If you looked through the bookshelves of any child in America, chances are there would be at least several Dr. Seuss books. Amazingly, if you looked through that child’s parents’ childhood book collection, you would probably see many of the same Dr. Seuss titles. Theodor Geisel, born 100 years ago, wrote and illustrated 44 books as Dr. Seuss — books that still charm, educate and tickle the funnybones of children. Dr. Seuss’s books have also influenced a generation of children’s book authors. We asked some locally to expound on Dr. Seuss’s impact on their writing. . .
KAREN KATZ Who could not love Dr. Seuss? As a writer and illustrator, I have been influenced by the Dr. Seuss books in several ways. My books have very few words in them and rely a lot on the art. As a writer, reading Dr. Seuss helped me to see that simple text can be very effective. Of course, his use of rhyme is brilliant and something I wished I could do, but it is harder than it appears to be. One of my first books, Counting Kisses (Simon and Schuster), started out with a rhyming text. I remember reading a lot of the Dr. Seuss books to see if I could find solutions to my rhyming problems. I read passages like: I do not like them Sam I am I do not like green eggs and ham. But alas, it didn't help me to resolve my text, which was about kissing babies. The book was eventually written without rhyme. I have just finished a book called Potty Time (Simon and Schuster) and it was written entirely in rhyme. I had the Dr. Seuss books all over my studio this time! So what does rhyme with 'potty’? Even more important than Dr. Seuss’s use of rhyme and simple words, I find that his books tell stories that flow with a beginning and an end, lots of absurdity, and always some soul-touching thoughts. Who could ever forget these famous lines? I meant what I said and I said what I meant, An elephant’s faithful One hundred per cent. The feeling in his stories showed me that a really wonderful book needs to touch its readers in some way on a deeper level than just a good rhyme. In most of Dr. Seuss’s books, there is always something he wants his reader to feel. And that is something I strive for in my books. Here is one of my favorite Seuss thoughts: And when things start to happen, Don't worry. Don't stew. Just go right along. You'll start happening too.
Karen Katz, of Manhattan, is the author/illustrator of over 20 picture books including The Colors Of Us (Henry Holt) and the upcoming Ten Tiny Tickles (Simon and Schuster
DAN YACCARINO What can be said about the good doctor that hasn't been said already? He made us want to read and I can't think of anything more noble or honorable than that. His books empower us to invent creatures and create our own words. In fact, it became almost mandatory that we do. His books were the key that opened my own imagination and I will forever be in his debt. He inspires me — as an author, illustrator, and parent — to this day. In my life I've found that there are two kinds of people: those who love Seuss and those I’ll have nothing to do with. Dan Yaccarino, who lives in New York City, has written and illustrated over 30 children's books, including Good Night, Mr. Night (Harcourt), Unlovable (Henry Holt), and Zoom! Zoom! Zoom! I'm Off to the Moon! (Scholastic). His latest, Bittle (HarperCollins), comes out this month.
STEVEN SALERNO Like the millions of other children who read Dr. Seuss's creations, somewhere in my brain is permanently stored a tangle of phrases and images from those books: precariously balanced objects, fantastic vehicles and contraptions, strange furry creatures — and everything caught up in a frenetic symphony of motion! I recently acquired a beautiful copy of Dr. Seuss's first children's book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, published in 1937. The four-color press edition is still vibrant — 66 years later! I doubt the paper my picture books are printed on today will retain the same color integrity by the year 2069. (Of course, the Seuss books printed today will have the same problem, too). His books not only introduce the very young to fun words and twisting phrases presented by outlandishly entertaining characters and plots, but maybe an ingredient of their allure is they also hint at the chaos of the real world. My own drawing and writing style cannot be linked with that of Geisel's, but I am influenced by and in awe of the successful force of his creations. Most writer/artists making their way in the children's picture book arena are attempting to create a personal world of stories and the characters that inhabit them. In this regard, Dr. Seuss is the ultimate role model. Dr. Seuss's best books are pure expressions of sincere zaniness, yet fully believable and executed with near perfect integration of word and image. They flow from beginning to end, taking the child on a ride, which cannot possibly be stopped until the last page arrives (and leaving him with a desire to open the next Seuss book as soon as he can). No matter the style of contemporary creators of picture books, or what their influences have been, they would be thrilled if each book they released would leave its young reader eager for their next, just like a Dr. Seuss book. Manhattan-based Steven Salerno has illustrated eight books for children. He wrote and illustrated Little Tumbo (Marshall Cavendish) in 2003, and illustrated Bedtime (Philomel Books), by Christine Anderson, to be released in 2005.
PETER GLASSMAN Dr. Seuss was a major influence on me, first as a reader, then as a writer. I discovered the joy of reading on my own through his books. His rhyming nonsense words combined with his boundless imagination made me want to read his books over and over again. And, of course, without realizing it, I was learning valuable lessons from his stories that helped shape my character and view of the world. It was The Sneetches that showed me that racial prejudice was stupid; Horton Hears A Who that made me realize that everyone's entitled to respect and fair treatment — including kids; The Zax that compromise was essential if you wanted to get anywhere; I Wish that I Had Duck Feet that being myself wasn't so bad after all; and many, many more. Dr. Seuss influenced me as a writer of children's book mostly by setting such a high standard of quality in his books (and for discouraging me from writing in rhyme when I realized my rhymes could never measure up to his!). Reading his books as an adult helped me recall how I felt as a young child — how I saw the world very differently from the adults around me and how frustrated I was when adults told me that the way I saw things wasn't right, but their way was. In Dr. Seuss's books anything was possible, and so in mine, the young heroes may see things differently from the grown-ups — but as it turns out, what they're seeing is real and valid; it's the grown-ups who are often missing out on what's happening around them! Peter Glassman, Manhattan resident and founder and owner of the children’s bookstore Books of Wonder, is also the author of The Wizard Next Door, illustrated by Stephen Kellogg, and My Working Mom (both William Morrow). He contributed a preface to one of the stories in Your Favorite Seuss: A Baker’s Dozen by the One and Only Dr. Seuss (Random House), to be published in October.
ROXANE ORGILL As a child I was always slightly afraid of the Cat in the Hat, this strange-looking cat-guy who could make you do things you knew were wrong and could get you in big trouble. But as a writer I find Dr. Seuss’s books useful and inspiring because they are about sound. And sound is what motivates me as a writer. I'm a former music critic and a musician, so I can't help but get music and sound into my books, in one way or another. My picture book about Louis Armstrong, If I Only Had A Horn (Houghton Mifflin), is an obvious example; but I did it also in Go-Go Baby! (Marshall Cavendish), which is not about music. It's the adventure of a baby who delights in the sounds of the city while riding in a stroller and on a bus, train and ferry boat. I didn't dare rhyme (I'm not that good!), but the text is very rhythmical and not so far, in its love of sound, from Dr. Seuss's Gerald McBoing Boing. Or from Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, in which Seuss found — or made up? — such great "sound" words as "klopp" and "dribble dribble dopp." His books just shout to be read aloud. Roxane Orgill, of New Jersey, is also the author of Mahalia: A Life in Gospel Music (Candlewick Press) and Shout, Sister, Shout! (Margaret K. McElderry Books).
ROBERT SABUDA When I was a young boy, the only hardcover children's books in my house (besides pop-up books) were Dr. Seuss books. My mother held them in a special place of reverence although she couldn't quite put her finger on why. Now that I am an uncle, I think I know the answer. When I first read Hop on Pop to my 3-year-old twin nieces, I noticed how quickly their ears perked up when they heard those short, sweet rhymes. They didn't know what the words meant but they certainly knew what they liked to hear! The bright, graphic pictures were perfectly suited to the language, and they fell head-over-heels in love with his work. Today I'm amazed at how lucky I am to even work in the same field as Dr. Seuss. His flat, graphic bold images have been a constant inspiration, whether I'm working in picture books or pop-up books. People tell me all the time, “You certainly must love children since you create books for them,” and I do. But deep down inside, I’m really just making books for the child in me. And that child's hero was Dr. Seuss! Robert Sabuda, of Manhattan, is the illustrator of many bestselling pop-up books including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Paper Dragon. In the fall, his new pop-up, America the Beautiful (all Simon and Schuster), will be released.
JON SCEIZSKA Dr. Seuss rocked my 7-year-old-world. I was just starting to get a grip on the “Look. Look. See Spot run” universe in my second grade readers. I thought maybe that was how the world worked. Then I read If I Ran the Circus. Everything changed. The “wonderful plans of young Morris McGurk” — Mr. Sneelock making 500 gallons of lemonade, grappling the Grizzly-Ghastly, and being lassoed by the Wily Walloo — were instantly more real to me than anything I had seen in Dick and Jane. So of course, years later, one of the first manuscripts I submitted for publication was written in rhyming verse. And I will be saving editors’ and writers’ time across the world if I tell you now — you should probably not write children’s books in rhyming verse, unless you are Dr. Seuss. I was not Dr. Seuss. Mercifully enough for all concerned, that early manuscript was not published. Now, 15 years and nearly twice that many books later, I’ve stumbled on an idea too good to not write in verse. It’s the story of what happens to a kid when everything in his world becomes a science poem. Wildly and fantastically illustrated by Lane Smith, it’s called Science Verse. And it’s almost all poems. I’m still not Dr. Seuss. But I’d like to think of Science Verse in part as a tribute to the guy who got me thinking about what I might do if I ran the circus.
Jon Sceizska, who lives in Park Slope, is the author of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Time Warp Trio series. His new book, Science Verse, comes out this fall (all Puffin).
MELANIE HOPE GREENBERG The consistent musically rhythmic patterns of Dr. Seuss's poetry were comforting to me as an early reader. Learning words by remembering a rhythm gave me confidence to read more. I especially loved Horton Hears A Who. Dr. Seuss's books influence an artistic license for zaniness and freedom that reaches beyond the norm to the feeling of a truth within. He touches hearts, which inspires me to keep trying to re-create the energy of wonder inherent in children through my art and words.
Brooklyn Heights resident Melanie Hope Greenberg is the illustrator of A City Is (Henry Holt) and author/illustrator of At the Beach (Dutton Children’s) and Aunt Lilly’s Laundromat (Penguin Putnam).
JULIE MARKES I love Green Eggs and Ham. Well, not exactly, but it is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. It's fun to read, it has a great rhythmic quality, and, as with so many of Dr. Seuss's books, it teaches a lesson in disguise. And because the Dr. Seuss books I read to my boys are the same ones that were read to me, there is a comfort and familiarity with them that gives me a good feeling. I was a professional photographer B.C. (before children), so I'm relatively new to the children's book world. Dr. Seuss was a master of his trade. If any of my books were half as well received, or have a fraction of the lasting power, I would feel I have succeeded.
Park Slope resident Julie Markes is the author of I Can’t Talk Yet, But When I Do… and the just released Where's the Poop? (both HarperCollins)
MARILYN SINGER The question isn’t how has Dr. Seuss influenced my writing, but is there any children's book writer whom Dr. Seuss hasn't influenced? Who else has been so responsible for creating and sustaining an appreciation of clever wordplay? Who else has shown us that books can be touching, boisterous, wacky, principled, and just plain fun? Who else has made it all look so easy? I suspect we have Mr. Geisel to blame for all those bad attempts at picture books from those who don't know and those who should know better. But then we also have him to blame for the successes, as well. I know I have him to thank for a lot of my work. Even when I don't consciously recall the good doctor's words, they're there, somewhere in my brain, leading me to vivid rhymes and beat, fresh characters to meet, and astonishing trips down Mulberry Street.
Marilyn Singer is the author of over 70 books including the upcoming Creature Carnival (Hyperion), Block Party Today! (Knopf), and Face Relations: Eleven Stories about Seeing Beyond Color (Simon and Schuster). She lives in Brooklyn.