Education

Adults in Seussian Garb Read His Books Aloud Today

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Theodore Geisel is to anapestic tetrameter what William Shakespeare is to iambic pentameter as an unrivaled master of English verse.

Today, numerous schools across the United States, including the elementary schools in Austintown and 18 primary schools in Trumbull County, are celebrating the 117th anniversary of Geisel’s birth by serving their pupils a breakfast of green eggs and ham and bringing in adults eager to read aloud some of his books.

We know Geisel better as Dr. Seuss and Theo. LeSieg, the author of 44 books for children – and their even more fortunate teachers, parents and grandparents. His works had sold more than 600 million copies in English and 20 other languages when he died in 1991.

Count me as one of the fortunate parents and grandparents who, as chance has it, has a grandson named Sam. And yes, my grandson is very familiar with “Sam I Am” who keeps asking an increasingly irritated adult, “Do you like green eggs and ham?”

In Trumbull County, in more than 220 classrooms, 100 volunteers from United Way will read Dr. Seuss aloud for a half hour, a United Way of Trumbull County associate, Cindy Rogers, said Wednesday. They are part of its Reading Great by 8 Literacy Initiative and will read Green Eggs to first-graders and Horton Hears a Who to second-graders.

Some volunteers in the Trumbull County schools will be attired in Dr. Seuss character costumes such as The Cat in the Hat and will distribute Dr. Seuss pencils and bookmarks. It’s all part of Read Across America Day created to honor Geisel.

A traveling salesman whose territory included Youngstown always stopped to visit my parents when I was a youngster. He always brought my mother a box of Whitman’s Sampler of Chocolates.

Before one visit, he had read Horton Hatches the Egg and decided it was a book my siblings and I just had to have. He was right and our mother got tired of reading and re-reading story of “Mazie, a lazy bird hatching an egg” who cons Horton the Elephant into relieving her and sitting on the egg until it hatched months later as “an elephant bird.”

Her children did not.

I asked our staff about their first experiences with Dr. Seuss and most had equally fond memories. Our vice president of business development, Gail Hettrick, listened intently as her parents read Dr. Seuss aloud.

Like Josh Medore and Sean Posey, Gail heard One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Green Eggs and Ham before she could read. Upon becoming a mother, she read (and reread) them to her children as well as I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today! and Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book, which she assures me, does work.

“My parents read to me,” Gail said. “Dad was famous for ad libbing“ – that is, deviating from the texts he had read so many times that she and her siblings had them memorized. They instantly corrected him when started to ad lib.

Gail’s father told her oldest son, Robert, then just learning to read, that he would give him $20 if he could read a book back to him. “So Robert sat down and read him Green Eggs and Ham,” she said. Robert had it memorized but gave himself away when he turned too many pages toward the end. “Dad gave him $20 anyway,” she said.

After I discovered Dr. Seuss, I simply couldn’t get enough. Fortunately, the Poland branch of the public library was well-stocked with Dr. Seuss books and I devoured And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Horton Hears a Who, Yertle the Turtle, McElligot’s Pool, and If I Ran the Circus. They all left me wanting more.

When I read The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Geisel’s first effort at children’s literature, I was instantly transported to the Kingdom of Didd ruled by the self-important King Derwin. As King Derwin passed by, Bartholomew doffed his cap but unknown to him, another – and nicer – cap magically appeared atop his head.

This, as the title indicates, happened 499 times, the last time Bartholomew wearing a cap the king had to have and “put the great hat on right over his crown” and for which he paid young Cubbins 500 pieces of gold.

“But neither Bartholomew Cubbins, nor King Derwin himself, nor anyone in the Kingdom of Didd could ever explain how the strange thing had happened,” Geisel wrote.

Geisel worked hard at his craft and was rarely satisfied despite his success and the widespread praise he earned. One of his late works, The Lorax, a warning about polluting our environment, was twice made into a movie. The Grinch That Stole Christmas was made into a half-hour cartoon that runs every December on television.

Near the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency, as the Watergate scandals accelerated the move to impeach him, Art Buchwald, the humor columnist for the Washington Post, parodied Marvin K. Mooney, Will You Please Go Now!, substituting Richard M. Nixon for Marvin K. Mooney.

“The time had come. SO … Richard WENT,” Buchwald wrote presciently.

When I became a father, I wanted my daughter to love reading as much as I do and so began buying her Dr. Seuss books, which she still has and has read to her children. Both are avid readers, I’m happy to report, and excellent students. (You’ll pardon a grandfather’s pride.)

My daughter took her young son out trick-or-treating as Sam I Am, she says, and credits Dr. Seuss with helping to instill their love of reading. “We have two dozen [Seuss books],” she told me, and have read another dozen.

Both Sam and his sister, Marisa, were eager to see the 2012 film version of The Lorax (with Danny DeVito as The Lorax) when it was released five years ago today. Sam had read the book and taken its message to heart. My daughter says the DVD I gave him of The Lorax was the first he played in the new television/DVD player he got for Christmas.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go! the last book published during Seuss’ lifetime (Jan. 22, 1990), became a best seller as a graduation present and remains so today.

While Geisel is remembered for his contributions to children’s literature and making it fun to learn to read, he was a political cartoonist during the 1930s and ardent supporter of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. He abhorred Charles Lindbergh’s cozying up to the Nazis and his support of the America First movement.

It wasn’t just his writing but his illustrating so many of his books that made them even more fun to read. He enjoyed drawing the Rube Goldberg contraptions his characters use, drive or occupy that the readers can see in so many of his books. (Roy McKie and B. Tobey illustrated some of his Bright and Early Books for Beginning Beginners.)

So many children in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school today are in for a treat – possibly green eggs and ham – but definitely hearing aloud the whimsy and imagination of Theodore Geisel’s writing in anapestic tetrameter.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.