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Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

Today marks the birthday of an American icon. You may have cut your teeth on his books. He was part of the culture, like Lassie and Sesame Street. I’m talking about Dr. Seuss.

Where would our education be, had it not been for Green Eggs and Ham, Cat in Hat and Hop on Pop? I never met a kid who didn’t like Dr. Seuss’s books. Perhaps it was the whimsical way he wrote. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Did you know Dr. Seuss wasn’t really a doctor? He chose the pen name Dr. Seuss because first, it was his mother’s maiden name, and second, he wanted to humor his parents, who hoped he would earn a PhD.

Born Theodore Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904, 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.

Interestingly, Dr. Seuss never had children of his own. He did step-parent his wife’s two daughters but grew tired of hearing people bragging 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.


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