I am away from my desk, but I wanted to pop in with some words of wisdom from Dr. Seuss, as I've just finished reading BECOMING DR. SEUSS: Theodor Geisel and the Making of an American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones. I learned a lot about Ted the man and Dr. Seuss the writer... and I found some valuable advice for writers and poets currently trying to get published in the children's market.
|a favorite Berenstain Bears title|
When Geisel and Phyllis Cerf (his editor) joined forces to create Beginner Books, who should walk into his office but the Berenstains, with what would become THE BERENSTAIN BEARS series. Here's what happened:
Ted, Helen, and Phyllis Cerf greeted the Berenstains warmly. Then Geisel immediately started asking pointed questions about the “internal workings” of the bears. “We need to know more about them,” said Geisel. “What are they about? Why do they live in a tree? What does Papa do for a living? What kind of pipe tobacco does he smoke?”... Geisel didn't necessarily want the Berenstains to include all that information in the story, but he wanted them to have an absolutely clear grasp of their characters and their world -- that “local insanity” that made Dr. Seuss books so oddly coherent. “It was slowly dawning on us that Ted took these little seventy-two-page limited vocabulary, easy-to-read books just as seriously as if he were editing the Great American Novel,” the Berenstains said later.
“Think short sentences,” Geisel instructed them as he picked apart their plot telling them it had a good beginning and ending, but no real middle. And nothing it seemed, was too small or unimportant. Even the length of the lines of text mattered; lines had to look good on the page, and to the extent possible, be of similar length.
On their way home, the Berenstains wondered what Ted must think of them.
“You know,” said Stan, “I don't think he thinks about us at all. I think all he things about is the work.”
Here's Dr. Seuss on writing verse for kids:
The difficult thing about writing in verse for kids is that you can write yourself into a box. If you can't get a proper rhyme for a quatrain, you not only have to throw that quatrain out, but you also have to unravel the sock way back, probably about ten pages or so... And you also have to remember that in a children's book a paragraph is like a chapter in an adult book, and a sentence is like a paragraph.
And what were Dr. Seuss's wishes for children who read his books?
“Ultimately,” said Geisel, “I'd prefer they forgot about the educational value, and say it was a lot of fun.”
What, indeed, was (is) the point of it all? Why did Dr. Seuss do this work? Why do any of us do this work?
“Just to spread joy,” said Geisel, then broke into a wry smile. “How does that sound?”
Perfect, Ted! Just perfect!
When I see my grandchildren smile after we read a book together, I know it's a good one, and it's spreading joy. It's a lovely post, Irene, and advice to take seriously! Thanks!ReplyDelete
I can definitely relate to that having to unravel the sock way back!ReplyDelete
Yes me too..."unravel the sock way back" is something that will stick with me! Thank you for your continued generosity in sharing your reading, Irene! xxReplyDelete
Dr. Suess was a genius. I'm requesting this book from my library right now. Love the metaphor of having to "unravel the sock way back" with regard to writing fluid, cohesive verse for children. Lots of unravelled socks littering my office floor!!ReplyDelete
Great post Irene, thanks for sharing Ted Geisel's poignant thoughts on writing picture books! I'm going to share your post with my current Children's Picture Book Class.ReplyDelete
We share being fans of this mythic man. I have another deep-dive book on the great Dr. S. (treasure found in resale, from an exhibit of his life's work, including the advertisement yrs., held in California.) And what shines bright is how serious he took the task of writing fun into books.ReplyDelete
Appreciations for all these inspired excerpts. And happy trails to you, dear Irene!
"Unravel the sock way back" will stick with me, too. Thanks for the peek into this book, Irene. It's going on my TBR list right now. :)ReplyDelete
Happy Poetry Friday!
Great stuff! Thank you!ReplyDelete
This was great! Thank you! I have been asking myself about "purpose" in writing. I look at my stories and ask what do I want people to get from this. For my non-fiction, I want to present topics in a way that invites the reader to learn more. For fiction, I think I want readers to enjoy the character's journey. Thanks for the thought provoking post!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Irene for always...always giving me inspiration. Ted's personality and passion come through in this. I've heard that he wasn't such an easy person as his books. He had such great talent. I'm so glad to see his advice for poets.ReplyDelete
Oh, I love every bit of this! Yes on unraveling the whole dang sock. That's definitely what revising a book written in verse can feel like--and I'm in the middle of it right now! Thanks for sharing this, Irene. I'm going to go put this book on reserve.ReplyDelete
Oh, thank you for sharing, Irene. I need to read this book! So inspiring. I like Ted's words, "...you also have to unravel the sock way back." I think that is a great metaphor for any revision. Perhaps that's why so much of my writing is stamped "draft"... I don't have time to unravel the socks.ReplyDelete
Loved being able to peek into an interaction between Dr. Seuss and the "Bears"! Yes, it's all about the work (and the joy that comes from it) :-)ReplyDelete
This is a wonderful post, Irene, full of all sorts of good advice! I love the image of unravelling the sock--I got such a Seuss-y looking sock in my head when I read that, with lovely clashing bright stripes and pointed toes :) and perhaps a pompom or two.ReplyDelete
I remember when I discovered Dr Seuss. I read and reread everything in my school library. Then the librarian suggested I needed to start reading chapter books. She told me they were for younger readers. I've never forgiven her. I think I might have become a teacher librarian just to encourage readers to read whatever they want!ReplyDelete
My book group just picked this book for our list this year. I love all the insights you've shared, especially "just to spread joy." Indeed! Thank you for sharing, Irene!ReplyDelete