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  • The Unsung Dr. Seuss:Theo. Le Sieg
  • John Gough (bio)

Everybody knows Dr. Seuss—but who is Theo. Le Sieg? Some time after Dr. Seuss, already famous for his vigorous prose and verse tales, and for their cartoon illustrations, inaugurated the "Beginner Book" series with the 220 word vocabulary "reader" The Cat in the Hat (1957), Theo. Le Sieg joined the "Beginner Book" team of authors with Ten Apples Up On Top! (1961). Surprisingly, Le Sieg's twenty-year career in children's literature seems to have gone unnoticed by critics. What is even more surprising is that Dr. Seuss and Theo. Le Sieg are, more or less, one and the same. Those books which Dr. Seuss actually wrote, but which he did not illustrate, were then published under the joint names of an author, called Theo. Le Sieg, and the illustrator, whoever that happened to be. pen-name of Theodor S. (Seuss) Geisel, Jr., Seuss being his mother's surname. Indeed, before achieving success as Dr. Seuss, Geisel had used such pen-names as Quincy Quilp, Dr. Xavier Ruppzknoff and Dr. Theophrastus Seuss (Cahn 1957). "Le Sieg" is simply "Geisel" spelled backwards.

The identification of Le Sieg with Dr. Seuss/Geisel is further confirmed by the copyright acknowledgment in In A People House (Le Sieg 1972), which credits Dr. Seuss and A. S. Geisel with copyright. Before 1972, the copyright for Le Sieg was the publisher Random House. A. S. Geisel is also a collaborator with Dr. Seuss in some of the Dr. Seuss Beginning Beginner Books, such as Great Day For Up (1974), and even such major Dr. Seuss works as The Lorax (1971). In fact one of the Le Sieg books gives Audrey S. Geisel sole credit for Wacky Wednesday 1974). It appears that sometimes Theo. Le Sieg is not Dr. Seuss at all: in fact, Audrey S. Geisel is Theodor Geisel's second wife, and acts as color advisor and editor, thereby sharing copyright.

Because not all the books which Dr. Seuss wrote but did not illustrate are attributed to Le Sieg, the issue of authorship is further obscured. For example, Great Day For Up is written by Dr. Seuss (copyrighted by Dr. Seuss and A. S. Geisel) and illustrated by Quentin Blake, an artist whose zany, boneless characters share much affinity with Dr. Seuss's cartoon style.

In the early stages of my work on this essay, I was unable to clarify this confused issue of authorship any further. So I wrote to Dr. Seuss about the identity of Le Sieg, and he was kind enough to reply at some length.

Historically, says Dr. Seuss, Le Sieg came into existence for the following reasons:

As editor in chief of Beginner Books, one of my problems has always been the appalling scarcity of authors capable of and willing to endure the pains of writing books using only a mere hand full of words.

Consequently, when a hoped-for author fails to produce, I am frequently faced with an incomplete line of books for autumn publication. Thereupon, I look in my trunk. In my trunk are many Dr. Seuss [End Page 183] manuscripts that for one reason or another I do not wish to illustrate myself.

It is not that they are, in my opinion, inferior. It is because I believe that Seuss is the wrong man to illustrate them. Most of them call for more realistic animals than he likes to do, or for human characters that he doesn't do very well at all.

We can, then, conclude that Theo. Le Sieg is predominantly Theodor S. Geisel (with recent assistance from A. S. Geisel). But what of Le Sieg's achievement as a picture-story text writer, especially in comparison with that of his Geisel-alter ego, Dr. Seuss? A consideration of the lack of critical recognition of Le Sieg might help us to better understand Le Sieg's achievement.

Critics of children's literature have a strong tendency to praise books whose illustrations satisfy current standards of modern art or high art, and to disregard books whose illustrations do not meet those standards. They also tend to consider, predominantly, only those books that are...


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