It’s been quite the season for lost manuscripts coming to light. Earlier in July, we were treated to the publication of Go Set a Watchman, the prequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, whose pages lay forgotten and mouldering in a “secure location” for fifty years. Now we have What Pet Should I Get? This new book went on sale today. (You can read it in a house! You can read it with a mouse!) Theodor Seuss Geisel’s last work, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! came out in 1990, 25 years ago. You’ll perhaps know the author better through his pseudonym: Dr Seuss.
What Pet Should I Get? features a brother and a sister visiting a pet shop — which, this being a Dr Seuss book, naturally contains imaginary animals alongside the beribboned kittens and smiling fish — where they struggle to decide which of the many cute creatures to take home with them. Readers will be familiar with the snappy rhymes in which the story is told and the distinctive cartoon illustrations.
The manuscript was amongst papers set aside by Geisel’s widow, Audrey, shortly after his death in 1991. It was rediscovered in 2013 when she and his secretary, Claudia Prescott, were clearing out the author’s office in the Geisels’ home in La Jolla, California.
Of course Random House were going to publish it. Why wouldn’t they? The Cat in the Hat alone has sold over 10 million copies since that anarchic feline arrived on our bookshelves in 1957. Geisel’s work stays fresh and, more importantly, still helps children learn to read, and to learn to love reading. His books use a limited number of words, many of single syllables, and the rhymes help children anticipate and decode the words, however innocent they may be of anapestic tetrameter (a beat of two weak syllables followed by one strong syllable, a signature rhyme scheme of the Dr Seuss books).
Why did Dr Seuss never publish What Pet Should I Get? while he was alive and could have fished it out of his pool? He could have done. He was Random House’s president of their “Beginner Books” line, after all. We’ll never know for certain. However, he used some of its ideas in 1960’s One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish — that book contains the same two siblings, which means it was probably written about the same time. In that long-ago era, pet shops were quite ordinary. As a sign of how times have changed, the “Notes From The Publisher” at the back of the new book urges today’s pet-focused children to adopt an animal from a rescue centre instead.
So another lost manuscript sees the light. It wasn’t the only one in that office, either. Random House plans at least two more Dr Seuss books based on the manuscripts his wife found. To which we can only say: Kids, do not doubt! There’ll be another one out!