In the flurry of excitement over the release of Go Set a Watchman, we managed to neglect another enormous release of a previous unknown manuscript…Dr. Seuss’ What Pet Should I Get. And perhaps because this release opened with considerably less controversy than Harper Lee’s newest, we can delight in this book with undiluted, childlike joy.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was apparently quite a multi-tasker, and a notorious perfectionist, who would tinker endlessly at a project before passing it along to his people at Random House. As a result, when he passed away on September 24, 1991, there were a number of boxes in his studio set aside, including an envelope labeled “Noble Failures”, which were filled with illustrations that never found their way into his stories. I loved reading about this revelation, by the way. Isn’t it better to keep those bits and pieces of life in a special place where they can be respected and remember, rather than consign them to a trash bin? You never know when they will be just the piece you need, after all….
It is precisely because Dr. Seuss kept all these ideas within easy reach that we are able to read What Pet Should I Get? It turns out that a number of boxes had been moved around when the Geisel family’s house in La Jolla, California, was being renovated, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey (now 93, and still running the Seuss estate), and long-time assistant Claudia found a number of projects in an un-explored box. Included in that box was a series of illustrations with rhyming captions–enough to make a full book about a brother and sister who feel overwhelmed upon their visit to a pet shop. The archivists at Random House eventually realized that this book was written sometime between 1950 and 1960, around the same time that Dr. Seuss was working on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. But because Geisel had such a meticulous process when it came to constructing a book, Audrey and Claudia turned to the only person still working at Random House who had known Dr. Seuss…Cathy Goldsmith. You can read more about the incredibly painstaking process that led to the creation of the book in this terrific article from The New York Times, including how Goldsmith and her crew of miracle workers figured out the final text from reading Seuss’ rhymes out loud to see which words fit best, and how they resolved the issue of the books’ ambiguous ending.
Random House announced that some 200,000 copies of the book sold within a week of its release…perhaps not the 1.1 million copies that Watchman sold, but for a children’s book, this is still quite remarkable. But the best part is the joy with which this book has been welcomed into Dr. Seuss’ canon, which includes 46 other classics like Green Eggs and Ham and The Lorax…or my favorite, The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (check it out, it’s awesome!). Unlike Watchman, the very public respect, love, and delight that everyone involved exhibited while putting this book together makes it so much easier to read a book that Dr. Seuss may never have chosen to show the world. There’s always a sticky moral conundrum over whether to publish a work that an author never intended to see the light of day, but Audrey Geisel and Cathy Goldsmith both put their whole hearts into making this book a worthy tribute to its creator, and ensuring that it would meet even his exacting standards.
Just as comforting is the realization that between the pages of this book, readers will find exactly what they were expecting: inspiring illustrations, bright, vivid colors, and rollicking rhymes that will have you inadvertently speaking in verse for hours afterward. Dr. Seuss may have written books for children, but he never pandered, and he never spoke down to them. In treating them like little adults, he helped generations of children develop their imaginations and their vocabularies–generations who will be able to enjoy this new book with their children, as well. So come in an check out what is probably the last ‘new’ Dr. Seuss book to hit our shelves–and find a few more, perhaps, to treasure, as well!