Thursday, February 16, 2012

And to Think That I Saw it on Detroit Street

Nipper and the Queen, 2012

I grew up in the generation of Little Golden Books and Dr. Suess. I was first introduced to Dr. Suess with The Cat in the Hat and Yertle the Turtle. One of my favorite Dr. Suess books, though, is And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. A little boy, wanting to have something impressive to tell his father when the old man gets home from work, conceives of an elaborate fantasy involving a vast menagerie of animals and human oddities that supposedly marched down Mulberry Street that day.  If memory serves me right, the little boy decides in the end not to test his father’s patience with such an outlandish tale and instead tells him about real life, which turns out to be more interesting. (That Suess was always about life lessons, wasn’t he?)
Dr. Suess, whose real name was Theodore Geisel, came along at a time when talented people could still send unsolicited manuscripts and illustrations to famous magazines and be discovered. Geisel graduated from from Dartmouth and then studied at Oxford University. He came into the workforce during the Great Depression and got by doing advertising artwork for General Electric, NBC and others. (Didn’t Kurt Vonnegut also start out as a writer at GE? Their corporate marketing and PR departments must have been an incredible incubator of talent in those days!)
Shall we shag now, or shall we shag later? 2012
Many people probably think of Dr. Suess as an illustrator. His drawings and characterizations continue to fascinate. But who can forget the marvelous poetry of many of his books? Aside from Sunday school prayers, I’ll bet I’m not the only one of us who first learned to recognize poetry from reading Dr. Suess books. (Suess wrote poetry almost exclusively in anapestic tetrameter; essentially four beats to each line.)
I had one of those Mulberry Street moments not long ago on Detroit Street in Portsmouth, Virginia. While it’s name might conjure images of a grand urban boulevard, Detroit Street is an unassuming cross street, home to a couple of restaurants, churches, assorted small businesses and residences.
One of the storefronts on Detroit Street has been converted into a home. The front window, however, retains its original retail appearance and displays a number of old toys and action figures. One walking by could easily be forgiven for thinking this is still a working antique toy shop.
And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was one of Dr. Suess’ first books and, as if you needed yet another reason to believe in the power of persistence, was rejected by more than two dozen publishers before Suess found one who would publish it. I have no idea what path these action figures took to arrive in an old store window on Detroit Street. But if some little kid saw it and then went home and told his father that he’d seen the Queen of England wave at Nipper, the RCA Victor dog, I bet he’d stuff a bar of soap in that boy’s mouth for lying and send him to bed without supper.


  1. If that kid told his teacher what he saw they'd be pumping him full of ADHD drugs right about now. Funny how they have pharmaceutical solutions for the kids who were just hellions or juvenile delinquents when we were growing up.

  2. I always felt inspired to learn how many times his work was rejected before he was successful. He was such a creative genius--always uplifting. I traveled to the Geisel library at UC San Diego's campus and they have a lot of his old memorabilia there. I just love Dr Suess.