Published 1947 Random House
Once again we are taken on a roller coaster ride of amazing imagination with Marco, from And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. This time we see him sitting by McElligot’s Pool with fishing pole in hand. The pool is small and full of junk, but even after an adult farmer tells him he is being a fool, Marco continues to expect fish.
” ‘ Hmmm…’ answered Marco,
‘It may be you’re right.
I’ve been here three hours
Without one single bite.
There might be no fish…
Well, there might!’ “
He explains that the pool might connect to an underground brook and under State Highway Two-Hundred-and-Three and under Sneeden’s Hotel and all the way out to the sea!
Then Marco starts to imagine all of the fantastical fish that could be out there on their way to McElligot’s Pool such as a fish with a checkboard belly or a fish made of strawberry jelly or even a sea horse (that actually has a horses head) and a fish that is partly a cow. Also, fish from the tropics and Eskimo fish and an eel with two heads.
The list goes on and on, including a fish with a terrible grouch (that looks an awful lot like the Grinch) and some acrobatic fish from the Circus that make a tower. Finally Marco announces:
“Oh, the sea is a so full of a number of fish,
If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!”
And in a page that mimics the first page with the farmer looking on at Marco and the little pool Marco tells the farmer:
“And that’s why I think
That I’m not such a fool
When I sit here and fish
In McElligot’s Pool!”
Once again we have a child taking something simple and mundane and turning it into something brilliant and beautiful with his imagination. And once again the adult considers it ridiculous and cannot see with the child’s creative mind.
This image is great, not only because it illustrates my point about the adult calling Marco a fool, but it also shows the animal observer. In the little tree by the pool there is a bird. This bird is our way into the story. It is seeing what we see and silently watching the action of the story. It is a pretty fun game to try and spot the animal observer that pops up in almost every single one of Seuss’ books.
Another early trademark of Seuss is found in this book. Some biographers consider this one of his first “bestiary books” meaning a book in which Seuss creates made up beasts and gives them odd names and fantastical illustrations. In this book, like in There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Seuss goes through a menagerie of strange creatures. He has yet to give them unique names at this point, which he will do later in books like On Beyond Zebra and If I Ran the Zoo.
The dedication is to Seuss’ father and reads:
This book is dedicated to
T.R. Geisel of Springfield, Mass.,
The World’s Greatest Authority
on Blackfish, Fiddler Crabs and Deegel Trout
The “deegel trout” is a private joke referencing some of the Geisel’s more unsuccessful fishing trips when his father would purchase trout from the Deegel hatchery and pass them off as their catch.
The book was clearly inspired by childhood fishing trips with his father, but the brilliant color and beautiful illustrations were inspired by some of the scenery that Seuss and his wife, Helen, saw on their many trips abroad.
This is the only book that Seuss illustrated in watercolor. Sadly the budget only allowed alternate pairs of facing pages to be printed in their full brilliant color. Seuss decided after this book that children prefer flat bold colors, but he was also constantly worried that his art would look like a comic book.
Considering Seuss is my favorite artist, as well as children’s author, I find is very interest to look at these amazing paintings. Each one could stand alone in a frame on your wall and be considered art and yet here they all are, printed much smaller than their original size, and all crammed together in a children’s book. They are more reminiscent of the art you would find in The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss rather than the simple bold black outlined images you find in most of his books.
Here is an example of a page from McElligot’s Pool versus a piece in The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss:
(this is actually a more gray and black version of a page from McElligot’s Pool)
(from The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss)
They are both done with watercolor instead of the oil or acrylic that become the habit of his children’s book illustrations. They also lack the bold black outline that he was so afraid would resemble a comic book page. The colors are also much duller and the shading is more apparent.
He received a Junior Library Guild selection for the illustrations in this book and also landed his first Caldecott honor. The JLG website describes the Caldecott Medal as such:
“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.”
As usual there is more than one cover to be found. Originally the image at the top of this post was a dust jacket that covered the green cover below, but now the image on the dusk jacket is printed directly onto the cover with no actual dust jacket. The red spine book shown below is a very rare publication.
“Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,
If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!”
I am not always a patient person and this is just a nice little reminder that if you are a patient person you could get what you want. I love that he says “might” so many times throughout the book to show that it’s not necessarily guaranteed, but it is also not necessarily impossible.
It is honestly hard for me to pick a favorite image from this book, because I really feel this book shows off his illustrations the best with such brilliant and eclectic color and imagination. But I think the image that shows that off the most is this one.
I also enjoy the New York Times statement that it is very characteristic of Dr. Seuss to have the worm “wrapping itself around a hook instead of being pierced by it.”
Thanks for reading,
Jack St. Rebor