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Dr. Seuss at War

"Join the C.B.C [Civilian Bomb Corps]!"
"Buy War Savings Bonds & Stamps"
"You, Too, Can Sink U-Boats"
"Insure your Home Against Hitler!"

Those cartoon headlines were all written by Theodor Seuss Geisel, who is much better known as the popular children's book author and illustrator Dr. Seuss. Between the timing of writing children's books, he served as the chief editorial cartoonist for the liberal New York newspaper "PM" from 1941 to 1943, drawing more than 400 cartoons, including a series of war bond cartoons. He opposed the horrors of Hitler and Mussolini and was highly critical of isolationists. In 1942, he used his pen to support the U.S. war effort with posters for the Treasury Department and the War Production Board. Too old for the draft, but wanting to contribute, Geisel then served with Frank Capra's U.S. Army Signal Corps unit making training movies. It was during this period that he was introduced to the art of animation and developed a series of animated training films featuring a trainee called Private Snafu (as in the military term SNAFU, of course). Through his irresponsible behavior, the cartoon private sarcastically demonstrated to soldiers what not to do while at war - including, don't take your malaria medication or repellant and don't zip your lips.

Geisel wrote four children's books before the start of the war. The first was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. After the war, he returned to writing children's books and achieved critical success. His most popular, and maybe his most important, was created after a published report on illiteracy among school children. It concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding, a textbook editor at publisher Houghton Mifflin, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize, then asked Geisel to cut the list further to just 250 words and write a book. Using just 236 of those words, the delightful result was The Cat in the Hat with its simplified vocabulary, whimsical drawings, and readable rhythms.

When Geisel died in 1991, he had 44 children's books to his credit that he had written or illustrated, including such all time favorites as Green Eggs and Ham; Hop on Pop; If I Ran the Zoo; One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish; Horton Hears a Who; Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories; and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His book Oh, the Places You'll Go is a popular gift for graduating students. Most of his 60+ books were published under his well-known pseudonym, Dr. Seuss. For the 12+ books he wrote but didn't illustrate, he used the pen name Theo. LeSieg [that's Geisel spelled backwards]! One he authored as Rosetta Stone. His books have been translated into more than 15 languages and more than 200 million have been sold. But that's not all! His works have inspired 11 children's television specials, two television series, a Broadway musical (called a "Seussical"), four feature length motion pictures, and an island at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Florida. His honors included a Legion of Merit, two Academy awards, two Emmy awards, a Peabody award, and the Pulitzer Prize.

For more information ...

Dr. Seuss’ Biographies: http://www.catinthehat.org/history.htm and http://www.seussville.com/seussentennial/resources1.html

A Catalog of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss: http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dspolitic/topfrm2.htm

Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, edited by historian Richard H. Minear, The New Press, 1999. Two hundred of the "PM" cartoons were reproduced for this book.

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