Daisy-Head Mayzie
by Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss's Daisy-Head Mayzie

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

A story published after Seuss's death

It wouldn't be fair to judge this book - featuring a rare female main character - by the same standards as other Seuss.

Daisy-Head Mayzie - summary and review

Taken from a manuscript Dr. Seuss was working on in the 1960s and discovered by his wife after his death in the 1990s, the piece went on to become a Hanna-Barbera cartoon before being published here in book form.

An unfinished work, the finished version clearly features input by uncredited author(s) and artist(s).

Since the good Doctor never chose to publish Daisy-Head Mayzie during his lifetime, we can assume that it didn't meet his standards. Still, we can see his brilliance shine through.

Bright-eyed Mayzie McGrew is sitting in class one day when a daisy suddenly grows out of her head. 

cropped with background color added, Daisy-Head Mayzie

It's not because she doesn't wash her hair. This flower is connected!

Naturally, panic ensues. The class is excited. The teacher doesn't know what to do. The principal knows lots of people to call, but none of them seem particularly equipped for the situation.

An odd character appears: Finagle the Agent. A Disney-esque villain (I say that because he looks like he came straight out of the Disney animation stable, while the rest of the characters look much more Seussian), Finagle signs Mayzie to a contract, vowing to make her famous.

Which he does, but at the cost of her happiness.

With friends and family gone from her life, Mayzie concludes she's unloved. But her daisy-head ("They love me; they love me not") lets her know that she is still loved. So she goes back home and everything ends happy.

Daisy-Head Mayzie

If that plotting seems a bit odd and disjointed to you, well, it is. Remember, this is someone's unfinished work that other folks finished! But that makes the book more fascinating, not less, because it gives us some hints as to Seuss's process.

Shall we explore the oddities?

The publishers chose to depict the Cat in the Hat as the narrator. He pops in and out of the story, pictorially, but doesn't appear in the text.

The illustrations, as mentioned, feel influenced by Seuss, but not entirely of him.

Mayzie herself, if you'll pardon me, looks like a bit of a ditz. Let's face it: Seuss didn't tend to make his protagonists girls, and she's rather a hapless and dazed-looking (or is that daisied-looking) main character.

Mayzie: a girl without a plan

A reader wonders if Seuss struggled with that, with Mayzie's inefficacy, if perhaps that was why the manuscript remained unpublished during his lifetime.

If Seuss had conjured a boy's name that rhymed with Daisy, would that boy have been more action-oriented and would Seuss have had a different book?

The story bears significant resemblance to Seuss's odd Gerald McBoing Boing, another Seussian protagonist with a freak show uniqueness that led him to show business. But where Gerald's outcome was celebrated, here Mayzie needs rescuing from hers.

The verse is Seussian but unpolished. Some lines lapse from the familiar anapestic tetrameter, and it's jarring when they do. Other lines don't rhyme, and the effect is disappointing.

Much of Seuss's magic was about his ability to rhyme and rhythm himself out of any situation!

Daisy-Head Mayzie McGrew is a rather weak protagonist - things happen to her, but she doesn't do much about them.

There's a small moment in the story when there seems great potential, but it goes completely unexplored. Here's what happens: When the daisy starts to wither, Mayzie starts to wither.

Then the principal saw a most terrible sight.
The daisy was dying. (And THAT was all right.)
But that daisy was part of poor Mayzie McGrew,
And Mayzie was starting to wilt away, too!
"Teacher," said Grumm, "You know what I think...!
They're BOTH going to die! Hurry! Bring them a drink!"

That's the last mention of such a vital linkage between Mayzie and the daisy. It's an odd thing to have in there - a life and death situation - and to then act as if it had never been broached.

As a writer I'm confident that Seuss, had he ever gone back to work on Daisy-Head Mayzie, would have either gotten rid of the moment or devoted the rest of the story to it.

And he's probably rolling over in his grave knowing that it was published in this state.

(Think how fully such a linkage was explored in Steven Spielberg's classic E.T. Remember how a wilting flower reflected E.T.'s and Elliott's physical deterioration?)

All in all, Daisy-Head Mayzie is a fascinating read for grown-ups because of what an unfinished Seuss story reveals about the man's process. Children are unlikely to notice the weaknesses.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

More books from the good Doctor.

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