Celebrating Dr. Seuss

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”–Theodor Giesel

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.


“The Geography of Bliss” offers a fascinating journey!

I just finished reading The Geography of Bliss and loved it!

Where can happiness be found?  This is the question that drove Eric Weiner, a NPR foreign correspondent and self-proclaimed grump to travel to ten countries in search for answers about one of life’s most fundamental questions.

During this time of transition when I have completed ten years serving as the Minister of Channing Memorial Church in Newport, RI, this book was a fascinating journey!  The author begins in the Netherlands, home of the World Database of Happiness.  Through his research there, he discovers the happiest citizens live in some surprising places: Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Thailand, and India.  He also explores an experiment conducted in a depressed village in Great Britain as well as visiting the dreary country of Moldova finally heading home to the United States where for all our wealth, Americans are not the happiest people on the planet.

The Geography of Bliss contains many insights into different cultures and the many paths to a meaningful life.  It was delightful to travel to different countries from the comfort of my armchair and to meet a diversity of people.  Eric’s skills as a journalist and genuine curiosity into what makes people tick captivated my attention.  How do you know if someone is happy?  You ask them!  It turns out most people are pretty accurate in measuring our own contentment.  Although happiness is still elusive to define, a universal truth rose to the surface, foremost happiness is relational.  More than money, profession, age, or climate, those people who had the greatest sense of trust in themselves, others, and their place in the world, knew happiness.

This is not a preachy or overly-idealistic book.  Eric Weiner includes a good dose of sarcasm, irony, and humor to make this a fun and memorable book.  I recommend it highly!

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Visit Eric Weiner’s website