Dr. Seuss’s Unique Brand of Allegory Stars in Read Across America Day

 

RAA

March 2, 2015; National Education Association

Sorry to write this in the first person singular, but one of my favorite times of the year is Read Across America day. As always, it is celebrated on the birthday of Theodore Seuss Geisel, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss. The event, which involves millions of Americans reading to (or being read to by) schoolchildren and others, was created 18 years ago by the National Education Association.

“NEA’s Read Across America is just one of the ways that we reach children with a very important message that reading is fundamental to being a life-long learner,” said NEA President Eskelsen García. “With more than 45 million people, young and old, participating every year, NEA’s Read Across America is not just a phenomenon—it’s a reading movement.”

When this writer’s daughter was in elementary school and for some years afterward, I would go to her school to read to different classes. My favorite book to read was one that most of the kids didn’t know, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, which tells of the power of the simple words, “I’m sorry.” One of Seuss’s older works, published in 1949, most kids haven’t read it, but they invariably enjoyed the courage of young Bartholomew standing up to King Derwin, ruler of the kingdom of Didd, to tell him how foolish he was to try to make something more wonderful than the rain in the spring, the sun in the summer, the fog of autumn, and the snow in winter. If the class had time, I would follow up with Horton Hears a Who, though the animated movie of the book sort of wipes out some of the joy of “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

It is kind of wonderful to see in the Wall Street Journal’s list of bestselling hardcover fiction for the week ending February 22nd, Seuss books are cleaning up:

TITLE 
AUTHOR / PUBLISHER

THIS WEEK

LAST 
WEEK

The Girl on the Train

1

1

Paula Hawkins/Riverhead

Green Eggs and Ham

2

2

Dr. Seuss/Random House

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

3

3

Dr. Seuss/Random House

The Cat in the Hat

4

5

Dr. Seuss/Random House

All the Light We Cannot See

5

6

Anthony Doerr/Scribner

Are You My Mother

6

9

P.D. Eastman/Random House

Fox in Socks

7

8

Dr. Seuss/Random House

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

8

7

Jeff Kinney/Amulet Books

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

9

Dr. Seuss/Random House

Hop on Pop

10

10

Dr. Seuss/Random House

As Mark Sullivan of the Children’s Workshop noted, “Dr. Seuss books have stood the test of time as whimsical and sometimes nonsensical literature that inspires children to be as creative as they can!”

Those of us who are Seuss fans would recommend you look for Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, a book that was completed based on Geisel’s unpublished notes and drawings for a book he was writing just before he died. It is a wonderful story that celebrates teachers who enjoy the art of teaching and teach kids to think rather than, as many schools do today, “teach to the test.” Seuss understood the importance of imagination and creativity, the attributes that the high stakes testing people are driving out of the classroom.

Just get a sense of what Seuss understood about the teaching profession that today’s reformers so frequently don’t in these lines from Diffendoofer Day:

Our teachers are remarkable, they make up their own rules.

 

Miss Bobble teaches listening,

Miss Wobble teaches smelling,

Miss Fribble teaches laughing,

And Miss Quibble teaches yelling. 

 

Miss Twining teaches tying knots in neckerchiefs and noodles,

And how to tell chrysanthemums from miniature poodles.

 

Miss Vining teaches all the ways a pigeon may be peppered,

And how to put a saddle on a lizard or a leopard.

 

My teacher is Miss Bonkers,

She’s as bouncy as a flea.

I’m not certain what she teaches,

But I’m glad she teaches me.

 

‘Look! Look!’ she chirps. ‘I’ll show you how to tell a cactus from a cow,

And then I shall instruct you why a hippo cannot hope to fly.’

 

She even teaches frogs to dance,

And pigs to put on underpants.

One day she taught a duck to sing-

Miss Bonkers teaches EVERYTHING!

 

Of all the teachers in our school,

I like Miss Bonkers best.

Our teachers are all different,

But she’s different-er than the rest.…

Oh, the places your children will go if they connect to the joy of reading and the power of imagination. “Read Across America” day has to be one of the proudest achievements of the NEA, deservedly so.—Rick Cohen