In honor of his recent birthday, I would like to celebrate the man who became known as Dr. Seuss. He was born Theodor Giesel in Springfield, Massachusetts. There is a Memorial Sculpture Garden in his home town. There you can see a sculpture of the artist himself working at a drawing table with the Cat in the Hat looking over his shoulder. There are other favorite characters like Horton the Elephant, the Grinch and his dog Max, Thing One and Two, Gertrude McFuzz, the lovable Thidwick the Moose, and the Lorax (who is also coming soon to a movie theater near you).
From a young age, Theodor loved to draw. As a young boy, as he was making a picture, he would turn the paper over to look at his creation from the other side. He figured that if the image looked good backwards then it worked. It turns out that this is a practice of artists. It is a way of really observing your drawing to see if the composition is right. However, his childhood teacher had no patience for this method. Noticing him looking through the paper, she snapped, “Theodor, real artists do NOT look at their drawings backwards!” From that moment as a young boy, he decided never to take an art class again.
Lucky for us, he did not stop drawing. However, he never considered himself an artist. He said “I try to draw a kangaroo and it comes out looking like a Grinch!” His father served as the parks commissioner in charge of the Forest Park Zoo. So, Theodor spent a lot of time visiting animals and you can see his love of creatures great and small in all his books. He also credited his mother for his approach to language. It seems that she was always keeping Theodor and his sister entertained with infectious rhyming.
He used many different pseudonyms over the years but the one that stuck Dr. Seuss was a tip of his hat to his parents. His father had hoped his son would become a college professor. After graduating from Dartmouth College, Ted attended Oxford pursuing a degree in literature. He found that he had no interest in the academic profession and dropped out without his doctorate. Seuss was his mother’s maiden name.
Once he broke into the children’s book market, his first book was rejected over twenty times, Dr. Seuss brought a strong message against bullies, hypocrites, intolerance, and greed. The Sneetches deals with Anti-Semitism and racial discrimination. Yertle the Turtle is anti-fascist. With the main character building his throne on the backs of the other turtles and being over thrown by a plain turtle named Mack who simply cannot take it anymore. Dr. Seuss encourages us all to speak out. He reminds us that the smallest among us even the littlest Who down in Whoville has the power to overthrow tyrants for as Horton says, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
You might be surprised to discover as I was that Dr. Seuss never had children himself. When asked why he responded, “You keep having kids, I’ll keep writing books for them.” He was a private person who seldom made public appearances. When he did he said that crowds of children made him nervous. As you can imagine, he also grew weary of folks serving him green eggs and ham.
It is a hoot for me to share these books with my daughter. She loves the colorful drawings, fantastic creatures, and rhythmic language. Knowing how true the author was to his ideals, the meaning grows deeper still.