Children's books

Book review: New Dr Seuss an almost spookily precise addition to the canon

With less fanfare than the rediscovery of Harper Lee's manuscript Go Set a Watchman, another juggernaut literary estate recently found itself with a lucrative new classic on its hands.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:03pm
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With less fanfare and controversy than the rediscovery of Harper Lee's manuscript Go Set a Watchman , another juggernaut literary estate recently found itself with a lucrative new classic on its hands. After Theodor Geisel - Dr Seuss - died in 1991, his widow Audrey gathered a collection of sketches and drafts into a box and forgot about them. A couple of years ago, the now 93-year-old Geisel, her longtime assistant and Cathy Goldsmith, the designer at Random House who worked on the last six Dr Seuss books, rediscovered them. It turns out they were the skeleton of a complete story. Out of a collection of black-and-white drawings and faded, typewritten rhymes taped to the pictures, they have created an almost spookily precise addition to the Seuss canon.

The publishers believe the new book was composed amid a burst of creativity unleashed by the success of 1957's The Cat in the Hat, and the little boy and girl in the story are almost identical to the brother-sister pair in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, published in 1960.

In this new story, the little boy and girl must choose a pet, any pet, before their time runs out. But the pet store is full of distracting delights and the choice is overwhelming: "FISH FISH FISH FISH," yells the little girl at one point.

The book has been described as a dramatisation of an important lesson that all children must learn: how to "make up the mind that is up in my head". But this process is surprisingly stressful - the most striking spread in the book shows only the children's faces, staring at each other in desperation. The book takes place in a recognisable world that only really turns Seussian towards the end, when the children consider the merits of a tall creature with gangly limbs that can curl up under a desk, and wonder whether dad would spring for a tent to house a huge, snoozing Yent.

But most of the options, although infused with personality, are perfectly real: a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a goldfish. This makes it hard to shake off real-world questions: Are goldfish and dogs really interchangeable pets? Why do the children have an ironclad deadline but no other parameters to make their decision? Why, twice over, are they confronted with a parade of animals marching across a dark and forbidding background bearing banners that read "MAKE UP YOUR MIND"?

There's another obvious real-world problem: "shopping" for a new pet is thoroughly outmoded, and we no longer treat animals as interchangeable commodities. The publishers earnestly encourage children to find their pets at a shelter and to remember that "committing to caring for a pet as a cherished, not captive, companion, is a big decision". It's wise and important advice, but it all casts rather a chill over Seuss' anarchic spirit.

What Pet Should I Get?  by Dr Seuss  (Random House)

The Guardian