The Life and Times of Dr. Seuss


Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The town was booming, with several large manufacturing companies and a thriving population of German immigrants. Ted’s grandfather and father owned a successful brewery, and the future Dr. Seuss grew up in the midst of a bustling, prosperous extended family. A child during World War I, Ted acquired a sense of patriotism that would remain with him his entire life. As a Scout, he worked to sell U.S. War Bonds. In an oft-told story, he sold so many that he was supposed to receive an award, along with 10 other boys, from President Theodore Roosevelt. However, during the awards ceremony, Roosevelt found that he had only nine medals to give, and when he got to Ted, standing at the end of the row, he asked, “What’s this boy doing here?” For the rest of his life, Geisel suffered from acute stage fright, and sometimes skipped speaking engagements altogether.


As Prohibition loomed and threatened to put his father out of business, Geisel was accepted into Dartmouth College. Enrolled as an English major, he proved to be only a mediocre student. Ted divided his time between his studies and writing for the Dartmouth humor magazine, Jack-o-Lantern. It was there that he discovered his love of designing books with pictures and words, though he said it took him “almost a quarter of a century” before he felt he had succeeded.

As Geisel’s senior year came to a close, his father asked where he’d be going next. When Ted answered that he’d gotten a scholarship to study at Lincoln College in Oxford, his father immediately passed the news on to the town newspaper, who published it the next day. Unfortunately, Geisel was exaggerating a bit when he said he’d “gotten” the scholarship; he’d applied, but ultimately was rejected. Nevertheless, his father sent Geisel to England in 1925 for a three-year stay.


It was during his time in Europe that Ted met his first wife, another American student named Helen Palmer. Geisel often told the story of how he and Helen broke the news of their relationship to Helen’s mother. The first night Mrs. Palmer met Geisel, Helen, out of the blue, said, “Mother, what do you think of ‘this’ as a husband?” “But I don’t even know his name!” her mother exclaimed. Geisel reached into his billfold and pulled out a piece of paper. “Madam,” he said, “my card.”

After Geisel and Helen married and moved to New York City, he started to get work in magazines and advertisements. His “Quick, Henry, The Flit!” campaign for Flit bug spray was legendary, and he soon branched out into other Standard Oil products, where his unique illustrations seemed to have the power to sell virtually anything. During this time, he published his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.


As World War II loomed, Geisel found himself increasingly drawn to the war effort. He had no sympathy for isolationists, and criticized them copiously along with the leaders of Japan, Germany, and Italy. He wound up in Hollywood, doing animation and screenplays for Colonel Frank Capra’s propaganda unit. At one point, while taking a film to Europe to present to various generals, he found himself stuck behind enemy lines. Thankfully, he was rescued soon after by U.S. troops.

Ted-with-books_216x322After the war, the Geisels, who were now living in La Jolla, California, took a trip to Japan to work on a cultural piece for Life magazine. Tiring of the movie business, Geisel wanted to spend more time on his children’s books. With the advent of the baby boomer generation, children’s books were in high demand, and “Dr. Seuss” became the acknowledged master. He held exceptionally high standards for himself and the people he worked with, including his wife, Helen, who authored the Beginner BookA Fish Out of Water. Geisel was well-known at the publisher’s office for paying close attention to the details of printing, particularly with regard to the colors used in his illustrations.


After a long illness, Geisel’s wife Helen died in 1967, a year after his first TV cartoon aired. Geisel was grief-stricken. In addition to overseeing his business functions, his wife had served as his primary companion, collaborator, and motivator.


After remarrying to Audrey Stone Diamond, he resumed his hectic schedule. Geisel produced films nearly every year through the 1970s, and two to three books a year almost without pause between 1957 and 1976. After 1980 he slowed down, publishing one book a year, then every two years, until his final book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, was published in 1990. At the age of 87, Theodor Seuss Geisel passed away from oral cancer on September 24, 1991 in his home in California.

Photos © Seuss Enterprises


Susan Schade


    • Toad on the Road: In this adventurous tale, a sprightly toad and his friends set off to explore their surroundings and revel in their independence. This fun book encourages young readers to be aware of the world around them and to be open to new discoveries.


    • Cat on the Mat: This inspirational story follows a cat’s pursuit of his dream of making the gymnastics team, teaching young readers the importance of tenacity and determination.


    • Snug House, Bug House: In this Bright and Early book, a group of industrious bugs make it their mission to turn an abandoned tennis ball into their new home. The easy words make this book ideal for beginning readers.


    • I Love You, Good Night: This widely popular board book is a favorite of mothers and kids across the world, celebrating maternal love through imaginative comparisons. The use of familiar, everyday objects and simple text appeals to beginning readers.



Stan and Jan Berenstain

During World War II, Stan served as a medical artist at an Army hospital in Indiana, while Jan performed engineering drawing for the military. After Stan’s Army service was over, the two were reunited and married on April 13, 1946. The newlyweds began collaborating on cartoons, submitting their illustrations to many magazines before finally becoming regular contributors to such famous publications as The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

Impressed by their magazine cartoons, an editor at a New York publishing house contacted the Berenstains and offered them a book deal. Inspired by the recent birth of their baby, Leo, they published Berenstains’ Baby Book in 1951 as a lighthearted guidebook for new and expectant parents. They also penned a comic strip, Sister, from 1953 to 1955.

After their second son was born, the couple submitted a new children’s book to Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who ran the Beginner Book division of Random House. The first book in the Berenstain Bears series, The Big Honey Hunt, was published in 1962. After several more books under Dr. Seuss’s editorial leadership, the Berenstains started their own line of books in 1974.

As the Berenstains composed the dozens of books in their famous series, they found inspiration in the everyday trials and tribulations of parenthood, also drawing on their own childhood experiences. They focused on timeless themes that would resonate with every generation, such as friendship, obedience, and respect for others. Some of the classic titles the couple authored and illustrated are: Inside, Outside, Upside Down, Bears On Wheels, The A Book, He Bear She Bear, The Berenstains’ B Book, and The Bear Detectives to name a few. The Berenstain Bears has evolved into a multi-channel franchise, with a television series, stage productions, and toys based on the book series.

After a battle with cancer, Stan died on November 26, 2005 in Pennsylvania at the age of 82. Nearly a year after his death, Jan was inducted into the Hall of Fame at her alma mater, Radnor High School. The couple’s younger son, Mike, is also a children’s author and illustrator, and continued to work with Jan on new Berenstain Bears books until her death on February 24, 2012, at the age of 88.


Richard Scarry

Scarry’s books are famous for incorporating human traits and personalities into dozens of different animal species. His most famous titles have included Busy, Busy World; Busy, Busy Town; Best Word Book Ever; Best Bedtime Book Ever; Cars and Trucks and Things That Go; Please and Thank You Book; and What Do People Do All Day? Many of his most popular books have been adapted into animated films and compilations. Two of his titles, The Best Mistake Ever! and Other Stories and Pie Rats Ahoy!, were included in the Beginner Books series, while The Early Bird was part of the Bright and Early Books series.

It was during his stint as a textbook illustrator that Richard Scarry met his wife, Patricia Murphy, a children’s textbook writer. Later, Patricia would collaborate with Richard in the writing of many of his popular books, including Little Bear, The Bunny Book, Good Night, and The Fishing Cat. Scarry’s son, Richard Scarry Jr. (often known as Huck Scarry), followed in his father’s footsteps and became an accomplished children’s illustrator.

Much of Scarry’s work was completed in the Switzerland chalet he purchased in 1972 to use as a studio. It was there that he died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 74.



In addition to his studio experience, Eastman indulged his creativity by authoring and illustrating children’s books. Writing under the pen name of P.D. Eastman, the author was inspired by the style of the famous Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss). Born in 1904, Dr. Seuss was Eastman’s contemporary; the two even collaborated on The Cat in the Hat Dictionary. Although Eastman wrote in his own unique voice, his books were branded as Dr. Seuss™ Beginner Books.

In 1941, Eastman married Mary Louise Whitman. The couple had two sons, Alan Eastman and Peter Anthony (Tony) Eastman. Tony went on to become a children’s author and animator himself, providing some of the illustrations for his father’s book Big Dog… Little Dog.

Eastman joined several eminent organizations throughout his career, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Westport Artists, the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, and the Audubon Society. By the time of his death on January 7, 1986, Phil (P.D.) Eastman had written and/or illustrated 18 children’s books, many of which enjoyed national acclaim. His titles continue to inspire, educate, and entertain beginning readers in homes, schools, and libraries across the country.