Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss

March 1, 2010 by Judy Polak

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BIG A

little a

What begins with A?

Aunt Annie’s Alligator…A…a…A

And with those words from “Dr. Seuss’s ABC,” read at Dr.SeussABC-bookmy grandmother’s knee, I was off and running into a world of reading.

R-A-A-logoTuesday, 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.cat-hat-book

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.

hop-on-pop-bookMy wise mother invested money in theten-apples-up-on-top-book 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.”

fox-in-socks-bookgreen-eggs-and-ham-bookonefish-twofish-bookhorton-hears-a-who-bookthe-500-hats-bookAmazingly, when I was ready for it, Dr. Seuss was ready to challenge me with longer books that I discovered in the libraries of my classrooms, school, and my hometown public library.  These were older books by Dr. Seuss, written before that primer challenge such as:  “Horton Hears a Who!” and my absolute favorite Seuss, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”

how-the-grinch-stole-christmas-bookBy 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.

3 Responses to “Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss”

  1. Kim Fetty says:

    What a wonderful way to start the day–reading a love note, oh hey! Judy! I love your pick, but mine is Mr. Brown can Moo, Can You? I can say those sounds pretty quick!
    Hooray, you put a smile on my face today!
    Kim Fetty
    Morgantown, WV

  2. Dawn Miller says:

    Thank you, Miss Judy.
    “Hop on Pop” was the first book I ever read all by myself, except I did have to get help with “Constantinople” and “Timbuktu.”
    Later, as I was about to finish sixth grade and leave my elementary school, I rediscovered all the Dr. Seuss books in my school library. It was the first time I remember looking at a book and through it recalling my younger, different self. I checked them all out again (despite a disapproving look from the school librarian) and reread them all. Only this time, I discovered there was more going on in some of these stories than I remembered from when I was 6. To this day, my favorite is “The Sneetches:”

    “Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
    Had bellies with stars.
    The Plain-Belly Sneetches
    Had none upon thars.

    Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small
    You might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all.”

  3. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    My Dad and I wore out the Piedmont Public Library’s copy of The Cat in the Hat. And the first thing I ever bought for our son, Thomas — before he was even born — was a copy of that book. Though for some reason when he was smaller, the Seuss that we read most often was “And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” My Dad read that one to me, too — though he changed it to Gordon Street, because that was where we lived at the time.

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