Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, in the United States. Today, decades after his death in 1991, he’s still universally remembered around the world, especially the English-speaking world, as Dr. Seuss, and as an icon of children’s literature. His books have sold more than 600 million copies and have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
As Theodor Seuss Geisel aka Dr. Seuss said, “Humor has a tremendous place in this sordid world. It’s more than just a matter of laughing. If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.” And so, with these poetic words, generations of children have enjoyed reading or being read to, and still do, the adventures of Dr. Seuss’ wackiest characters from The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax to The Grinch and the gentle and kind Horton the Elephant.
In short, by pursuing his life long love for drawing and the idea of creating a good story rather than a true story, Seuss made reading literary nonsense fun, while at the same time hoping to shape his young subjects into better thinkers.
Without further ado, here is what I believe are the top ten Dr. Seuss books. Many of them are personal favourites I read as a kid and subsequently years later read to my kids. Enjoy!
10. And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
The book that introduced us to Dr. Seuss was And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street in 1936. The inspiration for this very first Dr. Suess book came while Theo Geisel was aboard a ship crossing the Atlantic. Geisel in arguably a moment of brilliance or madness amused himself by putting words together to the rhythm of the ship’s engine. What came from his initial world play would grow into a story about a boy who fantasized about all the elaborate things he saw walking down Mulberry Street. Of course, all that he really saw was a plain horse and wagon, but why settle for boring when you could be amazed by things such as a blue elephant and much more!
Fun fact: The original title of the book was A Story That No One Beat, but Geisel would later be asked to change it by Vanguard Publishing. Moreover, Vanguard was the only publishing group who had faith in Dr. Seuss and his story. Something like 27 others had passed on it before an old friend of Geisel in New York City passed it to the President of Vanguard Publishing.
9. If I Ran the Zoo.
The inspiration for If I Ran the Zoo is generally attributed to Theo Geisel’s parents in particular his father’s involvement with the Springfield zoo. (Springfield, Massachusetts is where Geisel was born and raised.) But as soon as you open the cover of this book, you’ll soon realise that the zoo in this book is no ordinary zoo! Published in 1950, If I Ran the Zoo is one of Dr. Seuss wildest books in which he runs riot with a host of fantastical creatures and machines ever dreamt up for a children’s book. The story opens with a young boy called Gerald McGrew, who wonders what his local zoo would look like if he were in charge. Before long we are introduced to an array of fanciful beasts with some of the most absurd names imaginable like the Tufted Mazurka from the African island of Yerka or the incredible Thwerll, a bug whose legs are snarled up in a terrible snerl or even a Nerd from the land of Ka-Troo.
Fun fact: Dr. Suess is credited with inventing the word ‘nerd’ which we nowadays associate with a person who is socially inept or boringly studious and not from the land of Ka-Troo.
8. Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! was the last Dr. Seuss book published before the author’s death in 1991. Anyone who’s anyone can read this book and feel Theo Geisel’s love of life and his hopes of inspiring readers who’s own fears feel like they are sometimes too great to be overcome. Interestingly, what Theo Geisel as Dr.Seuss does well here in this book is apply all of his old Seussian tricks into every page, as we follow the book’s young hero on his life adventure. On a personal note my favourite quote is :“Step with great care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing act.” Actually, it might also be this one that comes right at the end: “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!
7. Dr. Seuss’s ABC.
Simply entitled Dr. Seuss’s ABC, it sounds like a boring book, right? But in fact it is far from boring, it is arguably one of the most enjoyable alphabet books ever written for kids. With a host of hilarious illustrations for each letter of the alphabet accompanied with some very amusing short verses or rhymes, Theo Geisel succeeds where others have failed making reading fun for kids. Interestingly, there is a wonderful behind the scenes story about Dr. Seuss’s ABC that isn’t well known but is definitely worthy of a mention here below. The story goes that in an attempted to keep Geisel’s publishers mind on their job during proofreading, for the letter X, Geisel amusingly drew a large-breasted woman with the following verse, Big X, Little X, XXX. Someday kiddies you will learn about sex.’ Of course, as much as the adult me would have liked for this to get through a weary publishers hands, this funny and somewhat cringeworthy verse thankfully actually was never published.
6. Fox in Socks.
“My tongue isn’t quick or slick, sir. I get all those ticks and clocks, sir, mixed up with the chicks and tocks, sir. Who sees who sew whose new socks, sir?” This silly quote pretty much sums up the hilarious fun you’ll have reading Fox in Socks out loud. I even love the warning that comes at the beginning of the book: Take it slowly. This book is dangerous! While things start of nice and easy before you know it, Dr. Seuss’s tongue-twisters will have you certified insane by the end. But before we move on, here is one more insanely tough tongue twister just for fun: “Through three cheese trees, three free fleas flew. While these fleas flew, freezy breeze blew. Freezy breeze made these three trees freeze. Freezy trees made these trees’ cheese freeze. That’s what made these three fleas sneeze.”
5. Horton Hatches the Egg.
There is something adorable and sweet about Horton the elephant, one of Dr. Seuss most beloved creations. In fact, I would dare say Horton is nearly everyone’s favourite elephant probably just behind Disney’s Dumbo. Interestingly, Horton is the first main character that is an animal, breaking from Theo Geisel’s early fairy tale format which saw him assign a human protagonist to his first four books. Geisel wrote the first of two stories to feature Horton the elephant in 1940 entitled Horton Hatches the Egg. (The second book would arrive some fourteen years later in 1954 called Horton Hears a Who.) In short, the story begins with Horton’s friend Mayzie the bird, who is sick to death of sitting on her egg while she impatiently waits for it to hatch. So when Horton walks by she convinces him to take over for her while she takes a “break.” Of course, Mayzie conveniently disappears leaving Horton on egg hatching duty for what seems like an eternity. Through thick and thin Horton’s loyalty and commitment to the job at hand is hilarious with a wonderful twist at the end of the book.
4. Green Eggs and Ham.
If you were to ask me what book I thought was the best selling Dr. Seuss book of all time, I would have said without hesitation The Cat in the Hat, and I would have been wrong! The best selling Dr. Seuss book of all time is actually [drum roll]…..Green Eggs and Ham.The 1960 best-selling Green Eggs and Ham came about when Bennett Cerf, the co-founder of Random House, challenged Geisel in a $50 bet that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words or less. Geisel accepted the challenge and ended up pocketing not only $50 but a whole lot more with the success of the book. The story begins simply enough with the loveable rogue Sam-I-Am asking another unnamed character in a hat “Do you like green eggs and ham?” When the unnamed character replies, “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am”, the book becomes a chase across different settings with Sam-I-Am relentlessly pestering the unnamed character, until he eventually gives in and tries the green eggs and ham. And so with the unnamed character finally relenting to Sam-I-Am, what might Green Eggs and Ham teach us about life? Well, that it’s okay to try something new. In the years that followed its release Green Eggs and Ham would become an instant pop cultural talking point, especially the beloved character of Sam-I-Am.
Fun fact: One of my favourite movies of all time starring Sean Penn is called I Am Sam (2001). The title of the movie is in essence derived from the opening lines “I am Sam, Sam-I-am” from the book, which is incidentally read in the movie by Sean Penn’s character to his young daughter Lucy.
3. How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
In the Dr. Seuss Christmas classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas, a determined grumpy thing called the Grinch wants to put an end to the festive season. Why? Well, he hates Christmas having put up with it for fifty-three years. Determined to stop Christmas from coming to Who-ville, the Grinch hatches up a plan to steal everything Christmas related – stockings, presents, plums and even Christmas trees – by sliding down the chimney of every Who home. The inspiration for this beloved Dr. Seuss book came one day while Theo Geisel was in his bathroom: “I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noted a very Grinchish contenance in he mirror. It was Seuss! Something had gone wrong with Christmas, I realized, or more likely with me. So I wrote the story about my sour friend, the Grinch to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost.” Geisel, of course, would rediscover the joy of Christmas, as would his alter ego the Grinch. Interestingly, How The Grinch Stole Christmas came out the same year as The Cat in the Hat. Both books were such huge hits in 1957 that Dr. Seuss popularity grew beyond Geisel’s wildest dreams.
2. The Lorax.
When it comes to Dr. Seuss and storytelling, this my friends I believe is one of his greatest works. It is a gloomy haunting story about the overreaching effects of greed and logging. The Lorax was also I believe arguably the first kid’s book that truly put ideas about the environment and conservation into the heads of children. Moreover, it cannot be stressed enough that The Lorax really was a book truly ahead of its time when it was published in 1971. It is still also completely relevant today, especially with what’s going on with the systematic destruction of the Amazon rainforest. In short, I’m afraid to truly provide a satisfying summary of The Lorax, I would need more than a few lines and a great deal of my time. Therefore, like the Once-ler, I would honestly require payment from you, to tell you anything at all about the story of the Lifted Lorax. But I’ll do you a favour instead. You’d be better to bypass my blue pail and pick up the book and discover the mystery of The Lorax yourself!
1. The Cat in the Hat.
The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, is universally adored for being one of the greatest children’s page-turner ever produced. Why it works so well as an exciting way to learn to read is because it was fun and livelier than many of the dull children primers introduced in schools in the middle of last century. With wonderfully funny illustrations teamed together with a strategically limited word count, young readers were introduced to an absurd and silly cat who unexpectedly turns up at the home of two bored unsupervised children, a girl named Sally and her brother, who are stuck indoors, staring out their window on a cold and rainy day. Before we know it, our unwelcomed guest the Cat in the Hat and his sidekicks Thing One and Thing Two are up to no good in an afternoon of hijinks and drama. Theo Geisel once said: It is the book I’m proudest of because it had something to do with the death of the Dick and Jane primers.” Of interest, The Cat in the Hat became the first in a series of Beginner Books that still exists today. Moreover, with the critical success of the book, a sequel followed soon after in 1958, entitled The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.
Great article Robert. I loved the Dr. Seuss books when I was a child.
I never had ABC as a kid but it’s probably my favourite Seuss now.