The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories. By Dr. Seuss. Random House. $15.
Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories. By Dr. Seuss. Random House. $15.
The inimitable although often imitated Dr. Seuss (1904-1991) – whose pen name rhymes with “voice,” not with “loose” – continues to bestow gifts upon us even though he has long since departed this world. Thanks to the diligent research of Seuss aficionado Charles D. Cohen, short illustrated stories originally published in magazines – mostly in Redbook – are now available again in book form, their original illustrations color-enhanced to book quality. These are not “big” stories – there are no huge thematic revelations here, no introductions of outstanding but previously unknown characters, no new paths to follow for Seuss lovers of any and all ages. But there are some delightful further adventures of existing characters (or characters very similar to known ones), and some ongoing explorations of areas of continual Seuss focus: greed, imagination, very strange creatures, invented words, and the entirely logical extension of an initially ridiculous premise.
The seven stories in The Bippolo Seed and the four in Horton and the Kwuggerbug were not so much “lost” as misplaced, and Cohen’s introductions to the books explain how he found them and what the tales’ backgrounds are. The intros are fine for adults, but kids will justifiably skip straight to the stories themselves, as well they should. The Bippolo Seed is about a wondrous wish-granting seed and two characters who become overly greedy in imagining what they can get from it. The Rabbit, the Bear, and the Zinniga-Zanniga shows a quick-thinking rabbit outsmarting a hungry bear by noticing, or pretending to notice, something very small. Gustav, the Goldfish features a Seussian fish (resemblance to the one in The Cat in the Hat is scarcely surprising) that responds at great length, or rather great size, when overfed. Tadd and Todd is about twins trying to differentiate themselves through more and more outlandish approaches. Steak for Supper features a parade of oddball creatures following a boy home in hopes of sharing the family’s steak dinner. The Strange Shirt Spot is about a migrating spot, very much like the one in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and the trouble it causes. And The Great Henry McBride is the story of a boy daydreaming of all the jobs he will do – simultaneously – when he grows up.
In the second book, Horton and the Kwuggerbug is another look at the always-honest elephant, here trapped in the phrase “a deal is a deal” by a crafty and devious bug. Marco Comes Late is one of those wonderful Seussian tall-tale stories, in which a boy explains at greater and greater length just why he did not get to school on time. How Officer Pat Saved the Whole Town is a hilarious logical-extension story, in which the policeman of the title imagines how one small event might cascade into larger and larger and larger ones, eventually putting the entire municipality at risk – if he fails to take action. And The Hoobub and the Grinch features a different Grinch from the one who stole Christmas, trying in a manipulative way to sell something unnecessary to a naïve Hoobub – and succeeding. Dr. Seuss, who himself did advertising work for a time, knew this subject particularly well, and parodied it here and elsewhere to considerable effect. But he was always gentle about it, and that is what all these formerly “lost” stories have in common: a gentle kind of humor, with gently delineated characters, making the tales’ morals and messages go down so easily that readers will scarcely be aware they have been given messages at all…until they think about the tales a bit more. It is the extent to which Dr. Seuss stories invite that sort of thoughtfulness that makes them so special – that is one thing that makes them exceptional, anyway. For more – plenty more – regale yourself with these rediscovered stories and re-meet a doctor whose influence has scarcely waned in the two-decades-plus since his demise.
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