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the story behind the book | kate tuttle

Brian Jay Jones goes behind the man behind the ‘Cat in the Hat’

david wilson for the boston globe

“I was not a kid who learned to read with Dr. Seuss,” said Brian Jay Jones. “My mom handed me and my brother beat-up Mad paperbacks and Peanuts paperbacks.”

But Jones did always love nonsensical poetry — another childhood favorite was “Alice in Wonderland,” with Lewis Carroll’s wild rhymes — so it seemed like a natural fit when Jones’s editor and agent suggested the biographer’s next subject be Theodor Geisel.

In “Becoming Dr. Seuss,” Jones chronicles Geisel’s journey from his childhood as the son of a German brewer in Springfield through stints in advertising and the army to his career as one of the world’s most influential authors of children’s books.


Writing about Geisel was fascinating, Jones said, because while Dr. Seuss is “fully formed in the American imagination,” it took Geisel himself years to get there. “One of the things I really wanted people to appreciate about Dr. Seuss is how he’s constantly evolving his craft, and how he really wanted to do good work.”

The book also explores Geisel’s flaws, including racist cartoons drawn during World War II. “He’s got some blind spots,” Jones said. “In his lifetime he recognized that.” At the same time, Jones added, “he’s not this whimsical clownish grown man with the heart of a child. This is somebody doing the work. This is a grownup.”

Jones’s previous books include biographies of Jim Henson and George Lucas. “I love to take on people who were groundbreakers in an industry and kind of reinvented their particular genre,” Jones said, “the big creative geniuses who are the game-changers in their field. I consider myself very fortunate,” Jones continued. “You do live with these people very intensely for the time you’re doing it. These are people that I enjoyed living with.”

Jones will read at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Historic Rotunda at American Ancestors, 99-101 Newbury St. For more information and to register, visit


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at