Tag Archives: Dr. Seuss

Triple Crown

There are three major newspapers in which we tellers of tales and spinners of yarns–whether those yarns or tales are fiction or non-fiction–love to see our work reviewed: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. What makes these three the trifecta? Mostly its because they each have large circulations that extend well-beyond their home markets–they end up in front of lots of readers, reading the papers in hotels and airports or on iPhones and laptops. They’re also papers with different audiences and different, often distinctive, points of view.

I’m thrilled, then, that Becoming Dr. Seuss has run the Triple Crown–and seems to have emerged out the other side in good shape. If you’re so inclined, you can click here to read the review in The Wall Street Journal (under the headline, “‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’: Who Killed Dick and Jane?”, which I think Dr. Seuss would have loved). Because WSJ is behind a subscription paywall–and therefore you may not be able to read the entire thing–here’s a quick peek:

“A fluid and enjoyable new biography . . . Brian Jay Jones takes a long appraising view of the life, career and creative evolution of Theodor Seuss Geisel . . . In this lively chronicle, Mr. Jones tackles the controversial elements of the Seussian oeuvre in a forthright way, setting them in the context of both the times and his subject’s own life.”

Next, here’s the review from the Washington Post, “a look at the prankster workaholic behind the iconic characters.”

And here in the New York Times is what might be one of my favorite reviews of anything I’ve written ever, “‘The Cat in the Hat’ and the Man Who Made That,” written by the brilliant author and essayist Adam Gopnick.

Finally, I want to thank all of you, who have been so enthusiastic about Becoming Dr. Seuss. I appreciate all of you.

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.

Becoming Dr. Seuss in New York, Boston

We’re nearly a week away from the publication of Becoming Dr. Seuss–and I continue to be thrilled with the various places I’m seeing it mentioned. Several days ago, it showed up in Boston Magazine as one of Seven Can’t-Miss Events in Boston in May 2019. Given that Dr. Seuss is a Massachusetts native, I’m pretty pleased to get a shout-out from his home state. Thanks, guys

Over the weekend, the New York Post ran a long piece on Dr. Seuss himself, called “How Dr. Seuss Found the Juice for His Most Beloved Stories,” in which they were kind enough to call the book “wonderful.” Again, thanks, folks.

Oh, the Places I’ll Go!

The fine folks at Dutton books are very kindly sending me on a short book tour the week Becoming Dr. Seuss is published — and they’ve also just as kindly put all the information right here in this colorful card. Are you nearby on any of these dates? If so, swing by, hear me talk a bit about Dr. Seuss, and say hey!

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.

What They’re Saying About Becoming Dr. Seuss

Becoming Dr. Seuss is very nearly ready to be released in ARC format–that’s publishing lingo for Advance Reader Copy, which is a soft-cover version of the book that gets mailed out to reviewers and others in advance of the book’s actual release date. When the ARCs roll off the press, they’ll also feature some of the first blurbs from a few readers who got an early peek at the book. I’ve had these in pocket for a bit, but they’re now up on the Amazon listing, so I think I can share them here:

“Finally! The solution to the mystery of where Dr. Seuss earned his Ph.D.  Brian Jay Jones also reveals the true identity of Chrysanthemum Pearl; the etymology of the word “nerd”; the political leanings of Horton and Yertle; and the relationship of Krazy Kat to the one in the hat. It comes as no surprise that Theodore Geisel was a born story-teller; prying truth from fact, Jones pins our favorite fabulist nimbly, colorfully, and splendidly to the page.”—Stacy Schiff, author of The Witches

“Readers of Becoming Dr. Seuss may be astonished to learn in this rollicking ride of a biography that Theodor Seuss Geisel—progenitor of the most anarchic animals of all time—was himself a radically bizarre creation, every bit as strange and emotionally uncoordinated as a Snoo or a Sneetch.  Childless, chain-smoking, and cocktail-swilling, bawdy and argumentative, Geisel got his unlikely start promoting Standard Oil’s fly-killing insecticide (his ad campaign featured the immortal tag line “Quick, Henry! The Flit!”); drawing coarse political cartoons (sometimes racist or misogynist); and serving as a World War II understudy to Frank Capra, making films teaching grunts to evade death and mosquitoes.  His epic transformation into one of the most beloved and bestselling children’s writers of all time, winner of Oscars and a Pulitzer, is a poignant, affecting tale of a man who mastered the art of concision through imagination and sheer toil yet could never bring such exactitude to his own life, callously replacing his wife and editor of forty years, a suicide, with her rival.  In Jones’s telling, the Seussian legacy emerges triumphant, elevating the power of children’s literature.  “I no longer write for children,” Geisel said proudly, at the end of his life. “I write for people.” Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires:  The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

“Once again, Brian Jay Jones takes us on a beguiling deep dive into the life of one of the leading lights of American popular culture. Written with verve and warmth and a close attention to both the life and the times in which it was lived, Becoming Dr. Seuss brims with charm and humor from beginning to end.”—William Souder, author of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson.

“Brian Jay Jones, a terrific researcher and writer, has produced a richly textured and riveting book about one of the most fascinating artists America has ever produced. If you want to understand how genius is formed—and how this particular genius performed his magic—this marvelous book is the place to start.” — Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life

My thanks to each of these brilliant writers not only for their kind words, but also for taking the time to read Becoming Dr. Seuss in the first place. I know how busy they all are.