Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 30, 2007

Seuss on the loose

With Seuss on the loose,
It's hard not to smile.
He might take a moose
And sit for awhile.
Or hop a caboose
And ride it a mile.

I couldn't help it. When I read about all the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Dr. Seuss's "The Cat in the Hat" earlier this month, I just had to make a rhyme of my own. Art suggested I should have resisted the temptation. Of course, he's never been a big Dr. Seuss fan.

Even though Seuss was part of my childhood, and our daughters' childhoods as well, all the hoopla surrounding the anniversary took me by surprise. Celebrations included Cat in the Hat parties at elementary schools and promotions to sell the book at local bookstores. A K-State English associate professor also got in on the act by publishing "The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats."

Even my sister Gaila, who is the librarian at the American School in La Paz, Bolivia, organized several Dr. Seuss events at her school. Teachers selected the Seuss books they wanted to highlight, discussed them in their classrooms and manned booths at a Dr. Seuss celebration. One grade made pancakes after reading "The Butter Battle Book," another played twister to represent "The Foot Book," and a third made silhouettes of each student for "The Shape of Me and Other Stuff." At the Cat in the Hat party - complete with teachers wearing the hats of the Cat, Thing One and Thing Two - students threw stuffed cats into red and white hats and won prizes if they hit their targets.

As a youngster, the earliest books I remember reading myself were the "Dick and Jane" primers - the ones that had such exciting prose as "See Dick. See Dick run. See Jane. See Jane run."


No wonder parents and academics were worried in the early 1950s about children not learning to read. According to a "Life" magazine article in 1954, children weren't reading because they were bored with Dick and Jane. And so it was proposed that Theodor Seuss Geisel, who had already published nine books for children, write a reading primer to replace Dick and Jane. He was told he had to limit the vocabulary of the book to 225 "new-reader" words. He thought he could write the book in about a week, but it took him nearly a year and a half to finish. Thus "The Cat in the Hat" was born.

But not all teachers and librarians latched on to the book right away. Many thought the book was subversive, with the wily troublemaker of a Cat influencing children to have fun that might get them into trouble when they were home alone. That must have been the case in my school because I don't remember reading Seuss in the early grades.

Now, though, schools embrace Seuss's whimsical characters and quirky rhymes to get children interested in reading.

One of the first books daughters Mariya and Katie read was "The Foot Book." And Mariya remembers eating green eggs and ham in grade school after the class read the book of that name. She also said she liked the strange illustrations of Seuss's last book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

A friend gave a copy of that book to Katie when she was just a newborn. It was a favorite at bedtime for many years. And, although there were many nights when I was tired and told her I would read only a few pages, I ended up reading the whole thing every time.

Seuss knew how to have fun with words - and he taught several generations of children how to have fun, too.

No matter your age,
Seuss books are a blast.
You savor each page,
Including the last.

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