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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.