Thank you, Dr. Seuss

My first kiddie lit course came secondhand the year I was thirteen. In those days because she had two years of college, Mama taught first grade on a “temporary certificate” and took six semester hours of college credit every summer at Ole Miss to renew her teaching certificate for the following fall. The summer she took the children’s literature course, she shared her enthusiasm for writers like Roger Duvoisin, Wanda Gag, Robert McCloskey, and Eleanor Estes. Her textbook, bought “used” to save money, became a family treasure of stories from great literature. My youngest sister, who had used its stories with her son, generously returned the battered book to me a couple of years ago.  

Although he had been writing for a while, it was this during this summer class that Mama discovered Dr. Seuss. She loved And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It became one of the staples in her first grade classroom long before it became one of mine when I taught kindergarten and second grade. The front of my worn copy has my oldest son’s name and our address when he was in first grade. (Don’t tell him or he will want it back.) It also has a sticky note on the title page that says it got 29 rejections before a publisher bought it and that he used “Dr. Seuss” as his pseudonym for the children’s book intending to save his real name – Theodore Seuss Geisel – for serious adult stuff. Thankfully, he thought better of that idea and left a world of people with their own connections to his treasure trove of children’s books, including the people in my family.

Our first child loved The 500 Hats of Bartholemew Cubbins and soon “flupp, flupp, flupped” along as the hats flew off Bartholemew’s head while he climbed the stairs. The second two learned to read from Dr. Seuss’s ABC followed by Hop on Pop. By the time they mastered One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, they rightfully demanded personal library cards considering themselves ready to read any book in the children’s section.

The next generation has followed suit with grandchildren loving the sounds of Seuss until almost by magic, they turned into words to read. Sam thought Green Eggs and Ham was personalized – a notion perhaps reinforced by the Sam-I-Am mug I bought for him.

Buried in Seussian fun are lessons to learn about taking care of the environment from the Lorax or being faithful to promises from Horton. The Whos remind us and the Grinch that Christmas is “a little bit more” than what can be bought in a store. And how many high school and college graduates have received Oh, the Places You’ll Go to encourage them to follow their dreams?

No doubt you have your own connections to Dr. Seuss. Many people have tried to emulate his way with words and rhymes only to come off as jingle writers in a poor imitation. Perhaps it could be said of him as he said of the episode of Bartholemew Cubbins’s 500 hats that he “just happened to happen and was not likely to happen again.”

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss – born March 2, 1904!