That Man With the Cat, The Cat in the Hat

As I mentionTed_Geisel_NYWTS_2_croped in my “About” section, I’m completely obsessed with Dr. Seuss.  He is, by far, my all time absolute favorite writer.  I would build shrines to that man.

The slick rhymes and tongue twisting passages of his famed works are so fun to say and even more fun to hear someone else try to read.  I love the drawings and doodled nature of the illustrations.

I still have beaten, broken books with battered bindings and tattered covers from when my sister and I were kids.  My mother read them to us until the covers started to fall off.  We loved the way she would get stuck on the words and trip over the beat that the meter created.  Nothing was more fun than trying to hear my mother (who pronounced endorphins as “en-door-fin-nens” and pneumonia as “peh-gnome-ya”) attempt to say things like “We took a look. We saw a Nook.  On his head he had a hook.  On his hook he had a book.  On his book was ‘How to Cook’,” (from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish).

That is one of the reasons Seuss has a special place in my heart.  His work helped me connect with my mother, and his books for early readers made it so that even the worst readers could finish a book.  Even when my tongue stumbled over the loopy words and fantastical characters, it wasn’t embarrassing.  Mom would be tripped up by the words just as often as I was.  Part of the fun of Seuss is slipping up the words, rhyme, and messing up the meter.  I wasn’t a bad reader when I read Seuss; everyone’s tongues tied up a time or two.

Dr. Seuss books have a special shelf in my room, worn covers and all, and we have one of the original prints from The Cat in the Hat on the wall in our hallway at home.  Needless to say, I have a huge case of hero-worship, and it’s not an unfounded respect.  I’ll give you a bit of back story so you too can appreciate Dr. Seuss’s mastery for yourself:

Born Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, was one of the greatest things to happen to children’s literature.  Seuss transformed ideas on what could be expected of children’s literature with his whimsical drawings and tongue twisting words.

Before he started doodling up advertisements and eventually drafting the fantastical books readers know and love, Geisel originally planned to finish his PhD in English and sign up for a life of academia.  Lucky for Seuss lovers like me, while at Oxford he encountered his first wife, Helen, who pushed him into illustration and drawing rather than the academic life he was planning.  Dr. Seuss did a stint in simple advertising, with his most famous pieces from this period being for Flint Bug Repellent.  Eventually he started fiddling with writing his own books and from there, it’s history, and children’s literature as whole has been better for it.

As a writer, I cannot get enough of him because of what he did for “early reader” books.  Books like Green Eggs and Ham were the origin of Random House’s “Beginner Books” publishing, now depicted with that legendary Cat in the Hat Logo.  Before Seuss strolled onto the scene, things like the Dick and Jane books were what were available for kids to learn to read with.  While not bad, Dick and Jane lack the entertainment factor that give children’s books a special place on library shelves.  Books like Dick and Jane were more for didactic purposes and left entertainment to the wayside.  However, when Seuss got hold of one of the easy reader word lists and started writing for very young readers, that all changed.  Suddenly, Seuss was producing quality, enjoyable books that also helped kids learn to read.  The idea was born that just because a book was written to help kids learn to read, did not mean that the fun of reading had to be left out.  That fantastical meter and rhyme that we all know and love not only made Dr. Seuss famous, but it also changed the way kids learned to read and the way children’s literature was written.  No longer were early reader books solely published to teach, now they were written to be enjoyed as well.

Added to that Seuss did something too few writers for children do: he trusted his audience. Dr. Seuss’s themes aren’t simple; the concepts aren’t minor.  Content was not “dumbed down” for a younger audience.  Instead of simplifying the themes he tackled, Seuss simplified the way he presented them.  Like any awesome children’s writer, Dr. Seuss trusted his readers to have minds big enough to handle big ideas no matter how small their bodies were.  At times he even dealt in themes that some people would have called too mature for young reads. Seuss made strong, “mature” themes fun to read and accessible for young minds, and he did it with style.

These are my personal my top ten favorite Seuss Books in no particular order:

thidwick-the-big-hearted-moose-mainThidwick the Big-Hearted Moose:  Thidwick is one of my favorite characters of all time.  Such a kind moose, Thidwick gives as much as he can until he has nothing left, leaving everyone else to get what they’ve got coming for taking advantage of him.

200px-The_LoraxThe Lorax:  The Once-ler and the Lorax represent all the things that make Seuss characters awesome.  They’re witty and fun with a touch of the fantastical.  I love how Dr. Seuss takes big themes, like conservation and capitalism, and makes them approachable to kids.Horton_hatches_the_egg

Horton Hatches the Egg:  What’s not to love about a faithful elephant who hatches an egg210px-And_to_Think_That_I_Saw_It_on_Mulberry_Street?

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street:  As his first book, there is no way that this one couldn’t make the list.

The Butter Battle Book:  This is a master piece.  Seuss has 200px-The_Butter_Battle_Book_coverreaders laughing while reading about war.   He manages to shows just how foolish fighting can be.  Any book that shows a child the dangers and sometimes foolish nature of war without scaring them is grade A in my book.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas:  It’s a Christmas classic with a well meaning moral. How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover

One_Fish_Two_Fish_Red_Fish_Blue_Fish_(cover_art)One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish:  One of my favorite beginner books of all time.  One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish shows us the awesome pets of Seussville and makes learning to read fun and loopy.   I still want a “Wet Pet” to this day.

Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book:  With the exception of a homespun story right off the top of a parent’s head, there is nothing better for little ones to fall asleep to.  dr-seusse28099s-sleep-book-mainLIB-CatInTheHatThe Cat in the Hat:  This is the book that made him famous;  It’s impossible not to pick that wonderful cat for my short list.

And finally last, but definitely not least, Green Eggs and Ham, because how awesome is it that he wrote a book using only 50 different words off a list of words for young readers?Green-eggs-and-ham

On a side note, these are a couple of awesome Seussical sites:

The Art of Dr. Seuss – Be sure to look at the Unorthodox Taxidermy and the Secret Art.  Green Cat with Lights is my favorite.  Let me know below what you love.

Check out Seussville here

Let me know in the comments below what your favorite Seuss book is?  Who was your favorite writer as a kid?

Books I Mentioned in this Post:

Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1960).

Dr. Seuss, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1948).

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1971).

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1940).

Dr. Seuss, And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1937).

Dr. Seuss, The Butter Battle Book, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1984).

Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1957).

Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1962).

Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1957).

Dr. Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham, (New York: Random House, Inc. and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, 1960).

William S. Gray, and Zerna Sharp, Dick and Jane, (New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, Inc. , 1956).

Books I’ve Read on Dr. Seuss:

Judith Morgan, and Morgan Neil, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography, (New York: Da Capo, 1996).

Kathleen Krull, Steve Johnson, Lou Francher, and Seuss, The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss, (New York: Random House, 2004).

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