by Tammy DiBartolo
In May of 1954, Life Magazine published an article that addressed the problems children were having learning to read. The report said that students were having trouble because their books were boring and the strategies for teaching reading were not effective.
This article inspired author and cartoonist Theodore Seuss Geisel to write a new kind of school book. To do this, Dr. Seuss chose 225 words from a list of words that first graders were supposed to learn. This was more difficult than Dr. Seuss had anticipated. He looked at the list again and decided that if he could find two words that rhymed, he would write a book about those words.
He chose cat and hat, and the rest is history. In 1957 The Cat in the Hat was published and the rest is history. In 1960, Bennett Cerf bet Dr. Seuss fifty dollars that he could not write an entire book using only fifty words. The result was Green Eggs and Ham, another favorite of children.
Theodore Geisel was born on March 2, 1904, in Springfield, Massachusetts. To his friends and family he was simply known as Ted. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1925 and went on to Oxford University to obtain a doctorate in literature. Instead of completing his courses at Oxford, Ted married his sweetheart, Helen Palmer and they returned to the States.
Dr. Seuss continued to write books and many of them dealt with subjects that were controversial. The Butter Battle Book was written to speak out against the nuclear arms race. Publishers felt that the book was too scary for children and did not have a happy ending. In the end the book was published just as Dr. Seuss had written it, on his eightieth birthday.
Dr. Seuss said he was not sure if this was an adult book for children or a children's book for adults. Critics could not agree either. Some felt the subject was too bleak and difficult for children. Others felt that it gave children the opportunity to think about their future. Despite the controversy, The Butter Battle Book became a best-seller all over the world.
Another Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax, offers young readers insight into greed and pollution. The whole book was written in forty-five minutes!
In his later years, Dr, Seuss wrote You're Only Old Once: a Book for Obsolete Children. He wrote the book when he was in his eighties and was spending a lot of time in hospital waiting room where he was both scared and bored.
Each May, high school and college graduates around the world receive copies of another Dr. Seuss favorite, Oh, the Places You'll Go! This book gives inspiration to anyone who is about to set out on a new phase of their life. The book gives hope with lines like:
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You're on your own and you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.
Theodore Seuss Geisel died in his sleep in his writing studio on September 21, 1991. He was eighty-seven years old. For more information on Dr. Seuss and birthday celebrations for The Cat in the Hat, visit www.seussville.com or www.nea.org.
Tammy DiBartolo is the Youth Services Manager for Rapides Parish Library.
March 4, 2007