“The Cat in the Hat” – I still remember my sister’s 1st grade Halloween costume. She dressed up as the Cat in the Hat, with a tall striped hat and a striped T-Shirt. What a simple, but wonderfully creative image – a cat in a top hat. Dr Seuss is able to speak to the silly imagination of children, and make them learn to read and rhyme without even realizing it. And the images and illustrations in his books stay with me long after I’ve read a Dr. Seuss book (I still think that dandelions look like Whoville houses every time I see them!)
“The Lorax” – If I thought that Dr. Seuss was only for kids, I found out I was wrong in Middle School. My social studies teacher brought in a copy of “The Lorax” to introduce the topic of industrial pollution to our class. I found out that Dr. Seuss is as much an activist as he is a creative writer. The Lorax speaks to environmental destruction and the importance of conservation. Seuss uses the name “Once-ler” to describe the character who cuts down trees and extracts resources. The salience and simplicity of the names he chooses add depth to the book, but it was still so much more fun to read than the science textbook that we pulled out later.
“Oh the Places You’ll Go” – It seems like it should be a cheesy graduation present, but somehow it manages not to be. I got a copy of this particular Dr. Seuss book when I graduated from high school. It is an anxious time, getting ready to leave home and go to a new place. The books manages to give advice, inspire, motivate, and ease tensions all at the same time. My favorite line was: “You’ll look up and down streets. Look’em over with care. About some you will say, “I don’t choose to go there.” With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down a not-so-good street.”
“You’re Only Old Once” – This past December, I went home to visit my parents to celebrate their birthdays and Christmas together. My Dad’s birthday comes first, and s I went to an independent bookstore in a neighboring town to search for a present. The various titles – “Fly by Wire,” “101 Ways to Catch Small Fish,” “Breaking Dawn,” none particularly suitable. Even the books about the history of theology, botany, organic fertilizers – all his usual favorites – didn’t look quite right. But then I came across “You’re Only Old Once,” a Dr. Seuss book I had never seen before! I flipped through the pages, and became engrossed in the light, humorous interpretation of a rather difficult process – getting old. While the book turned out to be too expensive, it got me thinking about Dr. Seuss again.
How is it that he manages to take incredibly serious, difficult topics like aging, environmental pollution, graduating and leaving home, and write about them with such carefree ease. Humble, prolific (more than 60 books!), Dr. Seuss is still someone I turn to when my mind needs refreshing. It is difficult to read a verse by him without smiling.
Reading over what I’ve written about him here, I can’t help but feel that I should have written a verse instead. But only Dr Seuss can capture so much meaning in so few words – and so here is his own tribute to birthdays, dedicated to him on his birthday –
“If you’d never been born, well what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a door knob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes!
Or worse than all that… why, you might be a
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you… you ARE YOU! And now, isn’t that pleasant!”
— Dr. Seuss, from Happy Birthday To You!