The creative vision of author and illustrator Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, introduced fantastic characters into the imaginations of generations of kids.
Now, two decades after his death, a new book, The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories, is reintroducing a collection of Geisel's more obscure tales, including Gustav the Goldfish and Tadd and Todd.
The stories were rediscovered and the book compiled by Charles Cohen, a dentist who is passionate about all things Dr. Seuss. Cohen has also published a visual biography of the beloved children's author, The Seuss, the Whole Seuss and Nothing But the Seuss. He tells NPR's Neal Conan how he found the forgotten stories, what he learned about Geisel's life and what the author means to children today.
On Cohen's search for the lost stories
"I was interested in finding out what Ted Geisel did other than his children's books. And when I first started looking into it, I found a bunch of misinformation. And being the type of personality that I am, I started digging and doing research. And as I was doing that, I was seeing references to certain names of stories that I've never heard of before. And at first I thought it was more misinformation, something that was misattributed to him or perhaps a parody that people mistook for being a real Dr. Seuss thing. ... When I started to find out that these might be real, I got all of the [Redbook magazines] over at the Boston Public Library, drove an hour and a half out there to see them and photocopied them and found out that these really were the real-deal Dr. Seuss stories."
On Dr. Seuss, the political cartoonist
"Between 1940 and 1942, Ted Geisel did over 400 political cartoons for PM newspaper. At that particular time ... his point of view was that, although he was of German descent, that America needed to get into the war against Germany. ...
"Because of the nature of cartooning and the prevailing vision of things at that time, it was sort of a shorthand. If you drew a certain character, looked a certain way, it was clear that that was Adolf Hitler. If you drew them looking another way, that was Mussolini. ...
"Humor at that time was making fun of everyone. ... It could be women, it could be Jews, it could be blacks, it could be Irish, it could be Swedish. He made fun of everybody because everyone did.
"And then you have a transition through these political cartoons to the person who ends up being someone who promotes tolerance through books like The Sneetches, where it doesn't matter if you have a star in your belly or not; through Horton Hears a Who!, that a person's a person no matter how small. And it is a fascinating thing to see someone go through that transition."
On how Dr. Seuss encouraged early readers
"This is probably the biggest legacy that Dr. Seuss has left. I mean, we all love reading the stories, but the thing that he did was to get people to read at a younger and younger age; to not say you have to wait until 7 or 8 or even 6, but to start getting people to read as early as age 3. ...
"There's a particular incident in which a 3-year-old started reciting to him all of Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. And he said to the parents ... 'I don't understand how he's doing that. I don't write for children of this age. How can he know the story?' And what he learned was that through his language, through his use of rhythm and rhyme ... through his playfulness, that children will be able to memorize an entire story even if they can't read it."