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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Victoria: Spotlight on Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) is one of the most beloved children's authors of all time. He is the author of over 40 picture books throughout his career, with his two most popular books being Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat respectively.

Seuss began writing children's books in 1937 with And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, which went through many rejections before finally reaching publication. He published three more books, but interrupted the writing of his fifth picture book, McElligot’s Pool, in 1941 to begin writing political cartoons during World War II. By 1950, Seuss was back on the picture book track with the publication of If I Ran the Zoo. His distinction as a beloved children's author really began when Life magazine published an article in 1954 about why children were not reading. The article called the Dick and Jane children's books of the time "boring" and claimed that this was the reason that children were not learning to read. The director of publisher Houghtin Mifflin at the time - an old collegue of Seuss' - challenged Seuss to write an engaging, fun children's book comprised of no more than 225 different words.  From this list of words he was given, Seuss created the classic children's picture book The Cat in the Hat in 1957. The book was a raging success, and this inspired Seuss and his wife to start Beginner Books, a division of Random House that would publish books for early readers.
Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham in much the same way.  In 1960, a friend remarked that Seuss could not write a book with fewer than 50 words, and Green Eggs and Ham was born. Seuss continued to write Beginner Books, and even dipped his pen into the realm of political or moralistic children's tales. The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, The Butter Battle Book, The Sneetches, and Horton Hears a Who! are several of Seuss' books that he used to teach important lessons to children about racism, freedom, environmentalism, and even the futility of the arms race. Seuss wanted to teach children without boring or preaching to them. He was quoted as saying, "I think I can communicate with kids because I don’t try to communicate with kids. Ninety percent of the children’s books patronize the child and say there’s a difference between you and me, so you listen to this story. I, for some reason or another, don’t do that. I treat the child as an equal." 

Though he died in 1991, Seuss' books are still favorites with children and parents alike today. The rhythm, rhyme, and whimsical nonsense found in his books appeal to readers of every kind. Seuss' obvious influence on child literacy continues over two decades after his death, and it is seen most clearly in the National Education Association's event to promote children's literacy, Read Across America. The event is held yearly on March 2nd, Seuss' birthday, or "Dr. Seuss Day."

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