Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Whole Seuss

Cohen, Charles D. 2004. The Seuss The Whole Seuss and Nothing But The Seuss.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS AND NOTHING BUT THE SEUSS: A VISUAL BIOGRAPHY OF THEODOR SEUSS GEISEL by Charles D. Cohen is an incredibly thorough, well-researched (and well-documented), detailed analysis of all things Seuss.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS...focuses on Geisel's diverse contributions--from writings/drawings in his highschool and college newspapers/magazines, his cartoons/political sketches, his advertisements, his SEUSS NAVY, his work at FT. FOX during World War II creating films/propoganda for the Army/Navy featuring Private SNAFU, his short-lived comic strip, his children's books, his movie THE 5000 FINGERS OF DR. T, his philosophy concerning children's books and how children should learn to read/love to read, and his creation of toys/sculptures....etc...the "commercialization" of the Seuss world.

As the title says--the book focuses on his art--his writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, filming, etc--the legacy that he left behind. The book does present the "basics" of his life--who his parents were, where/when he was born/raised, what schools he attended, who he married, what jobs he had, etc. But not to the same extent as a "traditional" biography would. They are there as the framework for the rest of the stuff. For example, his parents--and really multiple generations before his father--the Geisel family was involved in brewery. Prohibition was a BIG DEAL at his house--because it essentially put his father out of business. So for many many years to come throughout his cartoons/drawings HE focused on alcohol and prohibition.

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS...does not brush over the controversial issues. It presents "the whole man" of Seuss...and not just the children's book author. Before (and even during and after) his work as a children's author he wrote/drew cartoons/editorials with adult themes--derogatory to women and to most--if not all--races and ethnic groups. Cohen really analyzes why in the 20's and 30's Seuss would draw belittling/insulting pictures of African Americans, Asians, Scottish, Jewish, etc. peoples for laughs. Part of it was because that was typical of the time period...but Cohen analyzes Seuss's drawings and hopes to show where Seuss began to shed some of his earlier racism and begin to adopt his "A person's a person, no matter how small" and "for except for those stars, every Sneetch is the same" philosophy. (One thing Cohen notes is that the more Seuss traveled the world and saw different cultures and added to his experiences--such as the war and its aftermath--he began to change some of his views.)

THE SEUSS THE WHOLE SEUSS was an eye-opening book for me. I had never really heard about his life outside the realm of children's book author. I had no idea about his work before/during the war. Starting in '39 and '40 he began drawing cartoons that urged America to pay attention to the war and not hide its head in the sand--he also was very outspoken against Charles Lindbergh...depicted him as an ostrich. During the war, he worked writing scripts/designing characters for war films/propaganda. He wrote informational books or booklets on malaria "This is Ann" and contributed a great deal to the character/films featuring Private SNAFU. The war really gave Seuss his first taste of Hollywood and movie making.

The book is interesting. It contains information on such a wide variety of topics.

The visual aspects of the book are beyond outstanding--the primary sources are quite a gem--hundred if not thousands of Seuss cartoons, comics, sketches, writings, photos, magazine spreads, and objects--(Seuss sculptures, ashtrays, coasters, dolls, toys, objects to hang on the wall, etc.) Every page has at least one--if not five--illustrations. Captions are on almost all pages--but they tend to cover three or four illustrations instead of just one image. This book is so visually engaging that one could benefit just from browsing the book and get a better sense of who Seuss was. (Although the text is well written and interesting).

The book is arranged topically (for the most part) and then chronologically. Two chapters (at least) at the very beginning are not part of the chronological sequence, but from then on things go somewhat chronologically. It is not odd, however, for two or three chapters to cover the same time period but just focus on different aspects of his career. The table of contents and index make it user-friendly.

The book is also extremely well documented. There are fifteen pages--very small print--of end notes where he lists specifically where he got each piece of information. There are nine pages of index. And four pages of photo/image credits. He also has an acknowledgement page where he thanks all the experts he discussed the book with.

I think this book would get a lot of interest from kids/ya just for browsing purposes. The artwork is both b&w and color. And there are just so many illustrations--that it is really a browsers dream come true. But for someone who loves to read--the text will be of interest as well. (There are 361 pages of text.)

Anyway, I highly recommend both for browsers and for those who love to read!

I learned so many things from this book! Did you know that his first wife committed suicide? Did you know that he remarried less than a year later to a woman whose divorce had just been finalized and that he had two stepchildren? Did you know that before he was "The Grinch" Seuss used that same character as a billboard/advertisement for Holly Sugar?

For me one of the highlights of the book is when it discussed the young Ted as a highschooler who HATED Latin class. He wrote a poem "O Latin" in the style of "Captain, my Captain" that is absolutely hysterical to anyone who has ever endured Latin class--no offense intended if anyone out there actually liked Latin class growing up--but I personally hated it!

From page 26:

O Latin

O Latin! my Latin! that study hour is done
My brain has weathered every verb, the translation now is won,
The time is near, the bell I hear, the pupils all revolting,
While follow eyes the unforeseen, a “comp” test grim and scarring.
But O heart! heart! heart!
The wrong lesson I have read,
And at the desk the teacher sits,
My lord, what she has said!
O Latin! my Latin! O when will ring that bell?
Rise up! rise up! for you are next—ye gods, but this is--,
For you bad marks and scarlet “D’s”, for you a failing waiting,
For you she calls, the teacher dear, her dark green eyes are gleaming.
O trot! dear trot!
The time is almost sped.
It would be fine if on the desk
The teacher would fall dead.
I surely cannot answer, my lips are tight and still,
My teacher looks so wild and bold, she gives me now a chill,
My classmates snicker, now they grin, a murmur starts to run.
A fearful class! I’ll never pass! my lessons are not done.
Walk out, O class, when rings the bell!
But I with mournful tread
Go to the room at her request
And come out almost dead.

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