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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss's birthday on March 2 has become cause for celebration in libraries and schools across the land.  At the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, free festivities for kids will be held this Saturday and Monday at various branches.  Check for details.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, born in Massachusetts in 1904, first achieved fame not through books, but through advertising.  In 1937, Geisel turned his hand to writing for children.  "And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street," his first children's book, has all the elements that we've come to associate with the good doctor:  a rollicking rhyme, colorful cartoon illustrations, and, most of all, a wild imagination.

Young Marco is admonished by his dad to "keep your eyelids up/ And see what you can see."  But on the way to school, there's nothing interesting in sight, just an old horse and wagon on Mulberry Street.  That won't do, of course, so Marco begins to embroider on the scene.  He adds more and more characters -- the horse becomes a zebra, the driver a charioteer -- until he's invented a parade that includes a brass band, an elephant, and an airplane dropping confetti.  Wait 'til he tells Dad about this!

It was almost twenty years later that a report on the sad state of children's literacy prompted Geisel to attempt a book for children that offered an exciting story using no more than 250 different words.  The world of books for beginning readers changed forever when Random House published "The Cat in the Hat" in 1957.  This is no longer the mundane world of Dick and Jane -- instead, chaos breaks loose when through the door walks the famous Cat and his sidekicks, Thing One and Thing Two.  "I know some new tricks," / Said the Cat in the Hat," and the next thing the children know, the Cat is balancing on top of a ball, with the fish bowl on top of a rake, a cake on his hat, and a fan in his tail. "If Mother could see this,/ Oh, what would she say?"

Geisel was clever enough to use simple words and lots of repetition to build event upon event, until total hilarity reigned.  He did it again in even fewer words with "Green Eggs and Ham," perhaps his masterpiece.  Frantically pursued by Sam-I-Am bearing a plate of green eggs and ham, the poor victim, who has refused them "in a boat... on a goat... in the rain... on a train," finally surrenders.  To his (and the reader's) delight, he discovers, "I do so like/ green eggs and ham!/ Thank you!/ Thank you,/ Sam-I-am!"

How did Ted Geisel grow up to become Dr. Seuss?  Kathleen Krull's "The Boy on Fairfield Street" explains to readers eight and up how the student voted "Least Likely to Succeed" by his Dartmouth classmates eventually found success as an artist.  It's a hopeful tale for every child who, like Seuss, "excels at fooling around."

Cookbook author Georgeanne Brennan has come up with a banquet of Seuss-inspired recipes in "The Green Eggs and Ham Cookbook."  Her "Circus McGurkus Pink Lemonade" would taste good with her "Nook Hook Cook Book Dogs," with "Cat in the Hat Tub Cake" to follow.  With adult help, kids will have fun creating their own Seussian feast, in celebration of his birthday or any day.

Originally published in the 2/24/09 Free Lance-Star newspaper.