One of the first books I remember from my childhood is Dr Seuss’s ABC. Like millions of other North American children, I was introduced to the alphabet with the whimsical rhymes and wacky illustrations of Theodore Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr Seuss. From Aunt Annie’s alligator to the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, the silly surprises on every page opened up a wonderful world of rhyme, rhythm and reading. My favourite page of all was the letter M:
Mighty nice indeed! (I’ve always had a soft spot for mice). As I grew older and mastered reading on my own, I graduated to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a collection of highly engaging characters that had me hooked! Not only were the imaginary creatures and scenarios great fun, but the rhyme was a real pleasure to read aloud. I am convinced that Dr Seuss was a huge influence on my own writing, which (if you’ve read any of my books) you will know is largely written in rhyme.
Here’s one of my favourite pages from One Fish, Two Fish. I also love the seven-hump Wump, Ned and his little bed, the Zans for cans and the Ring the Gack game. If you haven’t read this book, do find yourself a copy and take a look! (You can “Look Inside” on the link above).
Theodore Geisel was born on March 2, 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA. As a young man he worked in advertising, drawing cartoons for various commercial products, and political cartoons for newspapers and magazines. His best-known book, The Cat in the Hat, was a direct result of a discovery in the 1950s that American children were not keen to read. The problem was blamed on the boring “primers” of the day, the Dick and Jane books. (If you click on that link you can see just how boring they were!)
I remember the Dick and Jane books when I was learning to read, but luckily my parents got me The Cat in the Hat too, which was so much more fun! Dr Seuss was given a list of about 300 simple words that 6- and 7-year-olds need to learn. He honed down the list to about 240 words and wrote a brilliant rhyming story about a troublesome cat that was an instant hit! I read it over and over when I was a kid, and then when my own children were little I could recite it off by heart!
Other favourites of mine from the Dr Seuss collection are How the Grinch Stole Christmas (including the cartoon version that we watched every year on TV at Christmas time) and something I discovered later and read to my kids, The Sneeches and Other Stories. I especially like the Sneeches because in it the author teaches a very valuable lesson about treating each other with respect and as equals. Here is a page from the beginning of the story, when the star-bellied sneeches are looking down their noses at the plain-bellied ones:
The brilliant thing about Dr Seuss is that he can convey a really important message in a way that is not preachy or heavy-handed. This collection explores intolerance, cooperation and unfounded fears, and each story is charming and funny with wonderfully expressive illustrations.
Because Dr Seuss is so inspirational, and his books have helped generations of children to enjoy reading, on March 2, 2009 (his birthday) a Google Doodle appeared online to celebrate his work. In addition, the National Education Association in the USA has chosen Dr Seuss’s birthday as Read Across America Day. This coming Sunday would be Dr Seuss’s 110th birthday, so I hope you’ll take a moment to enjoy some of his fantastic rhyming stories, wherever you live!