she says. “It was satisfying for me but also nerve-wracking to try to channel him. He was such a master colorist and his sense of color was different from anyone else’s. I kept worrying that I’d hear his voice in the night, telling me that perhaps I hadn’t gotten it quite right.” (She hasn’t heard it.)
Cohen, who notes that there are some 30 stories from Geisel’s “magazine period,” explains that the selections in The Bippolo Seed mark a pivotal transitional point in the author’s career. “This is Dr. Seuss exactly when he was becoming Dr. Seuss,” he says. “From a chance encounter with a three-year-old who couldn’t yet read but had memorized his Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, Geisel had realized the importance of using rhyme as a read-aloud, auditory experience. He’d observed German and Japanese children reared on propaganda during World War II and began to realize that, instead of that negative influence, he had a skill that could make a positive difference. He started writing with the rhythm and rhyme for which he’s now known, and it tickles me to see the way that style and his expertise develop in this story collection, and to know that others will now be able to appreciate and enjoy it, too.”
After a return to press before pub date, The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories has 200,000 copies in print. Klimo notes that Geisel enjoyed hearing from people who had discovered his stories years after they had been published. “He was always very modest about his talent, and he always answer them, saying, ‘I’m so happy to hear that you liked my little story.’ I like to think Ted would be very happy to see these stories published together in one place.”
Goldsmith is clearly thrilled to see this collection in print: “If Ted were still alive, I have no doubt that he’d still be sending us stories every once in a while, and I feel that we have to do what we can to keep him around and current,” she says. “It’s a pleasure to publish this material—and very gratifying to have a little piece of Ted back again.”
The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss, introduction by Charles D. Cohen. Random House, $15 Sept. ISBN 978-0-375-86435-3