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March 12, 2008 > Celebrate Dr. Seuss in March

Celebrate Dr. Seuss in March

By Mona Shah

"I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Green Eggs and Ham

Dr. Seuss had a profound influence on children and adults alike, uplifting our moods and coaxing a smile out of the most irascible of us. March, the month of his birthday, we pay homage to the wonder that is Seuss, and an appreciation of all that he did.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as the beloved Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father, Theodor Robert, and mother, Henrietta Seuss Geisel, were German immigrants. Seuss credits his mother, who often soothed her children to sleep by "chanting" rhymes remembered from her youth, for his ability and desire to create the well-known rhymes of his books.

As a teenager, Seuss studied English literature at Dartmouth College, where he wrote for and edited the school's humor magazine. It was in this publication that he first began using simply the name Seuss. To please his father, Seuss went to study at Oxford University, where he met his first wife, Helen Palmer. But academics bored him, and he toured Europe instead!

After returning to the States and with the advent of World War II, his focus changed and he began contributing weekly political cartoons to PM magazine, a liberal publication. His first big break came in 1937, when using the name Dr. Seuss, he wrote and illustrated his first children's book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street." It was rejected 27 times before being published. With its simple rhymed text and whimsical tone, the book was an instant success.

Subsequently he wrote several children's books that many consider to be his finest works, including such favorites as "If I Ran the Zoo," "Scrambled Eggs Super!" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!"

In May 1954, an important development occurred that influenced much of Seuss' later work. Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, Seuss' publisher made up a list of 400 words he felt were important and asked Dr. Seuss to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Nine months later, Seuss, using 220 of the words given to him, completed "The Cat in the Hat." This book was a tour de force - it retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Seuss' earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary, could be read by beginning readers. Rumor has it that "Green Eggs and Ham" was written to win a $50 bet. Seuss was told that he couldn't write an entire book using only fifty words. He proved them wrong.

Seuss died, following several years of illness, in La Jolla, California on September 24, 1991. Though he devoted most of his life to writing children's books, he never had any children himself.

So, how should we measure his influence? External recognition, sales, maybe imitation? What about that more elusive measure of influence, how his books translate to other fields? It is here, that the true influence of Seuss is evident.

The most obvious recent translation of Dr. Seuss has been into movies. One of his books "Horton Hears a Who!" has been adapted into a feature film and opens in theatres on March 14th. The film, like Seuss' book, presents an imaginative elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) who hears a faint cry for help coming from a tiny speck of dust floating through the air. Although Horton doesn't know it yet, that speck houses an entire city named Who-ville, inhabited by the microscopic "Whos" led by the Mayor (Steve Carell). Despite being ridiculed and threatened by his neighbors, who think he has lost his mind, Horton is determined to save the particle...because "a person's a person, no matter how small."

These and other concepts are well-known to parents and children throughout the world. For no matter how large or small our community is in size, it is a happier place through the humor and chaotic rhymes of the doctor of our house - Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss.

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