In 1950s USA, books that were intended to further children's literacy were mighty boring and it was felt that children's reading was suffering as a result. A challenge was put to Seuss to come up with a story that used a pool of 250 words that were thought to be vital for first grader's literacy levels. He was also to make it actually fun to read. He penned The Cat in the Hat and it was an instant success.
Dr. Seuss was his pen name (he left Oxford without a degree), he started using the name because he was caught drinking gin at college during the prohibition era and, although he was then banned from contributing illustrations to the college publication, continued under this thinly-veiled pseudonym. His real name was Theodor Geisel.
Seuss' life was not without controversy, he was recruited as a propagandist during America's war with Japan and the racist tone of the illustrations from this time and early in his career were a source of great regret later in his life.
Seuss' wife, Helen Palmer, was devoted to him and it was this devotion that led to her to take her own life in despair when, after many illnesses and knowing she was losing Seuss to another woman, Audrey Dimond, she took an overdose of barbiturates.
She left a tender note...
"I am too old and enmeshed in everything you do and are, that I cannot conceive of life without you ... My going will leave quite a rumor but you can say I was overworked and overwrought. Your reputation with your friends and fans will not be harmed ... Sometimes think of the fun we had all thru the years ..."
Seuss was distraught. Seuss' niece, Peggy, later said "Whatever Helen did, she did it out of absolute love for Ted." Peggy called Helen's death "her last and greatest gift to him.".
Seuss married Audrey eight months later.
Dr. Seuss left an indelible mark on the world of children's books. I love the way he plays with verse and subverts the normal construct in the service of fun, both in the text and the imagery. He made sure never to use a moral as the basis for a story (he once stated "children can see a moral coming a mile off") and he has shown many children how joyful and playful words can be.
There is no doubting that there are demons to wrestle if you are going to give your carte blanche adoration to Dr Seuss, but perhaps on World Book Day we can look to the work and give credit to the positive influence it has had on the lives of many children across the globe for so many years.