October 24, 2010

Oh, The Brat Books You'll Write

Some folks are stoked by the news that a previously unknown, unfinished Dr. Seuss manuscript came onto the market. [It sold at auction for $42,000.] Ted Geisel had begun it in the late 60s and shelved it, and then in 1983, when his former assistant suggested he polish it up, Geisel declined because, obviously, it sucked.

But it's his letter to his assistant, though, that caught my eye. Geisel wrote,

I may be wrong of course...so why not send it to Harper and Row who do very good brat books and several times have made best sellers out of properties that I've rejected.
Charles Cohen titled the chapter of his biography where Geisel makes the switch to children's literature "The Annual Brat-Book", a term Geisel used with friends to describe what he was working on. He apparently had a bit of a complex about writing children's books instead of "real" books. But that was way back before WWII, and Cohen made it sound like he'd gotten over it.

On Nov. 27, 1960, Geisel wrote a column for the LA Times titled, "Writing for Children: A Mission." I haven't found it yet in its entirety, but Henry Jenkins quotes from it in his chapter on Seussian politics in Hop on Pop:

Children's Reading and Children's Thinking are the rock bottom base upon with the future of this country will rise. Or not rise. In these days of tension and confusion, writers are beginning to reliase that Books for Children have a greater potential for good, or evil, than any other form of literature on earth. They realize that the new generations must group up to be more intelligent than ours.
His working title for the column, it turns out, was "Brat Books On The March."

1960 was the year Green Eggs and Ham was published, and after Geisel had written almost all his best books. Did he know he was on the edge of a nearly uninterrupted, three decades-long streak of cranking out brat books?

By the time Geisel turned down his crappy, old sports manuscript in 1983, he'd already phoned in crap like The Tooth Book (1981, as Theo LeSieg), and his Random House imprint Beginner Books had already inflicted The Berenstain Bears upon the world. Which is fine, I suppose, as long as I don't have to buy them. Or read them to my kid.

I'm interested to see more about where this brat book concept comes from, though, and where it's been. Because it certainly kept Geisel warm at night.

2 Comments

Man, I was really hoping that lost manuscript would finally bring some gender parity to Geisel's oeuvre. It's about time for "Glom on Mom." I'm a father who is tired of being hopped upon.

Thanks for the info ! I enjoyed your post !

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