By Steve Mihailovich
The Sept. 27 release of “The Bippalo Seed and Other Lost Stories” by Dr. Seuss could force Grinches, Sneetches and Loraxes to make room for what might be the next member of that venerable pantheon: the Wild Wheef. The Wheef joins the Icka, Gritch, Grickle and other fanciful characters in the new Dr. Seuss book based on a collection of old stories that have been all but forgotten since their publication in
magazine in the early 1950s.
While the posthumous release of seven stories by one of La Jolla’s most renowned residents, Theodore Geisel, might appear dubious on the surface, the stories are the precursors of the rhythm, rhyme and rich illustrations that would catapult Dr. Seuss into the avant-garde of children’s literature, according to the stories’ discoverer, Dr. Charles Cohen.
“If you hear there’s going to be a book of new stories 20 years after somebody dies, it’s reasonable to think someone found something at the bottom of a drawer and dusted off the paper clips and the crumbs,” said Cohen. “That’s what I didn’t want people to think because it’s just not true. I was going to say I hope people will feel that this does him justice, but I don’t have to hope that. These are his quality stories. I know they are.”
A dentist in western Massachusetts, Cohen said he has been collecting rare documents, drawings and memorabilia by and relating to Dr. Seuss since 1988. In that time, he became such a leading expert on the subject that Geisel’s publisher, Random House, selected him to write a biography on Dr. Seuss for the centennial of his birth in 2004.
Cohen said he didn’t acquire the seven stories simultaneously, but rather as part of his more than 20-year accumulation of Seuss object that has resulted in a database of 33,725 entries at last count, though not all of them are actual items. Cohen pursued those stories and others on the Internet after continuously running across references to them.
The seven stories were picked from the 30 similarly obscure stories Cohen possesses to become the 45th children’s book written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss because these had all the elements readers have come to expect, Cohen noted.
“There are extremely strong stories and in addition, cumulatively amongst these, you get a very satisfying feeling of having all of those Seuss buttons pushed — the moral, the writing, the illustrations — all of those things,” he said.
Aside from the content, the stories are even more valuable because of the context in which they were created. Citing historical accounts, Cohen said the stories were written when Geisel had just realized the style that would eventually lead to a revolution in how children learned to read.
The seven “Bippalo Seed” stories were such a pinnacle in Dr. Seuss’s early career, that the reader will discover recognizable traces of plots and characters that were to become the basis of the author’s later, more famous works, Cohen added.