- Rebecca Purdy
The library is having a party and everyone is invited! More than two decades after his death, Dr. Seuss’ March birthday has become an annual, nationwide celebration for libraries and schools, and we are joining the fun! After all, it’s only fitting that one of the most beloved children’s book authors receives such recognition. His books are an intrinsic part of American cultural knowledge and span the generations with the first, “And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” published in 1937 to the last, “Oh, the Place You Will Go” in 1991, and include over 60 titles. I bet most Americans even know many of his most memorable lines by heart. While I could write an entire column about my favorites (“Green, Eggs and Ham,” “The Lorax,” and anything with Horton,) part of what I find so fascinating about Dr. Seuss is Theodor Geisel, the man behind the legend.
“The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss” by Kathleen Krull is an insightful, picture book style peek into Dr. Seuss’ childhood. He was the child of German immigrants and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts where he experienced prejudice during World War I. His father ran the zoo and perhaps served as inspiration for his later book “If I Ran the Zoo.” Rather than sing lullabies, his mother lulled him to sleep with stories and nonsense verse, sometimes even just a list of pies. True to character from the very start, his stuffed dog was even named Theophrastus. Seuss was never a good student, preferring to draw instead. His classmates at Dartmouth even voted him “Least Likely to Succeed,” but, with the encouragement of the classmate who later became his wife, succeed he did! He “began flooding the mailrooms of every New York magazine and newspapers with funny articles and animal drawings.” Finally, “The Saturday Evening Post” purchased a cartoon for $25.00 and with that small encouragement America’s beloved author was born!
Older elementary children will love “Oh the Places He Went: A Story About Dr. Seuss” by Maryann N. Weidt. The anecdotes in this biography make it a compelling read and bring this amazing man to life. He and his wife, Helen, bought a vacant observation tower with “walls thick with painted initials surrounded by hearts.” During renovation, the couple added pink stucco walls, but rather than paint over these anonymous signs of love, they left some of the hearts on display. The stories behind his famous books are equally fascinating. A bet with his publisher that Seuss couldn’t write a book using only fifty simple words, resulted in one of his most famous books, “Green Eggs and Ham.” Other little known facts include that he won two Academy Awards for his documentary film work and that he worked for eight hours a day every day, even into his 80s! No wonder he was so prolific!
The star-studded movie, “In Search of Dr. Seuss,” cleverly juxtaposes Dr. Seuss’ life and work, in a fun and informative way. The premise is of a reporter who barges her way into Dr. Seuss’ home only to meet the Cat in the Hat and learn more than she ever expected. A glimpse of one of his World War II political cartoons segues nicely into highlights from the cartoon version of “The Sneetches,” a satire on discrimination. The message isn’t a hard hitting one, but older children might recognize it, and all will enjoy it even if they don’t.
Visit LibraryPoint.org to find the “Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss” celebration at a location near you and join us to honor this amazing man.
Originally published in the Free Lance-Star newspaper.