What begins with A?
Aunt Annie’s Alligator…A…a…A
And with those words from “Dr. Seuss’s ABC,” read at my grandmother’s knee, I was off and running into a world of reading.
Tuesday, across the country, thousands of adults and children will be reading the words of Dr. Seuss together, just like my grandmother and I did, all those years ago.
The National Education Association’s annual “Read Across America” falls on Tuesday, Dr. Seuss’ birthday.
I remember discovering the rote world of reading in first grade (in the days long before mandatory kindergarten) when “Run, David, run,” “Ride, David, ride,” and “Come and ride,” were about as dynamic an adventure as someone thought young readers could handle.
Hooray for Dr. Seuss!
In May 1954, John Hershey wrote an article for Life magazine that took schools to task for using “pallid primers [with] abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls.” At the same time, Dr. Rudolf Franz Flesch had written “Why Johnny Can’t Read” with a similar attack on primers (those books we use to learn to read) as being…well…just boring.
Luckily, William Ellsworth Spaulding, then a textbook editor and later chairman at publishing giant Houghton Mifflin, read both, including the note in Hershey’s article that geniuses like Dr. Seuss were needed to help fight illiteracy in America with exciting books.
The result, of course, is the classic early reader, “The Cat in the Hat,” which uses 236 simple words that first graders still love today.
Dr. Seuss and his nonsense words probably tried the patience of my grandmother, once an accredited school teacher in Upshur County at the turn of the century, but for her granddaughter, the words were magic.
My wise mother invested money in the education of her children in many ways, including a subscription to a Beginner Books Club. Soon, a fresh new Seussical title was arriving at our house every 4-6 weeks. I’m sure that my brothers and I scrambled to get our hands on each new title, from “Hop on Pop,” to “Ten Apples Up on Top.”
The reading skills of my siblings and me grew as our home collection grew. Soon, we were scrambling for favorites like “Fox in Socks,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
By the 1970s, as my younger siblings were starting their reading careers, we were viewing TV specials as Chuck Jones’s cartoons brought Dr. Seuss’s stories to life – “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “The Cat in the Hat.” A mention of those shows still makes some of us break into a round of that familiar song:
In English, cat, hat;
in French, chat, chapeau;
in Spanish, he’s el gato in a sombrero…
So today, as adults and children sit down together to read, I’ll remember one young pig-tailed girl, who launched her own reading career with the help of two very smart women and one wise man, Theodore Seuss Geisel, our beloved Dr. Seuss.
A Seussical history appears in a December 23, 2002 article from “The New Yorker,” “Cat People: What Dr. Seuss Really Taught Us,” by Louis Menard.