Today, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known and loved by all as Dr. Seuss, would have been 111 years old. He died in 1991. In honor of his great contribution to the love of reading for children, the National Education Association adopted his birthday as the National Read Across America Day. It is a logical honor. He wrote 46 books for kids—that they actually like to read! In 1980 he was awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from children’s librarians; they lauded him for his “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature.” Then in 1984, he was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his “contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America’s children and their parents.”
Dr. Seuss may be best known for The Cat in the Hat (1957) or maybe Green Eggs and Ham (1960), but my favorite has always been Horton Hears a Who! (1955) followed closely by The Lorax (1971). [The fact that they are respectively about an elephant and about saving the environment might have a little to do with it!] And is there a better Christmas story than How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957)? His later works are fun too, even more appropriate than his others for “obsolete children” otherwise known as adults: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (1990) and You’re Only Old Once (1986).
But what I like best about Dr. Seuss’s life are the anecdotes that show he finds ways around obstacles and loves a challenge. For example, when he was in college at Dartmouth, he got caught drinking gin with several friends. His punishment was to stop all his extracurricular activities, including writing for the humor magazine. But he did continue his efforts as a contributor to the Dartmouth Jack-O-Latern, albeit secretly—that is when he first simply used “Seuss” as his pen name. He permanently added the “Dr.” to his signature once Dartmouth awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1956.
Another fun story is what prompted him to write The Cat in the Hat. It happened in 1954, just after Life published an illiteracy report noting that one reason kids were not learning to read was because their reading material was so boring. In response, W. E. Spaulding, the director of the education division of Houghton Mifflin, created a list of 348 words he figured first-graders should know. He then challenged Geisel to trim the list to just 250 words and write a book using only those words to create “a book children can’t put down.” Less than a year later, The Cat in the Hat was ready for publication, using only 236 words. Within its first three years, this little book sold about a million copies. And it has been a favorite of kids around the world ever since.
In 1960, Bennett Cert, co-founder of Random House, bet Geisel $50 that he couldn’t write a book using only 50 different words. Geisel accepted the challenge and produced a book of 681 total words from a list of 49 monosyllabic words and one polysyllabic word (anywhere). That book was Green Eggs and Ham, which encouraged all its readers—along with its main character Sam-I-Am—to try new things. Not a bad lesson for life!
No wonder I love Dr. Seuss and his books so much. He loved life and encouraged his readers—young and old—to get out there and have fun. If you have kids in your life, read to them and give them their own books to treasure. And maybe thank Dr. Seuss for helping to make reading for kids of all ages such fun! Ice cream would help the celebration as well. Always does! And the fun of reading is always worth celebrating. Happy Dr. Seuss Day!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE DR. SEUSS BOOK? OR A FAVORITE KID’S BOOK BY ANY AUTHOR?
For little ones, I really like Animalia by Graeme Base and have recently enjoyed The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak.
SOME QUOTES BY DR. SEUSS
“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”
“You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”