Like many of you, I grew up reading Dr. Seuss books. My mother saved many of them from my childhood, which I later enjoyed reading to my four children.
Hearing those books over and over again helped teach them how to read and also made for countless hours of entertainment.
Remember in “The Cat in the Hat” when the cat opened up the box and out came “Thing One and Thing Two?” Well, we still refer to our children as Thing One, Two, Three and Four.
Who can forget sweet Horton the elephant as he took care of the egg that irresponsible Maysie the bird had left with him so she could fly off to Florida for a vacation?
Remember the Sneeches? We still talk about “the stars on thars.”
When I heard there was going to be a traveling exhibit of some of the real-life Dr. Seuss’s hats at the Ann Jackson Gallery in Roswell, I knew I had to go.
Paul was less than thrilled when I told him about our excursion last Saturday, but he knows better than to argue when I have that determined look on my face.
Who knew that the real Dr. Seuss, whose full name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, was known as “Ted” to his family and friends?
As you can see, Seuss was his middle name — also his mother’s maiden name — and is Bavarian. Both sides of his family were of German descent, though he was born in the United States on March 2, 1904.
He did graduate from Dartmouth College, but he was no doctor. In his senior year there, he and some friends were caught drinking gin in his dorm room. They were put on probation and had their extracurricular activities terminated.
As the editor of the college’s humorous magazine, where his cartoons appeared, he found himself trying to figure out a way to continue publishing the illustrations. He achieved this by using aliases, one of which was Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, which he later shortened to Dr. Seuss.
Seuss had a reputation of loving to tell a good story, not necessarily a true story, but a good one. He married a classmate, Helen, and tried to make it in the cartoon/illustrating business, though he ended up getting his break in advertising.
He worked for years for several companies. A contract he had signed carried many restrictions about what he could write/publish. But children’s books were not prohibited, so that’s what he decided to do.
The year his first book was published was also the year his wife learned she could not have children. Seuss biographers have written that many of his stories contain clues about parenting and perhaps that he wished he had children.
One of my favorites, “Horton Hatches the Egg,” was his fourth book (published in 1940) and interestingly is about Horton as an adoptive father.
Over the years, many people asked Seuss how a childless person could have such talent communicating to children. His standard response was always, “You make ’em, I’ll amuse ’em.”
And amuse children (and their parents) Dr. Seuss did. He published 46 books during a long and successful career and profoundly influenced several generations.
In my research, I learned that “The Cat in the Hat” was much more than just a clever tale with funny rhymes. As it turns out, there was a study that claimed American children needed to learn to read earlier and focus on hundreds of key words.
Seuss was challenged to write a book using the 250 key words deemed the most critical. Within nine months, he had published “The Cat in the Hat,” which used 236 of those words. The 1957 book was an immediate success and has remained one of his top-selling titles.
Some of those closest to the author said he modeled some of his most famous characters after himself. Michael Frith, his editor, once said “The Cat in the Hat and Ted Geisel were inseparable and the same … This is someone who delighted in the chaos of life, who delighted in the seeming insanity of the world around him.”
Indeed, there was much more to the man who wrote and illustrated such whimsical works. He was deeply interested in social injustices and hoped his works could teach children about such things in an entertaining way. He saw troubles in the world and wanted to capture a positive message.
For example, in “Horton Hears a Who,” Horton the elephant is the only one who believes an entire planet is in the speck he is protecting.
Throughout the book, Horton repeatedly makes the claim that all parents pray our children know and believe that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
The exhibit will be at the gallery through next weekend, so check it out if you can. Oh, and it is free.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at email@example.com.