Literary lightning strikes this week for the second time this summer: Once again a freshly unearthed manuscript linked to a beloved classic by a celebrated author has been published. And although it’s fair to say that the rhyming lines and familiar characters of Dr. Seuss’s “What Pet Should I Get?” will not generate the same amount of controversy as Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” the ambiguous, abrupt ending of the picture book for young readers may launch some heated discussions, though probably only among children.
Written over 50 years ago and rediscovered by Dr. Seuss’s widow, Audrey Geisel, and his longtime assistant, Claudia Prescott, in 2013, “What Pet Should I Get?” follows the brother-sister team that readers first met in “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” as they visit a pet store and struggle to choose an animal to take home.
There are Seussian hallmarks on every page of “What Pet Should I Get?”: daffy rhymes, woolly creatures — some that resemble their real world counterparts and others that are hybrid species, for sure — and the heavy black lines, especially around the eyebrows and mouths, which make the characters, both human and not, so expressive.
Children who love animals (as Dr. Seuss did) will delight in the array of pets considered by Kay and her brother: The boy narrator favors a dog at first: “I took one fast look . . . I saw a fine dog who shook hands. So we shook. So I said, “I want him!” His sister, in blue plaid pants on the facing page, has other ideas: “But then, Kay saw a cat. She gave it a pat, and she said, “I want THAT!” Then the pair see a puppy, a kitten, a bird, and a rabbit — all so lovable that it becomes even harder to choose. Things only get more complicated when Kay discovers the fish.
But choose they must: “MAKE UP YOUR MIND,” reads the series of banners paraded by animals of the Seussian sort (Is the first a galloping goat with gazelle-like horns? Could the last one be a kangaroo with floppy ears?). That’s the lesson, a hard one for kids, which Dr. Seuss aims to teach in this book. And even if you are immune to the charms of his repetitive text and the frantic mood of the story wears you down you have to admire Geisel’s follow-through: When Kay and her brother finally settle on a pet they march out of the store with the animal in a be-ribboned basket. The lid, lifted slightly, reveals only a pair of eyes, leaving readers to make up their own minds about what pet Kay and her brother get.