Last month was Dr. Seuss Week across America and I spent a good deal of it reading to and listening to my children reading the good doctor's stories. My girls are nearly too old for Dr. Seuss books, although I'm not really convinced there is a "too old" when it comes to Dr. Seuss. I still love them all endlessly. We have nearly all of them and as I was reading to my daughters night after night we just could never get enough of them!
I'd like to ask everyone out here to tell me your favorite Dr. Seuss story. The one that you read until you had it memorized the one you can still interrupt your child while reading with the exact words in the book.
For me it's two. The first I ever read was Fox in Socks. Now I know this seems hard to believe, but my parents swear I started reading books back to them when I was 3 years old. I don't remember that, but I also don't remember not knowing how to read, so who's to say. One of my earliest memories was sitting in front of my preschool class at St. Mark's Church on the East Side and reading Fox in Socks to the class.
I remember being very proud of myself not because I knew that I was the only kid who could read because I don't remember knowing that. I was proud of myself primarily because the nuns were so stunned by how well I could read and it was really a fun way of getting the attention of those lovely women.
The next one I remember reading was Green Eggs and Ham. I remember trying to climb on mom and dad's bed (and it being really hard to do because that bed was SO BIG!) and daddy picking me up to help me on the bed while I clutched that book as if it were a treasure. I asked if I could read it to them. They excitedly complied and I remember just laughing with them as we all shared this wonderful world of Dr. Seuss.
There was Hop on Pop (more a favorite of ours than our father's), Dr. Seuss's ABC, The Foot Book, There's a Wocket in My Pocket, Oh, the Thinks You Can Think, The Ear Book, The classic Cat in the Hat, the Nose Book, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are!, Yertle the Turtle and other Stories, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, If I Ran The Circus, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You? Oh the list goes on and on and each more delightful than the last!
So why am I telling you this story?
Something else came to me the other day when I was again reading Dr. Seuss books with my girls. My 8 year old had chosen The Sneetches and Other Stories and as she was reading it to me, she stopped and said, "Mommy it's kind of like black people and white people isn't it?" I stopped and looked at her stunned and said, "Yes, sweety it is." Then it hit me like a ton of bricks!
Dr. Seuss taught me to be a liberal!
The Sneetches "Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars and the Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars" was about the pointlessness of racism, bigotry and intolerance, and how "the man" in this case Sylvester McMonkey McBean makes money off the pointless racism until they realize that "Sneetches are Sneetches and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches. That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars and whether they have one, or not, upon thars."
If I Ran The Zoo was about taking care of the animals on the planet and the power of imagination.
The Lorax was a clear nod to hard core environmentalism and the evils of corporate America.
The Cat in the Hat taught me about the dangers lurking around corners for latch key children.
Horton taught me two lessons. One was about loyalty, duty and responsibility. He sat on that egg no matter what. "I meant what I said and I said what I meant, an elephant's faithful 100%" And in Horton Hears a Who I learned about the vastness of the universe and the importance one voice can make in the lives of millions "a person's a person no matter how small".
McElligot's Pool taught me to keep our waterways clean for our own enjoyment as well as respect for the animals that live in them. And about the beauty of sitting on the side of a lake fishing all day, day dreaming, and not catching a thing...
Happy Birthday To You! "when it ends, you're much happier, richer and fatter and the bird flies you home on a very soft platter" not sure where the liberalism is here, but I love that verse!" he goes on and maybe this is where he touches that liberal bent again "...and I wish I could do all these great things for you."
The Grinch taught me about enlightenment and forgiveness and redemption and the power of love and community.
Yertle the Turtle was a story about the evils of fascism (Ted himself said the evil Yertle was Hitler or Mussolini in 1987). "all the turtles are free as turtles and, maybe all creatures should be."
The Butter Battle Book was clearly about the nuclear arms race. As a child of that era, I even got the idiocy of what was happening in the 70's and Dr. Seuss' take on it back then!
Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! taught me to think beyond the obvious.
Green Eggs and Ham ... don't judge a book (or a green egg) by it's color...I mean cover ;)
The last book Dr. Seuss wrote, is one of those books that I've bought so many of I lose count, was Oh! The Places You'll Go! He wrote it 1990. I was well into adulthood, but got it hot off the press.
I LOVE this book and consider it among his masterpieces. It is the only gift I give a graduating Senior when they leave high school. It is about hope, optimism, reaching for your dreams and watching for (and working through) the pitfalls. It is as lovely as Dr. Seuss's books can be and every time I read it I learn something new about my life and find new optimism to keep going.
That's what Dr. Seuss gave me.
He gave me something else that I'm not sure I would still have today if it wasn't for him. He gave me a love for reading. An ear for lyrical verse. The courage to write.
I'll leave you today with a line from The Lorax that seems to have stuck with me for decades. It is also a call to action...
"UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
For 40 years now I've cared a whole awful lot. I still believe. I'll always be a liberal because of Dr. Seuss.
Read to your children. I'm going to keep on reading Dr. Seuss to my girls because from one person who cares a whole awful lot, I'll send three more into the world and maybe, someday, there will be enough of us to make things better for all of us.
Thank you Dr. Seuss.
(p.s. try to spell check a document with Dr. Seuss titles in it sometime. It's worth a giggle!)