Many children living in America within the past several generations cut their teeth on Dr. Seuss books. He was part of the culture, like apple pie and Lassie in the earlier years, and Sesame Street characters in later times.
Where would our culture be, had it not been for Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in Hat and Hop on Pop?
The author, Dr. Seuss, was just as whimsical as his writing. But his name really wasn't Dr. Seuss. Born Theodore Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904, he really wasn’t really a doctor either. One of his parents had wanted him to earn a PhD. but he chose to become an author and illustrator instead.
Geisel began his prolific career as an advertising cartoonist for companies such as Standard Oil, NBC, Ford and General Electric.
His fame as an author was triggered by a wager.
As a joke, publisher Bennett Cerf bet Geisel that he couldn’t write a book using 50 words or less. Geisel won by writing Green Eggs and Ham, although it’s reported that his very first children’s book was And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
You probably thought Geisel’s greatest cultural achievement was introducing children to the joys of early reading. It was; however, he influenced us in other ways. For what it’s worth, he coined the word “nerd” in his book If I Ran the Zoo.
If you have attended a graduation, you probably have heard excerpts from Seuss’s last book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go--which proves that there’s a bit of the child in all of us.
Interestingly, Dr. Seuss never had children of his own.
He did step-parent his wife’s two daughters but grew tired of hearing people brag about their offspring. So, he invented names of make-believe children and referred to them in his Christmas cards to friends. There were Chrysanthemum-Pearl (aged 89 months, going on 90), Norval, Wally, Wickersham, Miggles, Boo-Boo, and Thnud.
True to Geisel’s playful nature, one year he and his wife gathered half a dozen neighborhood children in their living room for a picture to include in their Christmas card, and signed it “Helen and Ted Geisel and the Kiddies.”
“I don’t write for children. I write for people,” he once told an interviewer. “I think I can communicate with kids because I don’t try to communicate with kids. Ninety percent of the children’s books patronize the child and say there’s a difference between you and me, so you listen to this story. I, for some reason or another, don’t do that. I treat the child as an equal.”
That, perhaps, is the reason for Dr. Seuss’s wildly successful career as an author and illustrator. He wrote for the child in all of us.
How about you? Have any fond memories of Dr. Seuss books? Did they introduce you to early reading? Feel free to comment below.