Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, filled his books with fun and happiness, but as a new collection of his early, little-known magazine stories demonstrates, there was method to his madness, reason to his rhyming.
Alison Flood tells that In the 1950s, in stories published in Redbook and other magazines, Geisel started experimenting. He moved away from a mostly prose style and launched the wildly inventive wordplay that would become his trademark.
Four examples are collected in a new book, “Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories,” which have just been published..
“His intention was to craft stories that would make kids want to learn to read what they had heard, and in so doing, he ended up revolutionizing the way reading is taught to children,” said Charles Cohen, a Massachusetts Seuss scholar who wrote the book’s introduction.
By 1957, Geisel had perfected the technique with “The Cat in the Hat,” and three years later added “Green Eggs and Ham,” still two of the best selling and most influential children’s books of all time. His experimenting in magazines was pretty much over.
Geisel died in 1991 at age 87, but his catalog — more than 40 books in all — remains as popular as ever, with some 600 million copies sold over the years in 17 languages and 95 countries. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a perennial holiday season favorite, and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” a staple at graduation time.
The new book features familiar characters. There’s Horton, the elephant, and Marco, the boy from Seuss’ first book, “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” And there’s a Grinch, who cons a Hoobub into believing that a piece of green string is more valuable than the sun.
“It’s like finding a lost one-act play by Shakespeare, or occasional verse by Walt Whitman,” said Philip Nel, director of the children’s literature program at Kansas State University and the author of two books about Seuss. “Even minor works of major artists tell us something about their unique genius.”
HOW THEY SURFACED
This is the second book of forgotten Seuss, and probably the last. Cohen, the driving force behind the projects, said copyright issues will keep the few remaining early tales from being republished..
The first collection, “The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories,” came out in 2011 and was a New York Times best-seller.
Cohen makes his living as a dentist, but he’s also an avid collector and researcher — baseball cards, bourbon — who got interested in Geisel after the author died 23 years ago this month. Cohen lives about 20 miles from where Geisel grew up in Massachusetts. The new collection of stories is available throughRandom House.