Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel - Richard H. Minear, Art Spiegelman, Dr. Seuss *2.6 Stars*

Scorecard: (Out of 10)
* Quality of Writing - 5
* Pace - 5
* Plot development - 4
* Characters - 8
* Enjoyability - 6
* Insightfulness - 3
* Ease of Reading - 2
* Photos/Illustrations - 10
Final Score: 43/80 = 54%

*The Gush*

I wanted to like this book. I mean, I REALLY wanted to like this book. Dr. Seuss, one of my favorite writers/illustrators of all times, and WWII – what wasn’t there not to love?

Read on.

The illustrations themselves are amazing. Surreal but amazing. You will instantly recognize them if you’ve read even one Dr. Seuss book, and many images conjure up familiar stories like Horton, Yertle, and more. And as political/editorial cartoons, they are quite good. I can’t help but compare them to many today that are simple drawings…and you often don’t have a clue what their creator is trying to say. Dr. Seuss’ are quite complex drawings with a simple message that all but hits you over the head. You often barely need the handful of words that accompany the picture, even today with our limited understanding of the world they were created in. They are not always politically correct by today’s standard but surprisingly rarely; most often this corresponds to his portrayal of the Japanese. Compared to some of his contemporaries however, they are not as harsh as they could be. Much I think can be traced to the fact that he had traveled in Europe but like many other Americans of the time, he’d had little contact with the Japanese people. But that is just what I think from reading between the lines of this book.

While some might find aspects of Dr. Seuss the political cartoonist at odds with how they saw him as a children’s illustrator, I found him interesting and far less surprising then many other childhood ‘heroes’ I’ve learned about as I’ve grown older.

The illustrations also give the reader an insight into America at the beginning of the war that no textbook can match and few other works can come close to replicating. Several discuss the hardships faced on the home front while others deal with people on both sides of the issue most people today don’t really know about. One of the best things the author does is make sure the dates corresponding to the cartoons are there as well as making sure the reader understands why Dr. Seuss is highlighting these particular people.

*The Rant*

Like I said, I wanted to like this book; I had even planned on buying this book before reading it (which happens rarely). However, I had certain expectations concerning the book based on what I had read about it and simply its subject. I came away feeling as if the book lived up to none of these expectations, ones I should point out that were very basic and not extraordinary.

My first expectation was that this book would have some interpretation of the cartoons. Political cartoons, particularly historical ones beg for this and while I was hoping the author would not go into great detail (I’m not well read on artistic interpretation and was afraid it would be over my head) there turned out to be virtually none at all. This can easily be explained by the fact that the author is a historian. He did draw attention to elements that any reader, even children, would notice such as an elephant in a tree (Horton Hatches an Egg) and turtles standing on each other’s backs making a V (Yertle the Turtle), etc. Any reader of Seuss would notice this. His comments on the Axis leaders were better, but still very self-evident.

My second expectation was that the text would work to establish the works within two contexts: Seuss’ life and America/World during World War II. The author did an adequate job of giving a brief Seuss bio as well as tying some of it to his work. He also made sure the reader understood the unique paper his cartoons appeared in. It was…adequate but basically a recitation of facts he discovered and got from other places. The rest of the book was connecting the individual cartoons to what was going on at the time and what they were specifically addressing while also breaking the cartoons into sections based on who is talked about, when they were done, and what they addressed. Again this was done…adequately but basically boiled down to another recitation of facts. This was necessary but could have been handled about a dozen ways better than what it ended up being. I was also surprised by how little interpretation and distillation there was in his writing. That author is a professor of history at a prestigious university and he doesn’t do one of the basics of historical writing? Even when he does, it’s uneven and he doesn’t carry it through beyond a point or two. I simply expect more from historical work.

My third expectation was that this book would be the ultimate printed collection of a section of Dr. Seuss’ work that few knew about and no one had previous done any study on. Instead, there were enumerable instances where the author talked about cartoons that…were…not…included.


Why were they not included, especially if you were going to talk about them? It makes no sense. The presentation of the ones chosen was good in that each cartoon got a full page, enabling the reader to truly appreciate the work that went into each work of art. However, the discussions of the cartoons were placed in text at the beginning of each chapter with the cartoons packaged together after the text. In some ways, this works but it made it impossible to read while looking at the cartoon he was discussing. I tried working through this book two ways: the first by reading the text including the next cartoon and then flipping forward to study the image with the author’s discussion in mind and the second by looking at a four + images and then reading the text including all of those in one swoop. The first way worked better and lead to better understanding but took easily twice as long if not more. The second was faster, but I didn’t feel I gained as much from this method. The setup was cumbersome. I’m not completely sure how they could have changed it except perhaps to have the cartoons on one page with the corresponding text on the facing one while keeping the sections in order to keep the continuity. It would still be cumbersome but in a different way.

So, in short, all my expectations were met by mediocrity. It wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t in anyway exceptional which is the saddest part of the entire enterprise for me. Dr. Seuss, to me, stands for exceptional illustrations and quality storytelling; creating a book about him that reaching at best for mediocrity is nearly a slap in the face. The only thing that saves this is the how well the illustrations are rendered.


I can’t believe I’m saying this but I don’t feel this book lives up to what one would and should expect from the work. Having a physical copy of most of Dr. Seuss’ editorial cartoons is nice but I feel the rest of the book does not make this book worth it. If all you expect is mediocrity, then perhaps this book is for you but I expect a bit more, especially with Dr. Seuss’ name connected to it. Still, if you are a diehard Seuss fan, this is an interesting read through if only to see how he envisioned Hitler and to learn that Seuss is supposed to rhyme with Royce! Huh, learn something new every day.

P.S. If you are interested in looking at the cartoons, there seems to be a website here. Caution: these are not for children. Some of them are a bit disturbing. Nothing horrible, just not Cat in the Hat level.