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Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline W. Smith
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Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
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101 Things You Thought You Knew About the Titanic ... but Didn't! by Tim Maltin
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The Pirate's Daughter by Robert Girardi
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
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Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat: 11/13/12

cover art

My very first library memory involves Dr. Seuss. It's not the typical childhood memory of checking out Dr. Seuss picture books. This was in the days before our branch library opened the San Diego library ran a the book room with a small selection of books near a local grociery store. It was also a place where we could pick up books placed on hold. So we were there to check out The Lorax (I had a thing about the way the trees were drawn) — but that's not the point of the story.

Behind me was standing a man a little older than my grandfather. He had reddish blond hair and a little bit of a beard. And he seemed to be shyly looking at my Dr. Seuss book.

At this point my mother whispers a question. Did I know who that man was. I thought she was asking me if he was somehow a friend of mine (or more likely, one of my grandmother's horde of friends. She always seemed to know at least one person where ever she went). I shook my head. She whispered the answer, "That's Dr. Seuss. But his real name is Mr. Geisel."

If I had known my swear words back then, the very next thought would have been: "the f—?" Instead, being about two at the time, I earnestly disagreed in my best inside voice. He couldn't possibly be Dr. Seuss because EVERY ONE KNEW the books were written by the Cat in the Hat. (Those I Can Read books often have the Cat in the Hat in a circle on them). And what did Mr. Geisel say? He agreed with me. See!? Of course the books were written by the Cat in the Hat!

And that, Dear Reader, brings me to today's review: Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline W. Smith. Smith's biography looks at Geisel's life through his artwork — especially those of his midnight paintings.

Geisel was one of those artists who was driven to create. From reading this book, I don't think he could have turned off the desire to draw, paint, write or sculpt if he had wanted to. His artwork can be divided into distinct types (which Smith gives very Seussian names to): youth, commercial art for adults, commercial art for children, and art for himself.

Despite the different venues, the Seussian style is there. Until the start of the PBS cartoon and the various Seuss websites / games, no one by Ted Geisel created created art in that style. While the post-Geisel Seuss-style artwork has similar curves and overall whimsy, it lacks Geisel's keen eye for color and that spark. Put a real Seuss against an homage and you'll see the difference immediately.

If you want to see vast wonderful, beautifully reproduced examples of Geisel's artwork and learn how his midnight paintings influenced his professional artwork and sometimes even inspired children's books, The Cat Behind the Hat is a must read. If you're a diehard fan of Dr. Seuss, it's a must purchase.

Five stars

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