A first-of-its-kind history of Ted Geisel and the beloved children’s book series he created
The Beginner Books have always had an enriched history in my household. So much so that the original teeth marks of my son graces the covers of Cat in the Hat and other “Beginner” books that we subscribed to when he was young. I treasure those books so much, they bring back good memories. Paul V. Allen has finally given the world the story of I Can Read It All by Myself: The Beginner Books Story.
I am much older and I still love all the books that came out from this line of “Beginner” books. I grew up with them and passed them to my kids and will also pass them to my grandchildren. Dr. Seuss has left a long imprint on literature for kids in both print and film form. The “Beginner” books have spawned so many fertile minds onto bigger creative endeavors later on in their lives. If you examine pop culture today you will easily unearth those roots to the Dr. Seuss universe.
I Can Read It All by Myself: The Beginner Books Story published by the University Press of Mississippi will transport you back to a more innocent time and meet the creative process that churned out some classic literature for kids who were proud to read books on their own. My son will attest to this, he got a lot of fiber out of his books with his generous teeth marks. Now that what I call consuming books. Just to let you know, he no longer devours books. He is an avid reader. I highly recommend you buy the hardcover edition if you have not outgrown consuming books, I hear it has more fiber, if not buy the softcover edition from your favorite book store.
In the late 1950s, Ted Geisel took on the challenge of creating a book using only 250 unique first-grade words, something that aspiring readers would have both the ability and the desire to read. The result was an unlikely children’s classic, The Cat in the Hat. But Geisel didn’t stop there. Using The Cat in the Hat as a template, he teamed with Helen Geisel and Phyllis Cerf to create Beginner Books, a whole new category of readers that combined research-based literacy practices with the logical insanity of Dr. Seuss.
The books were an enormous success, giving the world such authors and illustrators as P. D. Eastman, Roy McKie, and Stan and Jan Berenstain, and beloved bestsellers such as Are You My Mother?; Go, Dog. Go!; Put Me in the Zoo; and Green Eggs and Ham.
The story of Beginner Books—and Ted Geisel’s role as “president, policymaker, and editor” of the line for thirty years—has been told briefly in various biographies of Dr. Seuss, but I Can Read It All by Myself: The Beginner Books Story presents it in full detail for the first time. Drawn from archival research and dozens of brand-new interviews, I Can Read It All by Myself explores the origins, philosophies, and operations of Beginner Books from The Cat in the Hat in 1957 to 2019’s A Skunk in My Bunk, and reveals the often-fascinating lives of the writers and illustrators who created them.
Paul V. Allen is a literacy specialist at the elementary school level. He is the author of The Hopefuls: Chasing a Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream in the Minnesota Music Scene, I Can Read It All by Myself: The Beginner Books Story, and Eleanor Cameron: Dimensions of Amazement, the latter two published by the University Press of Mississippi.