Dr. Seuss (a/k/a Theodor Seuss Geisel) was born on March 2. His birthday is linked with Read Across America Day, which this year is Monday March 3, 2014. Whether you love Dr. Seuss books or hate them (and I know a few people who do–and if you are reading this, you know who you are), you can’t argue that he innovated the children’s picture book genre.
Dr. Seuss’s most famous book, and consequently one of the most recognizable children’s book characters, The Cat in the Hat, started out as a challenge to Seuss by his publisher. According to an illiteracy report in 1954, children of that time were not learning to read because children’s books were–wait for it–boring. Seuss’s publishing house, Houghton Mifflin, assigned Seuss to write a children’s book using 250 words first graders should know. Seuss came back with a book using only 236 words. The rest, as you know, is history.
Dr. Seuss’s picture books are anything but boring. He was ground breaking and visionary. He made silliness acceptable. Made-up words were okay to read and fun to say, even in poetic anapestic meter. He introduced characters that became notorious, like the Grinch and the Lorax. And calling my daughters “Thing 1 and Thing 2” is perfectly fine, thanks to Dr. Seuss.
I am going confess something now that I am not proud of, but I think others might relate to. Here it goes…Dr. Seuss’s illustrations kind of scare me. Yes, it true. I never understood if the weirdly colored and misshapen characters were supposed to be human or science fiction-y. Why were his invented animals so bottom heavy and exceptionally hairy? These are things that make me go “hhhmmmm” every time I read a Dr. Seuss book. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. C’mon, admit it.
There are few children’s book authors and illustrators over the decades who have altered the face of children’s literature. I could name some famous game changers, but let’s be honest, their birthdays aren’t celebrated every year by children’s authors, illustrators, librarians, elementary school educators and kids. My two girls have eaten green eggs and ham many an early March in honor of Dr. Seuss.
So, what would Dr. Seuss do on Read Across America Day? Encourage reading, of course, and possibly some rhyming. I am thankful that Dr. Seuss rose to challenge of writing and illustrating a book that kids can’t put down. He didn’t have any children of his own, but he loved to entertain other’s kids. I can’t imagine what the landscape of children’s literature would be without his many contributions. He motivated multiple generations of kids to read, and that is a pretty amazing legacy. There is no denying he was one cool cat.