Brian Jay Jones and the biography ‘Becoming Dr. Seuss’

Many in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have experienced the books written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss. Theodor Seuss Geisel, born in Massachusetts and dying in California, was the subject of the May 2019 Brian Jay Jones biography named Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination.

Becoming Dr. Seuss 2 - Brian Jay Jones, left, and Theodor Seuss Geisel(Brian Jay Jones, left, and Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Jones wrote the book Becoming Dr. Seuss).

As biographies go, Brian Jay Jones offers what feels like a rigorous treatment of the man that became Dr. Seuss. We see Theodor Seuss Geisel growing up in the northeastern United States during the period leading up to and through World War One, Prohibition, and through a college period where being of German ancestry and from a beer brewing family were not without difficulties in the United States. Dr. Seuss wasn’t a particularly studious college student, though he was capable when interested. We learn how Dr. Seuss grew up, some intent to become a teacher without the ambition for the work, and ultimately a path that led Seuss to use his unique drawing style as an advertisement man and political cartoonist.

Becoming Dr. Seuss 3(The biography Becoming Dr. Seuss among books written by Dr. Seuss).

In college at Dartmouth and in some advertisements and political cartoons drawn in his youth and through his time in the army during World War Two, Dr. Seuss struggled with drawing in racist and sexist stereotypes of the day. To his credit, Brian Jay Jones did not shy away from addressing the fact of these points in Theodor Seuss Geisel‘s background. When asked about this later in life, Dr. Seuss would acknowledge their existence and speak to the fact of there being objectionable things in addition to having matured and changed. Dr. Seuss was challenged from a feminist perspective, a Japanese American perspective, and generally from his early use of stereotypes in his material. As a children’s literary book writer, these subjects are raised through a general absence of female protagonists as well as in the book Horton Hears a Who! Read this Mental Floss depiction for more detail.

Becoming Dr. Seuss 4 - Theodor Seuss Geisel(Dr. Seuss holding a copy of his book The Cat in the Hat).

It was as a result of relationships during World War Two as a member of the United States Army that the children’s writer we know as Dr. Seuss really emerged. Seuss learned to write concise stories that moved action along quickly and concisely. In fact, his notion for not condescending to kids led to a pair of principles that should apply. First, the story should be “all meat and no filler.” Essentially, this meant that like a metaphoric train, a story for kids should ramp up like the sound of wheels on a train. At first things are slow like a train leaving a station. Within a short period of time, the motion of the wheels should be consistent and continuous.

Becoming Dr. Seuss 5- Theodor Seuss Geisel stamp(A United States Postal Service stamp for Dr. Seuss and some of his famous characters, circa 2004).

The second main principle for children’s books is that they should address some but not all the needs of a child. Not every story needs to include all or even most of the following needs of kids, but a story will not succeed if not addressing the following needs for security, to belong, to love and be loved, to achieve, to know, for aesthetic satisfaction, and/or for change. That list of seven items formed the basis of Dr. Seuss‘ books for children.

Becoming Dr. Seuss 6 - Oh, the Places You'll Go!(Dr. Seuss‘ last book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, circa 1990).

Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, aimed to write for children without condescending to them. In writing in the manner he did, Dr. Seuss meant to write for kids in a manner that treated them as emotionally fuller people than did books Seuss did not like, such as Dick and Jane books. Dr. Seuss believed in writing for people, and the last book he wrote, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, may be the best example of just such a book. The book is largely populated by people, and was the going away present to celebrate Theodor Seuss Geisel‘s career. The biography Becoming Dr. Seuss by Brian Jay Jones gave me what feels like a fair sense of who Theodor Seuss Geisel, that is Dr. Seuss, was. The narrative included as definitive a telling as I have seen. As a result, I give the book 4.25-stars on a scale of one-to-five stars.

Matt – Wednesday, June 19, 2019


The memory of a life scholastic – Jean Marzollo

The writer of more than 150 books for children has died. Jean Marzollo wrote books for the Scholastic Publishing brand of education and media that has thrived through my childhood and for a long run before and after. Marzollo’s life is captured in this New York Times article from April 13, 2018.

Marzollo 2(Jean Marzollo)

Ms. Marzollo passed at age 75 in New York state after a fulfilling career writing books for children. Her I SPY series of books were written in rhythm and rhyme. The notion of this trait was to “lure and excite the ear,” as Marzollo said in the biography on her website. “Children love rhythm and rhyme, and so do I.”

Marzollo 3(A book in the I SPY series)

While many of the books by Marzollo were accompanied by images or illustrations with collaborators such as Walter Wick, the I SPY series that began in the early 1990s also led to other works.

Marzollo 5(My First Book of Biographies)

Per the piece in The New York Times, Marzollo became editor of Let’s Find Out magazine in 1972. The monthly magazine for kindergartners led to Marzollo’s first book in 1978, Close Your Eyes (illustrated by Susan Jeffers). The book was about a boy having trouble falling asleep. Other I SPY books really cemented Marzollo‘s reputation.

Marzollo 4(A book in the I SPY series)

The book In 1492 is a biographical book for kids that describes the first voyage of Christopher Columbus into the new world. The point here is to show that Marzollo‘s literary themes for kids ranged from the fanciful to factual, words used in The New York Times article.

Marzollo 6(The book In 1492 by Jean Marzollo)

Jean Marzollo lived a life that aimed to educate children. Her recent passing at 75 years of age, while sad, reminds us that she left us with much of a fanciful yet factual world that educated children and adults alike in the concept of raising the literacy of children. There is much to respect and remember in this life’s aim to inspire a love for reading and literacy.

Matt – Friday, April 20, 2018

Grieving as Literacy from San Diego

We at Matt Lynn Digital sometimes aim to discuss childhood literacy here with our blog. Many times this takes the form of discussing books that we like, authors that have inspired us, or trends in the profession. Today, we are inspired by the notion of a second-grader from southern California that has something to offer about coping with loss.

Today’s story is that of grieving for 7-year-old Noah Orion from Del Mar Hills Academy near San Diego, California. Thanks to this piece from The San Diego Tribune in California, we are introduced to a primary-aged child who, thanks to an idea with his father (Harley Orion) had taken to writing and drawing pictures of his thoughts after losing his mother to cancer.

As reporter Pam Kragen and photographer Nelvin C. Cepeda looked to tell us in their piece from February 2, 2018, the original notion of this journal was to serve as a positive means of channeling positive memories of mother Sandy Orion for 7-year-old Noah and his 5-year-old sister, Naomi Orion. Sandy Orion had died of cancer, and the remaining Orions still had living to do.

Grieving 2(Harley Orion with Noah and Naomi)

The family came up with the idea of finding a way to pay that thought process forward. As indicated by Kragen in her news piece:

“Now, Noah and his father, Harley Orion of Carmel Valley, are planning to turn that germ of an idea into a professionally printed booklet that can be used by other children going through hard times. They’ve lined up more than 100 investors through an campaign and half of all profits will go toward cancer research.”

Harley and Sandy Orion first chose not to share details of the cancer diagnosis with their children until the physical symptoms of the disease manifested itself in ways that could not be concealed. Their choice was to share the prognosis honestly, which in theory would allow the kids to cope on terms that were age appropriate.

The publishing of the journal from the hand of Noah will take the name Noah’s Good Days, Bad Days Journal. More than 100 investors are supporting the publishing project, with half of all profits said to go toward cancer research.

Grieving 3(Noah Orion looking at a journal entry from when his mother, Sandy Orion, was in poor health).

According to the news account, the plan is to sell paperback books to the public for $12 sometime in March. Our point at Matt Lynn Digital in sharing this story is that literacy is not only about reading and writing, which this book promotes. The idea is that reading literacy also promotes an emotional literacy and resiliency. Again, from the news piece:

“People have a lot of opinions about the effects of grief on children, but most agree that the first few years after a loss like this are critical to the trajectory of their lives,” [Harley Orion] said. “Losing a parent is always going to be a major event in your life, but it doesn’t have to change who you are or prevent you from having a wonderful life.”

Matt – Sunday, February 4, 2018

Behind children’s literature with Paddington, Rosie and Jim, and the Lore and Language of Schoolchildren

In 2017, the world lost figures of substance in children’s literature. We take this moment to remember the folks that helped us meet A Bear Called Paddington, the lovable dolls Rosie and Jim, and a folklorist who, with her husband, brought us The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.

Michael Bond created the character Paddington, who the world first met when the book A Bear Called Paddington was published in 1958. Paddington We lost Bond in June of 2017. In the New York Times’ sharing of this news, we learned of warm feelings from the publication.

“Certainly the character participated in some typical British activities in his books. They included London theater, a cricket match, a visit to a waxworks museum, a riding competition and antiques shopping on Portobello Road. Paddington also had a known predilection for marmalade sandwiches. But most important, he is unfailingly polite with a strong sense of morality, and he always tries to do the right thing.” Anita Gates

Children 2(In illustration of Paddington bear)

A second live action movie in the Paddington universe, namely Paddington 2, releases in late 2017 or early 2018 for much of the United States.

Pat Hutchins gained recognition early on for Rosie’s Walk, which first introduces us to the characters that would inhabit the british television programming for Rosie and Jim. We lost Ms. Hutchins in November after a battle with cancer.

Children 3(Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins)

The characters Rosie and Jim are described by the following Internet Movie Database descriptions, which again gives us a quite proper insight into a British sensibility when discussing children’s literature.

“Rosie and Jim are two rag dolls that magically come to life when no-one is looking. They explore different aspects of Great Britain as they travel along the canal network aboard the narrow-boat “Ragdoll” with the boat’s owner.” IMDB

Children 4(The characters Rosie and Jim)

Iona Opie joined her husband Peter as a folklorist and collector of children’s literature. We lost Ms. Opie in late October, though her influence in research is felt with The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes offers “over 500 rhymes, songs, nonsense jingles, and lullabies traditionally handed down to young children,” according to the book listing in the opening paragraph of this blog.

Children 5(The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren)

The Lore and Language book is aimed at adults and seeks to leave “the nursery, with its assortment of parent-approved entertainments, to observe and investigate the day-to-day creative intelligence and activities of children”.  The themes within aim to “bring to life the rites and rhymes, jokes and jeers, laws, games, and secret spells” of children in making language a real and living thing that parents can share with their kids.

Children 6(Iona Opie, left, Pat Hutchins, center, and Michel Bond)

Literacy in general, and the subject of children’s literacy in the fuller context, has taken a sad turn with the loss of three influential members of an important club this year. With this post of love, Lynn and I aim to remember a trio of masters. It was also in the discussion of how to purchase for a recently born member of our family for the holidays that this theme takes on greater meaning for Lynn and I.

Matt – Saturday, December 23, 2017