About a month ago, I went on an impulsive buying spree at Barnes & Noble. I mentioned in my review of Don Brown’s Odd Boy Out that the B&N near my place does not have a big selection of picture-book biography for children. Fortunately, Odd Boy Out and Kathleen Krull’s The Boy On Fairfield Street were in stock at the time. (I had also mentioned in my review that I only permitted myself to purchase 2 PB biographies at the time, so there were quite a few good ones that day that I wasn’t able to loot.)
I would have forgotten about this book had it not been for my random urge to clear the clutter in the room a few days ago. Tucked away in a small corner of the room, there was Kathleen Krull’s The Boy On Fairfield Street still inside the B&N shopping bag. I immediately dropped all other book prospects for NFM and decided that this picture book would make the cut for this wonderful weekly meme. Today’s Nonfiction Monday is brought to you by Books Together.
“Once upon a time, there lived a boy who feasted on books and was wild about animals.”
And so begins the story of a man who made a remarkable contribution to children’s literature – Dr. Seuss. Before Dr. Seuss, however, there was Ted Geisel. Subtitled “How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss,” The Boy On Fairfield Street speaks of Ted Geisel’s childhood before the birth of Dr. Seuss.
Born in 1904, Theodor Seuss Geisel lived in 74 Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts. Ted Geisel was one lucky boy. His house was only one block away from the library and six blocks away from the zoo. (I wish I lived in 74 Fairfield, too!)
“At night, their hoots and cries sometimes found their way into his dreams.”
Ted’s parents – Theodor Geisel and Henrietta Seuss – were very influential in developing his passion for animals and books. His father helped out at the zoo and eventually became the superintendent of the zoo. His mother fueled his love for books by helping him find books in the library. Her dream was to get Ted and his sister, Marnie, into college – as the first ones in the family to go.
“Today you are you
that is truer than true.
There is no one alive
who is youer than you.”
Katherine Krull painted a picture of Ted Geisel as a happy, adventurous, curious little boy who marveled at the world and treated it as his playground. At one point, Krull used the seasons to describe some of Ted’s activities.
“In the winter he built tunnels in the snow in the backyard and went sledding and ice-skating in Forest Park.
When spring arrived, he marched his toy soldiers around on the front porch, with his three-legged bulldog, Rex, for company…
During summers at a beach cottage, Ted went fishing with his father, built sand castles, learned to swim, dug in the sand for clams. The family sang or told stories at night, usually outside, where Ted could count fireflies and stars.”
Ted was just as curious about people as he was about the things around him.
“Neighbors were always interesting to him: a family named the Bumps, a dentist who treated patients in his own home, two women who didn’t mind when Ted practiced his bugle (they were hard-of-hearing), the nosy man across the street (he ran the local paper, the Springfield Union).”
“Certainly, no one he knew seemed to like drawing as much as he did.”
Ted Geisel was an artist since the beginning of time. I take delight in people who developed their hobbies/passion at a young age. Ted’s love for art seemed to border on obsession – in a good way. (Well, sometimes.)
He liked drawing so much that he would sometimes draw on his bedroom walls with crayons. He liked comic strips, and his favorite was Krazy Kat. He would grab the comic’s page from his father’s newspapers. (I used to do the same thing with our Sunday paper when I was in the Philippines. Oh, I love comic strips!)
“He just had this unusual way of looking at the world, and more often than not, this seemed like a bad thing to other people.”
Young and jubilant as he was, Ted was not free from ridicule. This is one of the reasons why I liked Krull’s picture book. There is a balance between the ups and downs in Ted’s childhood. These are wonderfully woven together, complemented by the soft-textured paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.
The image above actually reminded me of young Albert Einstein in Odd Boy Out. Even Ted’s experiences described in the book were similar to those of the boy genius’s. Ted was made fun of in school for his German descent. They would chase him or beat him up – he was most aware of this injustice when they were on the playground.
In art class, his teacher scolded him for breaking the rules. He was told he exaggerated things because “the creatures he drew had ears nine feet long, his horses had wings, his animals looked like plants, and his plants looked like animals.” When his teacher warned him he would never be successful at art, Ted quit the class.
“Be who you are and say what you want, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Like young Albert Einstein, Ted was not really into school and did not develop the same passion he had for art. When he was older, he doodled instead of taking notes, and he would sometimes skip class altogether and go to the movies.
With the encouragement of his favorite English teacher, Ted made it to Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It was here that he started using “Seuss.” He became editor for the college humor magazine where he wrote verses and stories. He was eventually asked to quit because of too much partying with his fraternity brothers. While everyone else around him was becoming doctors and lawyers, he was voted as “Least Likely to Succeed.”
It was at Oxford University where a crush told him, “That’s a very good flying cow.” This was Ted’s wake-up call. He had come to realize that he was meant to draw and write verses. From then on, he decided to find ways to make money doing what he loved, and not what others might want him to do.
“He was twenty-two years old, and his future looked bright.”
I didn’t realize how much I liked this book until I Googled for resources for this review last night, and until I actually started drafting this review. From the outside, Kathleen Krull’s The Boy On Fairfield Street appeared plain to my eyes. The book cover illustrated by Lou Fancher gave the book a classic feel to it that I did not find interesting. It was when I saw Dr. Seuss’s name in the subtitled that I decided to buy the book.
As with other picture books, The Boy On Fairfield Street is an easy read. The format of the book is one of its defining factors. The text was placed on the left page, and Steve Johnson’s paintings on the right. On the bottom of the left page, however, were illustrations taken from different books written by Dr. Seuss.
The book included On Beyond Fairfield Street, which can be found at the back. It is a four-page account of Ted Geisel’s life after he moved to Greenwich Village, and also made references to some of his earlier books. There was also a list of resources and websites for further reading. This 42-page picture book is a Dr. Seuss memorabilia in and of its own!
Ted Geisel’s story reminded me of young Albert Einstein in Odd Boy Out, H.M Rey and Margret Rey in Curious George, and Roald Dahl in Boy: Tales of Childhood. A picture-book biography is certainly a must-read, as well as a “must-own.” Kathleen Krull’s The Boy On Fairfield Street certainly deserves a spot in your shelf.