cover image Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination

Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination

Brian Jay Jones. Dutton, $32 (496p) ISBN 978-1-524742-782

Biographer Jones (George Lucas) delivers a comprehensive and thoughtful look at famed children’s author Theodor Geisel (1904–1991). The book’s early sections reveal Geisel—Seuss was his mother’s maiden name—as an indifferent student who found his calling in humor and drawing, moving from Dartmouth College’s Jacko magazine, to advertising, to Frank Capra’s Army information unit during WWII. Though he entered children’s literature on a fluke—an otherwise restrictive contract with advertising client Standard Oil didn’t bar him from it—he soon became convinced of this work’s importance. Determined to make reading fun and never talk down to children, he produced his now-familiar classics, with their zany illustrations and tongue-tickling texts. In addition to the fun, however, Geisel did feel compelled to address important issues at times, such as environmentalism in The Lorax. Jones does not ignore problems in Geisel’s early work, including some racial stereotypes. He also gives full credit to Geisel’s first wife, Helen, as a guiding hand for some of Geisel’s best-loved books. While acknowledging Geisel’s flaws and debts to others, Jones convincingly shows him as a transformative figure in children’s publishing, both as author and cofounder of the Beginner Books imprint. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find much to love in this candid but admiring portrait. (May)