Today is the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He’s most famous for his children’s books, such as The Cat In The Hat, There’s A Wocket In My Pocket!, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, and my personal favorite, Green Eggs and Ham.
Life Magazine ran an article in 1954 (eight years into the Baby Boom) that blamed the rising rate of illiteracy among kids on the fact that kids’ books were boring. The president of Houghton-Miflin came up with a list of 348 words he felt were necessary for first graders to know, then challenged Seuss to cut that list to 250 and deliver a book. Seuss wrote The Cat In The Hat using 237 of the words, and it became a classic. Green Eggs and Ham, featured above, only took him about 50 of the words.
I grew up in the era of Dr. Seuss, and I know that his books were effective. They told good stories, they were fun to read, and the anarchy in the drawings meant, if nothing else, that kids could have a good laugh. Lots of us learned to read the books just so we could see the pictures, and read them over and over and over because they made reading fun.
Mary and I were at Kroch’s & Brentano’s in downtown Chicago many years ago, and sitting on a table was a copy of Green Eggs and Ham, written in Hebrew. I picked it up, and “read” the whole thing to her (even started in the back and worked my way forward), reciting the book from memory. She was amazed. “I didn’t know you could read Hebrew!” Okay, so it was a silly trick to play on her, but it’s a testament to how memorable the books are, especially the pictures. Change the pictures, it just isn’t the same.
Dr. Seuss died in 1991, but his books probably never will. If they do, it’s likely the end of civilization as we know it.