Theodor Seuss Geisel, who as Dr. Seuss delighted generations of children and adults alike with his best-selling hooks, died in his sleep last week at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He was 87 years old.
Eulogized by Edward Zigler, professor of psychology at Yale University, as “one of the great figures of our time,” Mr. Geisel wrote 48 children’s books, four of which are on the list of the top 10 all-time best-selling children’s books. All told, his work has sold well over 200 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages.
With his whimsical stories, fantastic drawings, and playful poetry, Mr. Geisel revolutionized children’s literature, making the once-deadly “controlled vocabulary” format an art form. Responding to a 1954 Life magazine article on the difficulties of teaching reading, Mr. Geisel wrote a book for beginning readers using fewer than 220 words.
But rather than the usual, “See Spot Run” fare, Dr. Seuss served up,” 'In this box are two things/I will show to you now./You will like these two things,'/Said the cat with a bow.”
The book was The Cat in the Hat, and many children’s literature experts consider it his masterpiece.
“That was where he was a real trailblazer,” said Rudine Sims Bishop, a professor of education at Ohio State University and chairman of the Children’s Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English. “He demonstrated that you can take limited vocabulary and make something good out of it.”
Born in Springfield, Mass., Mr. Geisol first used his creative resources in advertising. He published his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, in 1937, after some difficulty finding a taker for his outlandish creations. It was followed by a long succession of classics, including Horton Hatches the Egg, How the Grinch Stole Christmas/, Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.
His latest, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, continues its 78-week run on The New York Times best-seller list.
The later Dr. Seuss books turned to more serious subjects that allowed parents to work with their children on mature themes, said Catherine Copeland, chairman of the N.C.T.E.'S Whole Language Assembly. Published in 1971, The Lorax, for example, warned of the dangers of environmental degradation, while The ButterBattle Book, published in 1984, illustrated the folly of the arms race.
In part, that maturity helped maintain his popularity from generation to generation, Mr. Zigler said, because parents loved his work as much as the children did.
But maturity aside, Mr. Geisel never left behind his whimsy. His whacky word play was meant to show children that language could be fun. He called it “logical insanity,” though it was perfectly lucid to children.--J.W.
A version of this article appeared in the October 02, 1991 edition of Education Week as Dr. Seuss, Beloved Creator of Horton and Cat in the Hat, Dies at 87