Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known under his pseudonym "Dr. Seuss," was the best-loved and certainly the best-selling children's book writer of all time. Geisel entertained several generations of young readers with his zany nonsense books. Speaking to Herbert Kupferberg of Parade, Geisel once claimed: "Old men on crutches tell me, 'I've been brought up on your books.' During the second half of the twentieth century Geisel had a tremendous impact on children's reading habits and the way reading is taught and approached in the school system.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The town was booming, with several large manufacturing companies and a thriving population of German immigrants. Theodor's grandfather and father owned a successful brewery, and the future Dr. Seuss grew up in the midst of a bustling extended family. A child during World War I, Theodor acquired a sense of patriotism that would remain with him his entire life. As a Scout, he worked to sell U.S. War Bonds. In an oft-told story, he sold so many that he was supposed to receive an award, along with 9 other boys, from President Theodore Roosevelt. However, during the awards ceremony, Roosevelt found that he had only nine medals to give, and when he got to Theodor, standing at the end of the row, he asked, "What's this boy doing here?" For the rest of his life, Geisel suffered from acute stage fright, and sometimes skipped speaking engagements altogether.
As Prohibition loomed and threatened to put his father out of business, Geisel was accepted into Dartmouth College. Enrolled as an English major, he proved to be only a mediocre student. Theodor divided his time between his studies and writing for the Dartmouth humor magazine, Jack-o-Lantern. It was there that he discovered his love of designing books with pictures and words, though he said it took him "almost a quarter of a century" before he felt he had succeeded.
As Geisel's senior year came to a close, his father asked where he'd be going next. When Theodor answered that he'd gotten a scholarship to study at Lincoln College in Oxford, his father immediately passed the news on to the town newspaper, who published it the next day. Unfortunately, Geisel was exaggerating a bit when he said he'd "gotten" the scholarship; he’d applied, but ultimately was rejected. Nevertheless, his father sent Geisel to England in 1925 for a three-year stay.
It was quite by chance that Geisel began writing for children. Returning from Europe by boat in 1936, he amused himself by putting together a nonsense poem to the rhythm of the ship's engine. Later he drew pictures to illustrate the rhyme and in 1937 published the result as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, his first children's book. Set in Geisel's home town of Springfield, Massachusetts, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is the story of a boy whose imagination transforms a simple horse-drawn wagon into a marvelous and exotic parade of strange creatures and vehicles. Many critics regard it as Geisel's best work.
The outbreak of World War II forced Geisel to give up writing for children temporarily and to devote his talents to the war effort. Working with the Information and Education Division of the U.S. Army, he made documentary films for American soldiers. One of these army films—Hitler Lives—won an Academy Award, a feat Geisel repeated with his documentary about the Japanese war effort, Design for Death, and the UPA cartoon Gerald McBoing-Boing, about a little boy who can only speak in sound effects. The screenplay for the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, which Geisel wrote with Allen Scott, achieved cult status during the 1960s among music students on college campuses. Later, Geisel adapted several of his books into animated…