Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Today is the birthday of the late Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss, author of forty six children's books. I never read his books as a child and didn't even know about them until I had children of my own. That's where the fun began.

With my oldest child, we would read The Cat in the Hat and The Cat in the Hat Comes Back every day at nap time. Over the course of a year, I memorized the books, having an especially soft spot for Thing 1 and Thing 2!
My favourite Dr. Seuss book however, is Hunches in Bunches, about a boy who can't decide what to do for the day. So some little characters stop by to give him crunchy hunches as to what to eat and what to do!

Do you ever sit and fidget when you don't know what to do...?
Everybody gets the fidgets.
Even me and even you.

He has Happy Hunches and Very Odd Hunches to help him decide. But some of them are bullies too, like the Real Tough Hunch.
Then things got really out of hand.
Wild hunches in big bunches
were scrapping all around me,
throwing crunchy hunchy punches.
It's classic Dr. Seuss. Unusual characters, drawn by Dr. Seuss, with wonderful rhymes.

There have been several books written about Dr. Seuss, who was born Theodor (Ted) Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904. He grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, living with his parents and his sister, Marnie, at 74 Fairfield Street. Of German descent, his father and grandfather were brewmasters, but his father also worked at the zoo and eventually became superintendent of parks . Ted's mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel often lulled her children to sleep with silly stories and funny verses. His fascination with words and verse must have started early on, because his stuffed dog's name was Theophratus! Ted was a boy with a lively imagination that soon found him drawing animals and cartoons.

He attended Dartmouth College where he was the editor for the college humour magazine, Jack-)-Lantern. From there he attended Oxford University in England. At Oxford, he met Helen Palmer who encouraged him in his drawing. He eventually married Helen, who became a children's author. He began drawing cartoons under the name of Dr. Seuss for the Saturday Evening Post as well as creating ads for Standard Oil.

His first children's book,  And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street which he both wrote and illustrated, was published in 1937 after being rejected by twenty-seven publishers. The book was well received despite making little money.  His next book, (and one of my favourites) was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, whose inspiration he received from seeing a stranger on a train wearing an outrageous hat! Horton Hatches the Egg came about when his sketches were blown around and he saw an elephant sitting in a tree.

After World War II, Dr. Seuss published McElligot's Pool which was a tribute to his father who loved fishing. Readers and reviewers were starting by this time to take notice and this book won a Caldecott Honor citation from the American Library Association. Two more books also won similar honors; Bartholomew and the Oobleck and If I Ran The Zoo.

In 1957, Viking Books challenged him to write a book using the list of 225 words that first graders needed to master. Thus was born, The Cat in the Hat. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, another famous creation was also written that year.

Dr. Seuss also wrote Green Eggs and Ham, a book that used only 50 words!

He also wrote under the pen name of Theo. LeSieg (Geisel spelled backwards) for books that he wrote but did not illustrate.

Dr. Seuss' books were extremely popular because they were funny and oriented towards children. As Katherine Krull writes in her children's biography of Theodor Seuss:

"Reviewers raved that Dr. Seuss books were not like any others previously published for children. They were incredibly funny, with a momentum that propelled readers to the end. They were always respectful toward children, and not always respectful toward authority - the rule makers."

Not only is today, Dr. Seuss' birthday, it is also the day the movie adaptation of another of his books, The Lorax, opens in theatres. The Lorax, as Seuss wrote it, is an environmental fable about the destruction of a forest of Truffula trees and the cascading effects this has on both the environment and the local economy. The movie is loosely based on the book and utilizes CGI special effects.  I'll probably pass seeing this in the theatre and catch this movie on DVD.

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