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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wacky Wednesday - The Wonders of Dr. Seuss

Okay, so I feel like I owe you an explanation for why yesterday’s entry was formatted in such a way that it looked like a kindergarten aged child with a Tablet organized it.  It was really not my intention to have the blog looking so haphazard.  What happened was that I was using a different search engine that I don’t normally use for a trial run, and whenever I tried to insert video clips inside, it caused the videos to not only post on the top of the page, but it screwed up my spacing in between paragraphs.  After ten unsuccessful attempts to work with the new search engine, I gave up, and switched back to my old browser.  Unfortunately, I never really did figure out how to get the blog back to the way it should have been...hence the screwed up format.

I guess that the lesson that I ended up learning in that case was to stick to what I know.  Sometimes it’s good to test the waters and try something brand new, but in other cases, you’d be much better off sticking to what you’re experienced in.  And, when it comes to this blog project, I found out fairly quickly not to mess with near perfection...because I ended up with something that I wasn’t exactly satisfied with.  I made it work, but I hope never to have another experience like that again.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s tackle the topic for Wednesday, January 23.  It’s been quite a while since I featured a book or an author in this spot, as the vast majority of Wednesday topics have been about toys and games since late November.  What’s interesting is that like me with my blog, our featured author was also a grand perfectionist as well.  He was such a perfectionist that he often would spend an entire year writing one book.  Now, this doesn’t seem like it would be so out of the ordinary...until you realize that his specialty was writing children’s books written in rhyme, lasting only a few dozen pages.

He would also reportedly draft whole manuscripts of material and illustrations for potential books...and the proceed to insert up to 95% of the material he had just written into the so-called “circular file” until he could come up with the right theme.  But, this was a good thing for Theodore Geisel, as he liked to be paid once the job was done instead of getting an advance.  It was smart thinking as he would have the proper incentive to make sure he delivered a quality product before he saw any form of payment.

But that was Theodor Geisel’s style.  Of course, most of you will likely remember him best under his most famous pen name, Dr. Seuss (taken from Geisel’s middle name). 

Yes, Dr. Seuss is the theme for today’s blog.  And, for today’s blog, I thought that I would discuss a few of his stories, and talk about some of my all-time favourite Dr. Seuss books.

First of all, I have to state that Dr. Seuss and I go way back.  If I remember correctly, my entire childhood was filled with Dr. Seuss books.  I think the first time that I ever read a Dr. Seuss book was when I was visiting the doctor’s office, and I happened to spot a copy of “The Cat in the Hat”.  I picked it up and could not put it down.  I may have even pitched a bit of a temper tantrum after I visited the doctor because I wasn’t allowed to bring the book home.  How was I supposed to know that the doctor’s office didn’t double as a library?

Fortunately, as I was growing up, my mother had the good sense to enroll me in a book club for an entire year where every two months, I would receive two different books written by Dr. Seuss.  I think that I was around six or seven years old at the time, and it was likely some of the first mail that I had ever gotten in my life (the good kind, not the bills and letters that boast that I could win a million dollars if I subscribed to “Vanity Fair”).  I was so excited to run home and check the mailbox to see if any new books had come for me. 

Therefore, I suppose it was good fortune that one of the books that I received when I started getting the Dr. Seuss books mailed to me was the very book that I was obsessed with in the doctor’s office, “The Cat in the Hat”.  And, I’ll be telling you a little story about this book and several others that arrived in my mailbox back in the late 1980s.

First, I should tell you some of the basic facts about Theodor Seuss Geisel.  He was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 2, 1904.  He graduated from Springfield Central High School in 1921, and enrolled at Dartmouth College from 1921-1925.  And, it was at Dartmouth that he came up with his signature pen name.

You see, when Geisel was a young man, he joined a fraternity (Sigma Phi Epsilon), and joined the humour magazine known as the “Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern”, where he eventually served as editor-in-chief towards the end of his post-secondary career.

But one little mistake could have had dire consequences for Geisel had he not exercised quick thinking. 

I know that when I was in college, there were instances in which people in my residence hall would sneak alcoholic beverages into their rooms and we’d have drinking parties in there.  As long as we kept the music down to a minimum and kept the volume down, residence security usually left us alone.  And, Geisel thought that inviting nine of his closest friends down to his room for a gin drinking party would be a nice way to relieve stress.  It’s just too bad that he got busted for it.  And, for Geisel, the Dean issued a serious punishment...immediate resignation from all extracurricular activities.  This included the “Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern”.

But Geisel was no dummy.  He knew he had the perfect way to continue working at the magazine without the college administration team knowing.  He just began submitting his contributions under his middle name, “Seuss”.  And, the rest, as we shall say is history.

TRIVIA:  Although everyone in the world probably pronounces the word “Seuss” as they would the word “juice”, according to Dr. Seuss, it’s actually incorrect.  Dr. Seuss explained that the proper German pronunciation actually rhymes with “voice” (Seuss’ grandparents were all German immigrants).  Seuss would later go by the “juice” pronunciation as it rhymed with “Mother Goose”, and also it was the way that most people said it, so why change a good thing?

Throughout his career, Dr. Seuss would write almost 50 books between 1937 and 1990.  He also wrote fourteen additional books under a different pen name, “Theo LeSieg” (Geisel spelled backwards), and these were always on books that were illustrated by other artists.

Dr. Seuss passed away from throat cancer on September 24, 1991, and I remember when I first heard the news of his death, I really took it hard.  He was one of my all-time favourite children’s authors, and to know that he would not release any new books made me sad, although there were four additional books that were released after Dr. Seuss’ death, the last one being a collection of stories published in “Redbook”.

His work will always live on through the millions of children who read his books.  His books are still published all over the world, translated into twenty different languages.  His birthdate, March 2, has been adopted as the official date for “National Read Across America Day”.  In 1995, the University of California, San Diego, renamed the campus library to the “Geisel Library” as a token of their appreciation for the donations and contributions that he made to the library.  At Seuss’ alma mater of Dartmouth College, incoming first-year students who participate in pre-registration Dartmouth Outing Club trips receive a breakfast of green eggs and ham!  In 2002, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in 2008, Geisel was inducted into the California Hall of Fame.

Dr. Seuss even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame!

It’s so difficult to narrow the field down to my all-time favourite Dr. Seuss books.  He wrote so many, and I think at some point, I read every single one that he wrote.  But then I thought back to some of the books that I ended up reading as part of that book club my mother subscribed me to, and I thought that those books would be the ones that I would talk about in this blog.  I know that this is merely a small fraction (and doesn’t contain the well known tales of “Horton Hears a Who” or “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, but I was always taught to write what I know best.  Don’t worry though...there will be a bonus question at the end of this blog entry that will open up discussion.


And to think that this was Dr. Seuss’ very first book!  The inspiration for the title was a real life Mulberry Street that was very close to the street where a young Theodor Geisel grew up.  It’s a story about observation, really.  A young boy named Marco watches the people and cars driving by, and on his way home, he dreams up an elaborate story to tell his father.  It’s quite a lot of text to read for a children’s book, but well worth it.


This is the Dr. Seuss book that hooked me in.  It’s the story of how two children are at home alone with absolutely nothing to do...until a big cat with a huge red and white striped hat comes around to play.  Things quickly escalate out of control when The Cat in the Hat brings his friends Thing One and Thing Two over to play, and the children are worried about getting in trouble when their mother comes home to see the big mess.

The way that this book was created is an interesting story in itself.  It was actually written as a challenge issued to Dr. Seuss by his friend, William Ellsworth Spaulding, then the director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division.  Spaulding gave Seuss a list of 348 words that every student in the first grade should know and create a tale that they couldn’t put down.  To make the challenge a little bit tougher, Spaulding said that Seuss could only use a maximum of 225 words from the list of 348.  Within nine months, Dr. Seuss had written the manuscript for “The Cat in the Hat”...using 223 words from Spaulding’s list, as well as thirteen of his own! 

This is also one of the few Dr. Seuss books to have a sequel...1958’s “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back”.


All right.  How many of you remember being absolutely adamant that you would not like a certain food item before you even put a morsel of it in your mouth?  Let’s face it.  Kids can be very picky eaters.  When I was a kid, I refused to eat broccoli, spinach, onions, or Hamburger Helper because I thought they looked and smelled disgusting.  But, when I eventually tried them, I found that I ended up liking three of them (the only one I still can’t eat is raw onions).

Well, in this book, the role is reversed, as the character Sam-I-Am tries to get his...well, I actually don’t know if it’s a friend, older brother, or father, as it never actually makes it clear, but whatever the case, he’s bigger than Sam.  Sam’s favourite food seems to be green eggs and ham, and he’s determined to get the other guy to eat them.  But he will not budge.  He will not eat them in a box, he will not eat them with a fox, he will not eat them here or there, he will not eat them ANYWHERE!  The ending is a hoot though!

DR. SEUSS’S ABC (1963)

From Aunt Annie’s Alligator to the Zizzer-Zazzer-Zuzz, Dr. Seuss made learning your ABC’s so much fun.  It’s just a shame he didn’t come up with a counting book as well to teach kids about counting Whos, Sneetches, red fish, and blue fish!


Maybe it was just me, but I always felt bad for Marvin K. Mooney.  Nobody wanted him around at all.  The whole book had everybody asking Mr. Mooney to leave, scram, vamoose, skedaddle, take off...but stubborn Marvin refused to budge.  I was quite proud of the little guy for standing his ground and refusing to bow down to peer pressure...well, until the ending, and then I lost all respect for him.  It’s still a wonderful book though.


Okay, so this book is one that is credited under Seuss’ LeSieg pen name, as the illustrations were done by George Booth.  But, it really was the illustrations that made the book shine.  It was part story, part game.  Each page had something strange drawn into it, and the number of things that were wrong in the picture matched the number that was mentioned in the text of the story.  For example, if the boy in the story said that there were three things wrong with the scene, there would be three mistakes in the drawing (like an upside down picture, or someone having three arms).  I remember when I brought in my copy of “Wacky Wednesday” for story time in the second grade, the class had a lot of fun trying to pick out the mistakes. 


This could have been my autobiography when I was a little boy, as I always had a hard time waking up early in the morning.  In this story, a boy decides that he is going to spend the entire day in bed, and nobody will get him to move.  Not his bratty siblings, not the nosy neighbours, not even the paparazzi!  Not even the egg that his mother cooked for him!  Actually, I think that’s the funniest part of the whole story...the fact that this woman spends the entire story holding an egg!


This book is the very last one that Dr. Seuss released before his death in 1991, and it also happens to be his most poignant.  We all know that life isn’t always going to be a cakewalk.  There are always going to be challenges that we have to face, and problems that we all have to solve, but in the end, if you maintain a good outlook on life, things will work out for themselves.  Or, as Dr. Seuss quoted in this book...

“Will you succeed?  Yes, you will indeed.  98¾% guaranteed.”

I must have that last line imprinted into my brain.  That’s very deep for a children’s book.

It also happens to be a popular gift for people upon graduating high school or college student when they graduate, as many bookstores report a spike in sales of the book between April and June each year!

And, those are my favourite memories of Theodor Geisel...a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

BONUS QUESTION:  What are some of your favourite Dr. Seuss tales?

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