Friday, March 2, 2012

Let Us Celebrate the Work of Theodore Geisel

Everybody is writing today about Dr. Seuss, and with good reason.  Today would have been the famed and well-respected author's 108th birthday.  Kids have been reading his stories, creating arts and crafts projects and eating green eggs and ham at schools around the world today in his honor.

Nearly everyone I have spoken to who either is or at one point was a child (which is damn near everyone) has some fond memory of Dr. Seuss's stories.  The first Dr. Seuss book I read (or rather had read to me) was One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.  My parents were forced to read it to me regularly.  I, like most children, instantly became hooked by the unique style.  Soon afterward, much to my father's chagrin, I discovered On Beyond Zebra and its prolific made up vocabulary.  I got the biggest kick out of the fact that my dad had read me the story a thousand times and still could not pronounce everything right.  When my sons were younger and wanted bedtime stories, I often challenged myself to try and get through the book without a mistake.  I have yet to do so.

The rest of my childhood was peppered with Dr. Seuss.  I learned to read with Hop On Pop and Fox in Socks.  I laughed at the silly antics of The Cat in the Hat.  Even now, I enjoy flipping through the pages of a Dr. Seuss tale during a free moment.  The Grinch Who Stole Christmas still puts me in the holiday spirit.  The Sleep Book makes my eyelids heavy to this day.  While those same eyes roll at the preachiness of The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book, I continue to feel enlightened and inspired by the lessons contained in Yertle the Turtle, Sneetches and I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew (my personal favorite).

However, for as great and timeless as his books were, let's remember that the human being behind their production was not some sort of god.  Dr. Seuss was a pen name.  Seuss was his middle name and he never completed his doctorate.  Theodore Geisel was a great writer of children's books, but not infallible, as I fear we sometimes make him out to be in the eyes of our kids.  He cheated on his first wife who later committed suicide.  He made statements agreeing with the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.  I by no means encourage you to tell your kids these details, but keep them in the back of your mind and feel free to whip them out when Dr. Seuss comes up and you want to ruin someone's day.

In 1991, Theodore Geisel died and left behind a collection of great, influential children's books.  We can thank him for that and remember his writing career.  If you're not a stickler for accuracy, you can say, "Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss," despite the fact that he cannot hear you and that was not his real name.

Today, I encourage you to instead say, "Theodore Geisel wrote some great books."  then you can go and read a few and participate in some Seuss themed activities.

That is all for my pessimistic rant.  Sorry if I ruined Dr. Seuss's birthday for you.  Thanks for reading.


  1. I feel like there is more to this story that you are not telling us...

  2. No, I was having a random, compulsive moment regarding everyone writing, "Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss," and felt the need to point out that he was not a doctor, Seuss was not his last name and that there is no need to address him directly as he is not around to hear it. I was just being cruel and felt the need to correct everyone. I'm past it now.