In 1957, author and illustrator Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-91)… (Gene Lester / Getty Images )
In commemoration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, I sat on the floor of my 8-year-old daughter’s room, before her bookcase.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, who died in 1991, took the pen name Dr. Seuss when he was a student at Dartmouth College in the 1920s. He went on to publish more than 40 children’s books. This March 2 is his 109th birthday, a day now celebrated as “Read Across America Day.”
In our family, as in many others, Dr. Seuss has a special place. My daughter, the youngest of our three children, is the inheritor of our Dr. Seuss collection — from the bestselling “Green Eggs and Ham” to “Great Day for Up,” which is lesser-known but no less beloved in our family.
My daughter reads novels now (a little miracle I still can’t quite believe), but before she could read on her own, she sat in my lap, or my wife’s, and listened to the tongue-twisting rhymes and alliteration in “Fox in Socks.”
When beetles battle beetles
in a puddle paddle battle
and the beetle battle puddle
is a puddle in a bottle…
…they call this
a tweetle beetle
paddle battle muddle.
My daughter liked it when I read that passage as quickly as I could without tripping over the words. (After the seventh or eighth time, it got a lot easier.) The sound of those rhymes, together with the improbable picture that illustrated exactly what the words said, often made her laugh.
“Read it again, Papá!” she’d say when I finished.
Dr. Seuss gave my children fun and crazy words, and he made them want to shout “again!” even after the 61 pages of “Fox in Socks.” More than once, I’d read the last words — Thank you for/a lot of fun, sir. — and start back with the very first ones: Fox/Socks/Box/Knox.
When they were very small, my kids learned to love reading from Dr. Seuss. The first book that started our collection, “The Foot Book,” has a little box inside of the front cover with a picture of the famous Cat in the Hat and blank space that states: “This Book Belongs To…” Back in 1997 my wife wrote our son’s name in that space, along with the words, “A favorite book at age 10 months.”
The toddler who loved “The Foot Book” is in high school now, where they have him reading Voltaire. “Voltaire is crazy, Papá,” he told me with glee last week, after reading an especially absurd passage from “Candide” out loud to me.
It’s funny how fast the time shoots by. I found our copy of “The Foot Book” on my daughter’s shelf this morning. We got it brand-new back in 1997, but today its pages are as wrinkled as an unironed bed sheet from the countless times we read and reread it over the years.
Left foot/Left foot/Right foot/Right
From those seven words of Dr. Seuss, three lifetimes of reading were born in our household.
For that, on the occasional of his birthday, I’d like to tell Dr. Seuss: “Thank you for a lot of fun, sir!”