Great Scott!

Today on the Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac, Anita Silvey tells us about the elevator operator at #2 Park Street, Boston, who became the inspiration for Dr. Seuss’s most famous character, the Cat in the Hat.

You might think *that* would be the piece of information that would tickle me to pieces and have me go all over the Internet to find out more information about Herr Docktor Seuss. You would be wrong.

No, the tidbit that caught my fancy was this, about William Spaulding, Houghton Mifflin Reading Division head, and his army buddy Theodore Geisel:

Wanting to outstrip his competitor, Scott Foresman, who published the bestselling Dick and Jane series, Spaulding believed there was another way to approach the teaching of reading. He told Seuss that if he could wed what he knew—how to entertain children—with what reading specialists believed, reading instruction in the United States could be revolutionized.

I have been piecing together children’s publishing history. You might say it is my current hobby. I’d been reading Leonard Marcus‘s Dear Genius and every Charlotte Zolotow book (books that she wrote, books that she published), thinking I wanted to write a paper on Charlotte Zolotow as an editor at Harper & Row. I gave myself a deadline for a rough draft. And on the day of my deadline, I hadn’t written more than a few sentences and I kept wondering on the bits and pieces that I knew about Virginia Kirkus, who was the first children’s editor at Harper & Bros, in 1926.

It was a quiet Saturday afternoon at the reference desk, so I just started doing any search I could think of to find more bits and pieces. Soon I had printed pages and pages of information.  So now I have an ambition: to write a paper, maybe a book, on VK. I have no idea when I’ll write this paper, since Summer Reading is upon us, my sister is getting married in August and I don’t have any NEW information about VK, except that her papers are at Vassar. From all the information I’ve gleaned, Vassar is closed for the summer.

Here is what I know, more or less: VK was the first children’s editor at Harper & Bros from 1926 to 1932.  She was a teacher before that, and a freelance journalist.

I have been using the tidbits I have with the tidbits in Minders of Make Believe, (Leonard Marcus, again).  I have been taking copious notes on the chapter called “Sisters in crisis and in conflict: the 1930s.” And all this time, I had been wondering what had happened to Scott, whose name I had seen here and there but knew was no longer a working publisher.

So when I saw that name, Scott, in Anita’s post this morning, I let my fingers do the walking and came across an obituary in the New York Times of William Rufus Scott. His publishing house, W.R. Scott, was the one where Margaret Wise Brown was Children’s editor for a while. (Thanks again, to Anita, a few weeks ago, when she wrote about Caps for Sale.)

And relief, what relief, that Scott Foresman was NOT the house that published Caps for Sale…wouldn’t that be awful, to have Margaret Wise Brown on staff in one era and be publishing Dick and Jane in another?

More to come, it’s time to start cataloging for the day.


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