Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories

Lost stories by Dr. Seuss! When I first heard that seven of his stories, previously written for magazines in the early 1950s, were to be collected in one book, I was as excited as a Zax making tracks in the prairie of Prax. Last week I finally got my hands on a copy. I read the stories, read them again, and...was left decidedly underwhelmed.

Reviews of The Bippolo Seed  rave about how wonderful the stories are. So maybe it's me. And I didn't find them charmless, not at all. But when compared to his later work, they fall short. The stories have many of his trademarks--catchy rhymes, wacky names, zany humor, rollicking illustrations. What's different are the plots. The storylines, each of which begins with an outrageous premise, take the reader to the edge of the cliff, and then stall. Some of the endings are downright unsatisfactory.

Take "Tadd and Todd". The two are twins, "and they were alike as two peas in a pod." Then one day Tadd dares to differenciate himself from his brother. No matter what he does, though, Todd copies him. The plot advances in typical Seussian fashion, ending with the pair facing each on stilts both in outrageous costumes. Todd tells Tadd that he can't win. No matter what he does "you'll never look different, whatever you do." Surprisingly, Tadd accepts this and gives up his quest to be unique. I'm sure Seuss meant the message to be: Accept yourself for who you are. Yet Tadd doesn't come to this realization on his own. His brother forces it on him. More importantly, why shouldn't a twin be unique? I was left wondering how the later Seuss would have resolved this tale. Not so tamely, I think.

"The Bippolo Seed" is the strongest story in the bunch. A duck finds a seed that will grant him a wish when planted. At first the duck is content to wish for enough duck food to feed himself for a week. Then a cat wanders by and convinces the duck to up the ante. Before long, the greedy pair are padding the wish with everything they can imagine wanting. Before they can plant the seed, it slips from the duck's grasp and lands in a nearby river. Greed gets its comeuppance.

Don't get me wrong. This collection will amuse fans of Dr. Seuss. Just don't expect the buried treasure promised by Charles D. Cohen, the Seussian scholar who wrote the introduction. I find it telling that it's written for adult aficionados and not children, the ones the good doctor wrote the stories for in the first place.

The Bippolo Seed and Other Stories
by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 68 pages
Published: 2011


  1. Thanks for your thoughts...always good to have different perspectives. And--(hangs head)--I have not read this one yet!

  2. From the sound of it he did resolve the Tadd and Todd issue in a later story by letting them come to the conclusion themselves - in MY favorite Dr Suess story - The Sneetches.

  3. An author's early works are usually unknown for a reason. Hey, we all have to start somewhere.

  4. I had not heard of this book of previously unpublished Dr. Seuss stories until I read your post. Thanks so much for sharing! Since reading your post, I have noticed it on at least a couple others' lists of favorite books from 2011.

  5. I hadn't heard of this new collection yet either! Sad it wasn't up to par, but a bad Seuss still puts many others to shame.