Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Guess who's birthday is today?? The wonderful, lovable, Dr. Seuss. Born March 2, 1904, as Theodor Seuss Geisel, he has brought joy -- and reading skills -- to millions. As a freshman at Dartmouth College he was working on the school's humor magazine, Jack-o-Lantern (he eventually become editor-in-chief), when he was caught throwing a drinking party during prohibition, and school administrators wanted him to resign from his extracurricular activities. To continue publishing work in Jack-o-Lantern, he used the name "Seuss," his middle name and his mother's maiden name, instead of Geisel. Needless to say, the name stuck.

After college he worked for more than a decade in the advertising department at Standard Oil Company. But he continued to work on his own cartooning and illustrating. He was asked by Viking Press to illustrate a book of children's sayings entitled Boners.

In 1937 he submitted his first book -- And To Think I saw It on Mulberry Street to 27 publishers and received 27 rejections. Then he ran into an old Dartmouth friend who worked for Vanguard, a division of Houghton-Mifflin, and the company published his book.

His most famous book, The Cat in the Hat, came about through an usual act of sharing an author, through an agreement masterminded by Random House executive Bennett Cerf. In this agreement, Houghton Mifflin and Random House asked Geisel to write a children's primer using 220 new-reader vocabulary words. HM maintained the textbook rights, and RH kept the trade rights. The book was published in 1957. Cerf later dared him to write a book using only 50 new-reader vocabulary words, and Green Eggs and Ham was born in 1960.

One of my all-time favorite Seuss books is Horton Hears a Who. My mom was an elementary school librarian, and she recorded one of the best renditions of that tale you'll ever hear. Now it even comes in a pop-up version. Other well-known books include Hop on Pop, If I Ran the Zoo, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

In 1971 he published The Lorax, an environmentally themed fable, and in 1984 he wrote The Butter Battle Book, written in response to the arms build-up and the the threat of nuclear war. A classic gift for graduates each year is Oh, The Places You'll Go. He died in 1991.

I can't think of any better way to celebrate the birthday of this incredibly important author than to read one -- or more -- of his books to someone you love.

On the off chance that Dr. Seuss isn't your cup of tea, other people celebrating birthdays today include Tom Wolfe, John Irving, and Jon Bon Jovi (and no, don't ask how I know).

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