Sneetch envy
March 24, 2010 7:42 AM   Subscribe

Are there children's authors today who write like Seuss?

When I say "write like Seuss" I don't mean the stereotypes he is most remembered for: invented words and exotic illustrations. I mean the bouncy (anapestic) rhythm that makes anything sound like Seuss. This was usually combined with social concerns or commentary. There are many contemporary authors who write about social matters, but do any do it with the joyful light poetry of Seuss?
posted by dances_with_sneetches to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In terms of kids books?

I think that Sandra Boynton books come close to the rhythm of Seuss, but I don't think that there is much social commentary in there.
posted by k8t at 8:08 AM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Shel Silverstein comes to mind, but he is definitely not joyful and light.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:13 AM on March 24, 2010

Wet Dog is in anapestic meter, if I'm recalling correctly (my mom, the English teacher, is going to get cross with me if I'm messing this one up). And it's a cute story that my 3-year-old loves. Social commentary? Not unless you count "don't take yourself so seriously".
posted by norm at 8:14 AM on March 24, 2010

Response by poster: Shel Silverstein I thought of, but is not contemporary (sorry he is gone). By social commentary I am thinking of "People are people no matter how small" (Horton), or prejudice in the Sneetches, anti-dictator of Yertle or anti-commercialization of Christmas in The Grinch. These were big themes. Of course he also wrote "One Fish, Two Fish" and minor themes like don't be afraid to try something new (Green Eggs and Ham).
I am writing this for two reasons. One is that I've written a piece in Seussian style about important issues, and after my wife finishes with the illustrations, I hope to find a publisher. The other is that it would seem strange and sad (if) no one is doing this. Social themes don't have to be adult, talking down to kids or else in cold prose.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:28 AM on March 24, 2010

Are there children's authors today who write like Seuss?

Sorry that I can't find the link right now, but I remember reading a "how to have your book published" piece by a book editor or agent who explicitly said "Don't try to write like Dr. Seuss," as she got so many submissions in that style. So yes, there are many people doing that.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:53 AM on March 24, 2010

Best answer: One site about writing children's books that I really like is, which has lots of great information about beginning writers. In his frequently asked questions file, he has this:

9) Why aren't publisher's interested in rhyming children's books when that is in fact what children like? Dr. Seuss is a good example - his actual verses are really quite dumb, children like them because of the rhythm. Are publishers out of touch and publish only what they like? Do they think of the children's likes and dislikes?

Your question is more complicated that you might think....

To start with, I have to question one of your assumptions, namely that Dr. Seuss's verses are "quite dumb." I would say instead that they are often gloriously silly, in a way few can imitate successfully. Almost all verse received by publishers doesn't come close to the standard he set. But yes, publishers know that children like rhyme, and in fact many books in verse are published each year. However, books in verse (except for books for the very youngest children, where rhyme is more common) tend to get published for the mass market (as in fact most of Dr. Seuss's books were, until he got to be famous), not for the trade market. And here's the Catch 22 for writers: mass market publishers don't look at submissions! They commission or write their texts in-house. (Do you know the story about The Cat in the Hat? It was commissioned.)

So what about trade publishers? Well, trade publishers publish for book stores, schools, and libraries. And the customers -- the book buyer in the bookstore, the teacher, the children's librarian -- tend to prefer prose. Editors are publishing for them.

Another related reason that I and many other industry professionals advise against rhyme--as we often do when speaking, sometimes leading to some prickly discussions--is that, as I note above, the verse most beginners produce is bad, but to explain how it is bad and give examples of good verse would take half an hour. So we just say, "No verse!" Unfortunately, this leaves writers with the impression that we don't like verse, when the reality is we like only good verse, and even among good verse must be selective, since our market doesn't want it.

I'm not sure that I agree 100% with what's written here -- and you obviously don't think that Dr. Seuss is dumb (unlike whoever sent that question originally) -- but I thought this perspective might be helpful.

I also just want to raise a little red flag about the fact that your wife is doing the illustrations; if your wife is a professional illustrator and you're determined to sell your book as a package, then that's one thing, but in general, publishers (not authors) choose the illustrators for their picture books. Again, Harold Underdown has some advice.
posted by cider at 8:55 AM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, cider. I do have an extra concern about my wife doing the illustrations, I had heard that the illustrators are often hired separately. But, she is good at what she does, as I mentioned she has done comic books and she has a degree in design and a master's in art.

I realize that Dr. Seuss is difficult to imitate well. My style is like his in that it is anapestic verse, children oriented and overtly fun, but it is different enough that I hope it won't only be seen as a Seuss knock-off. I can also write flowing silly poetry. I've been doing it for years. Never directed it to kids before.

Yes, I admire Seuss's writing, almost to an insane degree. The opening lines to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is one of the greatest first sentences of literature. "Every Who down in Who-ville Liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did not!" With a lyrical ease he has described the protagonists, antagonist, setting, and conflict in one sentence.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:12 AM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Social commentary, probably not so much, but for rhythmic kids' poetry, my husband and I have gotten really partial to Jack Prelutsky.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:14 AM on March 24, 2010

Dennis Lee writes wonderful, crazy children's poetry and sells lots of books, but I don't recall him being into social commentary. Great fun with language, though.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2010

I think Seuss's most engaging quality was that he was completely unique, totally recognizable as Dr Seuss - he created his own, novel style that had its own flair and personality. Someone who wrote similarly to him would be missing the most important part. It's like someone who copies the work of impressionists - fine, nice painting, but it isn't original anymore.

To really be like Dr Seuss, you'd have to create an engaging personal style all your own, that other people might parody, or use your name as an adjective to describe. If it just reminds people of Dr Seuss - well, why not just stick with the real thing? there has to be at least a new element, a creative vision all your own, that's being added to the mix. There must be children's authors who are influenced by him, but I wouldn't expect it to be too obvious, or it will just seem derivative.
posted by mdn at 11:06 AM on March 24, 2010

Calef Brown, maybe?
posted by donnagirl at 10:01 PM on March 24, 2010

Some of Lynley Dodd would fit your bill.
posted by rodgerd at 11:11 PM on March 24, 2010

Best answer: This book was kind of marketed as being Seuss-like. It's not mind-blowingly the next reincarnation of Seuss or anything, but it might be fun. Here's a pdf of the first chapter.
posted by redsparkler at 11:42 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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