By Dean Tsouvalas
Anyone born after 1960 most likely learned how to read thanks to the gift of imaginative storytelling from Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. One of the most popular gifts for a graduating student is a copy of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Since its original publication in 1990, Seuss’s final book continues to sell at least 300,000 copies every spring and remains a source of inspiration for every new generation of young graduates.
Interest for Dr. Seuss grows like the gigantic globs of Oobleck that young Bartholomew Cubbins faced in the classic story, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, in celebration of what would be Dr. Seuss’s 107th birthday on March 2nd. To mark the occasion not only of his birthday, but also the 50th birthday of The Cat in the Hat, the National Education Association – Read Across America celebrates reading aloud.
The beloved children’s author was born in 1904 in Springfield, MA. While attending Dartmouth College, he became editor-in-chief of its humor magazine, “Jack O’Lantern.” His college career as editor however was short-lived, because unlike the Grinch who Stole Christmas, his celebrating didn’t reflect the wholesomeness of Whoville — he and his friends were caught throwing a drinking party during prohibition and against school policy. Geisel continued to write for the Dartmouth magazine under the pseudonym Seuss. Seuss was both his mother’s maiden name and his middle name. (Later in his career he also wrote under the name Theo LeSieg which is Geisel spelled backwards.)
“Seuss brings a dose of anarchy into the reading primer.”
Even though Geisel was a respected advertising cartoonist (his ads for “Flit” insect repellent — “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” — became a household slogan across America similar to ‘Where’s the beef?’), his big break into book publishing was more difficult than when Horton Hatches the Egg. Inspiring the author in all of us, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times before being published in 1937. Twenty years later, The Cat in the Hat catapulted Dr. Seuss to the definitive children’s book author-illustrator, a position he has held unofficially ever since.
We spoke with Philip Nel, author of “Dr. Seuss: American Icon” (Continuum Publishing, 2004) who is Associate Professor of English and Graduate Program in Children’s Literature at Kansas State University and teaches a wildly popular class on the magical world of Dr. Seuss.
In early 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy which basically said kids weren’t reading because the books were boring. His publisher asked him to write and illustrate a children’s book only using 236 “new reader” vocabulary words. The result was a book combining an engaging story with outrageous illustrations and playful sounds that redefined children’s literature, The Cat in the Hat. “Seuss brings a dose of anarchy into the reading primer and forever changed the way children learn to read,” according to Nel.
Following the success of The Cat in the Hat, a college bet Dr. Seuss $50 that he couldn’t write an entire book using only 50 words. Once again Geisel delivered a tour de force, Green Eggs and Ham. His final book was You’re Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children, a satire of hospitals and the geriatric lifestyle, which will bring rueful laughter to all. At the time of his death in September 1991, he had written and illustrated 44 children’s books. His books had been translated into more than 15 languages with more than 200 million copies of these beloved books in print. He remains the best-selling author of children’s books in the world.
Brilliant, playful and always respectful of children, Dr. Seuss has charmed his way into the lives of four generations of youngsters and parents.I grew up on Dr. Seuss and now have the awesome experience of reading his whimsical tales to my kids. I am moved by his writing all over again as I watch the kids greedily drinking in the stories by Theodor Seuss Geisel. So join us, celebrate this author and this marvelous book by reading The Cat and the Hat aloud to yourself, your kids, grandkids or to any Who down in Whoville.
Oh, the places you’ll go…
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