HANOVER, N.H. (AP) — Move over mockingbirds and watchmen. There’s a new Yent in a tent in town.
Dr. Seuss’ new book, “What Pet Should I Get?”, features the same siblings seen in his 1960 classic “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.” The book went on sale Tuesday, two weeks after the release of Harper Lee’s long-awaited second novel, “Go Set a Watchman.”
But unlike some fans of Lee’s 1960 book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” those who love Dr. Seuss are unlikely to be disappointed, says Donald Pease, author of two books about Seuss and an English professor at the author’s alma mater, Dartmouth College.
“It’s a classic Dr. Seuss treatment,” he said. “What it does is it brings a child, actually a brother and sister, into relationship by way of a problem almost every child addresses in her or his life: What pet should I get?”
As the siblings ponder which animal to acquire — Dog? Cat? Fish? — they start to imagine more fanciful creatures: the aforementioned Yent, or a “thing on a string.” All the while, they face the constraints of what their parents would allow. The final illustration, which shows two eyes poking out of a basket, leaves readers guessing about their choice.
Pease suggests Seuss didn’t publish the book because he used it as a jumping-off point for “One Fish Two Fish” instead.
“In a sense, the pet shop is giving the children access to the difference between the world of pets they can encounter in a pet shop, and the world of creatures they can only enter encounter by opening the book equivalent of a pet shop: the archive of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books,” he said.
For example, in “One Fish Two Fish,” the children have a Gox, a Gack, and a Wump with one hump.
Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Geisel, grew up in Massachusetts, but it was at Dartmouth that he found his passion for writing and drawing.
“I began to get it through my skull that words and pictures were Yin and Yang. I began thinking that words and pictures, married, might possibly produce a progeny more interesting than either parent,” he told the Dartmouth alumni magazine in 1975. “It took me almost a quarter of a century to find the proper way to get my words and pictures married. At Dartmouth I couldn’t even get them engaged.”
The Ivy League school is also where the Seuss pseudonym was born. When Seuss was a senior, he and his friends were caught drinking alcohol in his room during Prohibition. (“We had a pint of gin for 10 people, so that proves nobody was really drinking,” he recalled.) Part of his punishment included being booted off the staff of the campus humor magazine, but he got around the sanction by signing his cartoons with his mother’s maiden name and his own middle name: Seuss.
Unlike Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” in which the heroic Atticus Finch disparages blacks and condemns the Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw segregation in public school, the new Seuss book joins other Seuss classics such as “The Sneetches and Other Stories” and “Green Eggs and Ham” in affirming equality, Pease said.
In general, Pease said, the world that Seuss created didn’t have race or class distinctions but instead celebrated differences.