The genius as you never knew him . . .

. . . Five things you didnt know about Dr Seuss

Theodore Geisel is best known by the pseudonym Dr. Seuss (the correct pronunciation of Seuss rhymes with “voice” not “loose”), perhaps the most recognizable name in literature. Every December we’re treated to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and each year young kids are introduced to classics like Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, yet the wider public does not appear to know much about the man behind these famous works.

To gear up for the release of the CGI-animated film Horton Hears A Who!, we aim to change that by presenting five things you didn’t know about Dr. Seuss, the most familiar and beloved pen name in children’s literature.

1- Dr. Seuss adopted his pseudonym by drinking gin

Geisel’s father and grandfather were both brewmasters in Massachusetts prior to prohibition. While he was a senior at Dartmouth in 1925 — during the prohibition era — he served as a contributor to and editor of the campus humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern. That year he decided to throw a party, and he and his friends were drinking gin when they were caught.

In violation of the era’s prohibition laws, campus officials demanded he resign not only from the staff of the Jack-O-Lantern but from all other campus activities as well. In an effort to continue contributing to the magazine, Geisel adopted a number of pseudonyms, most notable among them was his own middle name and his mother’s maiden name “Seuss.”

The addition of “Dr” came later, as Geisel wrote for another humor magazine, The Judge.

2- Dr. Seuss invented the word “nerd”

Geisel’s 1950 children’s book If I Ran the Zoo is typically credited with creating the word “nerd.” The book is narrated by Gerald McGrew, a child who is bored by the animals at the zoo and dreams of populating it with alternative creatures:

And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo
And bring back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo
A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!

While some believe the word to be a variation of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen’s dummy, Mortimer Snerd, If I Ran the Zoofeatures the first known appearance of the word in the English language. How it gained its current meanings and associations — since that much is clearly not suggested by Geisel — is a subject of some debate and the history of the English language.

3- Dr. Seuss used to brag about his imaginary child

It is a somewhat sad irony that the foremost author of children’s books never had any children of his own. According to Philip Nel, author of Dr Seuss – American Icon, the primary reason was because Geisel’s first wife, Helen, was unable to bear children

This did not stop the incessant bragging they would hear from their friends about their children’s miraculous accomplishments. As a means of countering them, Geisel and his wife began to brag about their own (imaginary) child, Chrysanthemum Pearl. He even went so far as to dedicate his 1938 book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to this imaginary daughter.

4- Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham on a bet

The legend goes like this: Following the success of The Cat in the Hat, which Geisel wrote using a set list of a few hundred pre-approved words, Bennett Cerf, publisher at Random House, bet him $50 that he couldn’t write a book using just 50 words. Geisel took the bet and set about writing Green Eggs and Ham, intent on creating a book for very young readers that was both educational and fun to read.

Early drafts of the manuscript show Geisel’s strict attention to this word count: He keeps close watch on the number of words he has used at the bottom of the manuscript’s pages. Published in 1960, Green Eggs and Ham ranks among the top-selling children’s books of all time.

5- Dr. Seuss’s fictional character the Lorax has real enemies

Geisel’s 1971 book The Lorax follows a dialogue between the Lorax — a human-like creature who is an environmentalist; he might even be called a tree-hugger — and the Once-ler, a defender of unchecked industrial expansion and greed. Written and published at a time when the environmental movement was just taking off (the first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and Greenpeace launched its first at-sea protest in ‘71), the book has been seen as both a metaphor and a fable for what disasters awaited a world in which industry conquersenvironmental activism.

As a result, The Lorax has become the unofficial enemy of the logging business. Claiming that it “criminalizes the forestry industry,” the book was banned by the school district in Laytonville, California, a town in the middle of redwood forest country in the northwestern part of the state. The National Wood Flooring Manufacturers’ Association went a step further, sponsoring a children’s book called Truax, written to mimic The Lorax in many ways, from poetic meter to narrative style. In it, the Lorax is represented by an unreasonable creature called the Guardbark, while Truax is a level-headed logger (“I’m Truax the logger. I harvest these trees / For ballbats and houses and such things as these…”) whose tree-cutting efforts and common sense communication skills swing the Guardbark to his side, and come just short of saving mankind.

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