People may not know your name, but they certainly know your work. Tell us about what you do.
I am a full-time children’s author and a passionate advocate for encouraging early childhood literacy. To date, I’ve written over 160 children’s books — all but a handful of them have been written in rhyme. I wrote my first book for Sesame Street in 1985 and have been writing ever since.
In 1995 I submitted a rhyming book about a little dinosaur called Maurus O’Raurus to Random House. They didn’t pick up my book (which has yet to be published!), but they asked me if I would like to take over a project started by the REAL Dr. Seuss before his death in 1991. He wanted to create a line of Cat in the Hat books that taught early readers about science, and the first two books I was assigned were Fine Feathered Friends: All About Birds and Is a Camel a Mammal? All About Mammals. They were published in 1998. In 2018 it will be twenty years!
As a writer, what is it like to step into the shoes of someone like Dr. Seuss?
I am honored and proud to be part of this amazing brand. I LOVED the Dr. Seuss books my parents read to me when I was little, and in the 1990’s I was Senior Producer for Home Video for Random House and worked for years bringing his books to life through video and book and audio projects.
I do a lot of author visits in schools, and I am quick to tell the students that Dr. Seuss wrote the words AND drew the pictures. I only write the words, but I am thrilled to work with the amazingly talented artists Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu who create the pictures. Everyone who works on these books puts in long hours making sure the rhythm and rhyme match the magic of Ted Geisel’s original books. I like to think he would be pleased with the results.
Why do you think Dr. Seuss appeals to kids and adults alike?
I think the fun of it all is the wordplay, and I’ve also had a lot of teachers and students tell me that they learn something new from all of my books. Teachers also say that some students who struggle in school respond well to the rhythm and rhyme of the texts and that it helps them learn facts they might otherwise have difficulty understanding. Here is one of my favorite examples of a science vocabulary word presented in a fun way:
When birds want to go
on a winter vacation,
they all take a trip
and they call it migration.
– From Fine Feathered Friends
Which Seuss-ian ideas have stayed with you most?
One of the things I always loved about the Dr. Seuss books was that when Ted was stumped by a word to fit into a rhyme, he just made one up! I used that idea when I wrote Oh, the Pets You Can Get. I discovered there are not a lot of words that rhyme with “pets,” so I came up with “the Land of Gerpletz where they know quite a bit about caring for pets.”
Which of your Dr. Seuss books was the hardest to write?
There were two books that were super challenging from a creative standpoint. The first was Oh, the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You! All About Staying Healthy (which Michelle Obama just read to kids at the White House!). Random House thought it would be a great idea to write a book for kids about going to bed on time, eating healthy foods, getting exercise, etc. I couldn’t think of any way to write the book so it wouldn’t be preachy and BOR-ING, so I asked if I could create my own Dr. Seuss characters — like the Snee Snicker Sneeth who loves brushing her teeth. Random House wasn’t sure Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s widow, would like the idea, but I was thrilled when it turned out that she loved it. This book has just been revised with sixteen additional pages of recipes and exercises!
The second book that was challenging to write in rhyme was Inside Your Outside: All About the Human Body. I got the whole book done and had rhymed the digestive system, but I left out the urinary system! ACK! I told my editor that I’d fix it, but I thought it would be funny in the artwork if there were a long line outside of a Seussian bathroom to go along with it — and that’s exactly what there is!
What was your favorite book as a child? Do you still have it?
I loved the Beatrix Potter books and her characters Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle Duck, and of course, Peter Rabbit. My mother gave me all of them, and I loved the small format. I still have them all.
What have your own children taught you about reading?
When I started writing for Dr. Seuss my children were eight and seven, the perfect ages to share ideas about upcoming books and get their reactions to books I was writing. I would often hand them my manuscripts before I submitted them and ask them to read them out loud. If they stumbled over a word, I would fix it. I tell all the students I meet to ALWAYS have a friend read your writing projects out loud. It’s amazing how different it sounds than when you read your own work.
In my book Oh, Baby, the Places You’ll Go! I was asked by Ms. Geisel to write a book for pregnant moms. I read all of Ted’s books and included something from each of them in the book.
In the final spread I wrote:
“So now, as my voice burble-urps in your ear — with a bump-thumpy sound that is not very clear — the words I am saying you hear in your heart, and know that I wish you the very best start. It’s a scrumptulous world and it’s ready to greet you. And as for myself … well … I can’t wait to meet you.”
I know I never could have written that if I hadn’t been a mom myself.
Funny story: I was leaving to pick my kids up from school and Random House called to tell me they’d forgotten to ask me for a bio for the book jacket and could I come up with something FAST and FUNNY.
I put down my car keys, picked up the phone again and said, “Tish Rabe’s a mom who thinks that it’s cool to be home rhyming rhymes while her kids are at school.“ If I hadn’t been a mom, I never would have come up with that!
Finally, if you could be any children’s book character, who would you be?
I started out in the creative world with the dream of becoming a full-time professional singer. I went to Ithaca College and got a degree in Vocal Performance. Over the years, I have sung as the voice of Cinderella for Disney and performed in “Bambi” and “Winnie the Pooh” as both a narrator and singer. I have written over 250 songs for children including a lullaby I wrote for Elmo for Sesame Street called “Just One Moon” that I sing at every author visit.
I still sing every chance I get, and now I rhyme day and night. I also love little kids, so I think I would make the perfect Mother Goose! I could go around singing and rhyming and helping kids learn to read and write. Sign me up!
I always end my school visits with my reading and writing song:
Reading and writing
both are so exciting!
Read a book or write a story.
Start right now!
Keep reading and writing everybody!
Tish Rabe is the author of over 160 children’s books — including 13 Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library books. To learn more about her and her work, visit TishRabe.com.