Category Archives: Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss is Longlisted

Wow. I’m beyond thrilled that Becoming Dr. Seuss was selected for the longlist of 25 nominees for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. I know it sounds like a cliche, but given the caliber of all the great writers on the list, I’m humbled to even be included among them–and I’m grateful to the Carnegie Corporation and the American Library Association for the honor of being there.

Look at me! Look at me! Look at me now!

Not to scale.

Okay, so don’t look — the drawing of me from the Boston Globe doesn’t look exactly like me — but I’m still thrilled to see the Globe run a fun piece on me and Becoming Dr. Seuss as a lead-up to my appearance at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Wanna see me talk about all things Dr. Seuss? I’ll be there on Thursday night, starting at 6 p.m. It’s a paid event, but you’ll get a copy of Becoming Dr. Seuss as part of the cost of admission–and you can bet I’ll wait around as long as it takes for me to make sure I sign it for you. So come say hey! For more information, click here.

But that’s not all! On Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m., I’ll be presenting on Dr. Seuss in one of the opening sessions for the History Book Festival in Lewes, Delaware. More information is here — and this is a free event, so come on out! It’ll be good! I promise.

Dr. Seuss writ large

My editor was kind enough to send a few of copies of the large print edition of Becoming Dr. Seuss my way. It’s got a cover layout and design that’s completely different than the trade edition, but it’s a really beautiful book, don’t you think?

The Reviews Are In

As of today, Becoming Dr. Seuss has been out for exactly eight weeks — and I couldn’t be happier with its reception. The reviews have been good — some of the best I’ve ever received, in fact — feedback from readers has been kind, and I’ve had the opportunity to talk about the life and work of Dr. Seuss on television, radio, and countless podcasts.

Here’s but a few:

First, here’s my appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. I taped this as a live remote from the WRC-TV studios in Washington, DC — the very same studios a University of Maryland student named Jim Henson would drive to every weeknight in the late 1950s to perform Sam and Friends before the cameras.

The Green Room at WRC-TV (NBC) in Washington, DC.

I was taken from the Green Room to a darkened studio where an earpiece was put in my right ear and I was asked to look into a camera, directly above a point where someone had helpfully stuck a Post-It note with an arrow drawn on it. I could hear the show live in my ear — and while there was a monitor on the floor to my left, I couldn’t watch unless I wanted to be seen on-camera looking down at the monitor. So I could hear the show without actually seeing anyone, which was a bit disorienting. But it was a good segment, with questions from everyone on the panel.

In radio, here are interviews I did with WMAL in Washington, DC, WNYC in New York, KPBS in San Diego, KSCJ in Iowa, KJZZ in Phoenix, and WAMC/Northeast Public Radio, as well as extended interviews with the Innovation Hub and with Connecticut Public Radio, where I talked about Dr. Seuss’s New England roots.

In print, the book has been reviewed at NPR, in the Christian Science Monitor, the A.V. Club, the New York Post, and — a thrill for me — The New Yorker.

Behind the Cat in the Hat (and even the Grinch!)

If you can’t wait until Tuesday to get your hands on Becoming Dr. Seuss, Entertainment Weekly is running an exclusive excerpt, covering the agony and the ecstasy of writing The Cat in the Hat. And there’s even a cameo appearance by everyone’s favorite Grinch. Click here to read it.

Making of an Audiobook (ah-dee-oh-book)

I can finally answer the question Will Becoming Dr. Seuss be available on audiobook? with an emphatic yes. The team at Random House are hard at work to bring the book to audible life for you by May 7. And no, as the author, I do NOT read the book. Trust me, you don’t want that. Instead, that job goes to the hyper-talented Mike Chamberlain, whose voice I love for this book.

What I do get to do as the author, however, is sort through an enormous spreadsheet filled with the names of people, places, animals, and things, and write out–as best I can–phonetic pronunciations for each that can then be referenced by Mike as he’s recording. For the most part, it’s the names of real people (such as Mike Frith, Roy McKie, or Walter Retan) whose names we want to pronounce correctly (or, at least, make a good faith effort to do so) or places with foreign or just-plain-unusual names like Maastricht, Bastogne, or Agawam, Massachusetts. I send a lot of e-mails verifying the pronunciation of names, and I also rely on the audiobook producer to verify some of the foreign words (while I suffered through one semester of German in college, I wouldn’t presume to try to definitively pronounce Schutzenverein).

However, as you can imagine, when it comes to a subject like Dr. Seuss, the book is also filled with lots of made-up names and distinctly Seussian words that every reader might pronounce differently when reading it aloud. A word like Lorax is one thing; but even something like his dear Truffula Trees might be pronounced differently from reader to reader. I tend to say it as “TRUFF-uh-lah.” Others I know know say “truff-YEW-luh.”

What to do then? In this case, I referred to the 1972 animated special–produced during Dr. Seuss’ lifetime, with his involvement–where the pronunciation is . . . TRUFF-yew-luh. We were both close.

Still, in lots of other cases, it’s not so clear. What do you do, for example, with words like:

  • Dingleblader
  • Heumkia
  • Bvorlyjk
  • Mnpf
  • Grimalkin, Drouberhannus, Knalbner, and Fepp

These haven’t exactly entered the vernacular in the same way that, say, Sneetches or Grinch has. In these instances . . . well, I think any pronunciation you hear in your head when you read it is probably right. But for the audiobook, we had to make our best guess.

So if you’re one of the devoted audiobook readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss and one of the Seussian words doesn’t sound quite right to you . . . take comfort in knowing that our pronunciation is right. And so is yours.

PW Says BDS is A-OK

Reviews for Becoming Dr. Seuss are continuing to roll in; the latest comes from the Old Gray Lady of book reviewers, Publishers Weekly.

I’ve never done particularly well in Publishers Weekly. Not that they’ve torpedoed me necessarily, but the best I usually get is a shruggish “eh.” And that’s why I’m delighted with their review for Becoming Dr. Seuss, which is perhaps the most effusive they’ve ever been about anything I’ve written:

Biographer Jones (George Lucas) delivers a comprehensive and thoughtful look at famed children’s author Theodor Geisel (1904–1991) . . . Jones does not ignore problems in Geisel’s early work, including some racial stereotypes. He also gives full credit to Geisel’s first wife, Helen, as a guiding hand for some of Geisel’s best-loved books. While acknowledging Geisel’s flaws and debts to others, Jones convincingly shows him as a transformative figure in children’s publishing, both as author and cofounder of the Beginner Books imprint. Fans of Dr. Seuss will find much to love in this candid but admiring portrait.

The full review is here. And boy, believe me: I appreciate it.

A Star-Bellied Kirkus

One of the first reviews for Becoming Dr. Seuss is in, and it’s from the always-respected and often-feared Kirkus Reviews, the book reviewer with the Seussian-sounding name. And I’m absolutely thrilled they gave Becoming Dr. Seuss one of their highly-coveted starred reviews.

Here’s a bit of that review, which appears in its entirety in the March 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews:

“A rich, anecdotal biography of one of the bestselling authors in publishing history. Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), aka Dr. Seuss, created more than 60 books, classified mostly as readers for children. However, as Jones (George Lucas: A Life, 2016, etc.) points out in this engaging, page-turning work of Seuss scholarship, Geisel was writing and illustrating for children and adults simultaneously . . . Used to being perceived as a funny guy, Geisel evolved into a serious thinker about how to develop books that would encourage children to read while also enjoying the learning process. Jones is particularly masterful in this vein, showing how Geisel and other key collaborators collectively revolutionized reading education, with Dr. Seuss always reserving the final say . . . Though the narrative is strictly chronological, it never bogs down because the character sketches and publishing anecdotes are so well-rendered, and Jones is especially skillful with foreshadowing. Although sometimes exasperating to work with because of his exacting standards, Geisel comes across as a mostly kind, well-intentioned person. Whether readers are familiar with Dr. Seuss books or not, they will find this biography absorbing and fascinating.”

Becoming Dr. Seuss comes your way on May 7. If you’re so inclined, you can pre-order from any of your favorite booksellers. And I thank you.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

I was born one merry morn
Under the sign of Capricorn.
(I wasn’t really, but it rhymes.)

— Dr. Seuss, Notes on his abandoned Non-Autobiography

Happy 115th birthday to Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Seuss Geisel on this date in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1904. (That makes him officially a Pisces.) I love photos of writers and artists at their desks, so here are a few of Ted Geisel doing his thing at his desk, and in his office, throughout his lengthy career.

It’s no coincidence that today is also National Read Across America Day. Read something. And when you’re done, create something. Dr. Seuss would want you to.

It’s Nearly a Book

IMG_6981

These arrived on my doorstep yesterday: advance reader copies (ARCs) of Becoming Dr. Seuss.  ARCs are usually sent around to reviewers, but they’re by no means the final version of the book.  (Heck, if you’ve got an ARC of Jim Henson: The Biography, you’ve got a version of the book with a completely different prologue than what appeared in the final.) While I don’t anticipate any changes in the text of Dr. Seuss as significant as that, the ARC still doesn’t have the photo insert, nor does it yet have the index.  But this gives you a good idea of what the final version will look like; it’s reeeeally close to becoming a real book. The next time I see it, it’ll be a real hardcover.