Review: Dr. Seuss’s ‘What Pet Should I Get?’ Audiobook

Books Reviews

This new title by Dr. Seuss is now available both in print and as an audiobook narrated by Rainn Wilson.

Dr. Seuss, the pen name of Theodore Seuss Geisel, was a beloved children’s author known by all of us. After his death in 1991, his wife Audrey Geisel went through her husband’s papers together with his assistant Claudia Prescott, donating most of his material to the University of California in San Diego.

A few sketches and unfinished projects remained collected in a box, where they lay forgotten for more than twenty years. Talk about buried treasure! In October 2013, Geisel and Prescott examined the leftover sketches and projects closely for the first time; the materials included illustrations for alphabet flash cards, sketches collectively titled “The Horse Museum,” a folder of miscellaneous drawings labeled “Noble Failures,” and the most complete project: a manuscript titled “The Pet Shop” consisting of 16 black-and-white illustrations, with text that he had typed on paper and taped to the drawings.

Cathy Goldsmith, reportedly the last Random House executive to have worked directly with Seuss, examined the manuscript and judged it to date from between 1958 and 1962, in part because the brother and sister characters in the book are the same as in Seuss’s 1960 book One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Possibly the characters evolved from this book and took Dr. Seuss attention away from the archived files.

The Pet Shop was then reconstructed for publication by Goldsmith, who also colored the black-and-white illustrations (following a strict palette of colors in accordance of the period in which the book was created, more information here). The reconstructed book was published by Random House in July 2015 as What Pet Should I Get?

This is obviously not Dr. Seuss at his best: as the audio file explaining the work process of Theodore Geisel will tell you, for him each rhyme was agonizing to write, and he would re-write them over and over. Listening to the audiobook version you can tell it’s a work in process, the style and the rhymes are there, but they don’t drill themselves into your head like other infectious ones of his (my son’s favorite book is There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! and in it every invented word is fun to hear, and the drawings are very inventive too).

However, it’s worth the listen, because it has an open ending and reflects very well Dr. Seuss’s great ability to be inside a child’s head and show his or her point of view: in this case, the agonizing moment when you must choose your new pet.

Besides, it is a new Dr. Seuss book, published 25 years after his last (Oh, the Places You’ll Go, my personal favorite, was published in 1990), I very much doubt any fan will pass up an opportunity to listen to or read this, as unfinished it may have been. Random House agrees with me, and due to the interest shown for the hardcover picture book, it has announced a first printing of 1 million copies. It also reported that they would likely publish two more volumes based on the other material found in the same box.

Listening Library’s audiobook edition of What Pet Should I Get? is available both on CD and as a digital download paired with David Hyde Pierce’s narration of the Dr. Seuss classic, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

Wilson is known for playing Dwight Schrute on the hit sitcom The Office, which earned him three Emmy nominations. He previously narrated several stories for the audiobook edition of B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, and will narrate his forthcoming memoir, The Bassoon King, available this October from Penguin Audio/Dutton. His narration style is interesting: he conveys very well the excitement of the boy who must choose his pet before noon, his rising concern as the hour approaches and the finality of his mysterious decision.

Disclaimer: I was sent a review sample of this audiobook.

Featured image by Dr. Seuss, Photo courtesy Random House Children’s Books.

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