October 2005 | Volume 56, Issue 5
Dr. Seuss. Theodore Seuss Geisel (1904–91), Dr. Seuss, was already an experienced advertising man, political cartoonist, and children’s-book author and illustrator when Houghton Mifflin commissioned him, in 1957, to write a “new reader” primer of 225 vocabulary words for the school market. He came up with
In fact the chop, if such it was, had been delivered long before. From
Possibly the best thing to be said about his career is that his “karate chop” primer helped launch the Beginner Books series, which gave scope to better writers.
Herbert S. Zim. Walk into any public library’s youth services section, pick any science or nature book published between the 1940s and the 1970s, and chances are good you will have in hand a volume by the prolific Herbert S. Zim (1909–94).
Zim began teaching summer-school science classes in New York as a teenager. After earning a Ph.D. from Columbia University, he devoted himself to science and science teaching and then to the full-time writing and editing of juvenile science books. (His first, tellingly enough, was Science Interests and Activities of Adolescents , 1940.) He taught at Columbia, the University of Illinois, and the University of Miami and served as an educational consultant for a number of publishing firms and for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He was the founding editor of the Golden Guides series of nature books, pocket-sized field guides for young amateur enthusiasts first published in 1949.
He wrote, co-wrote, or edited more than 100 books for young people whose titles show subjects ranging from
Zim had two great gifts, which he balanced perfectly in his writing. He had a transparently simple prose style and an ability to associate hard facts with the right word-pictures to fit in with a child’s daily life and the interests that had led the child to open the book to begin with. In the first five pages of
He made science sensible, not only in that he clarified complex information but in that he helped you this afternoon with your new hobby: “Don’t try to memorize the details… . Learn to know the whole bird as one total picture, since one glance at a moving bird may be all you’ll get.”