Read Across America is encouraging schools and families to honor author Theodor Geisel today -his birthday- by reading his stories (and other stories) to children. Schools and communities have planned dress up as Seuss character events; websites are offering free printables so kids can color in pre-drawn Seuss characters.
What is wrong with this picture?
Let’s start with the fact that in many parts of the country, it’s a snow day, so many of the planned Dr. Seuss related activities to celebrate Read Across America day and Dr. Seuss’ birthday will be canceled or delayed. But that’s not such a bad thing, perhaps…
What would Dr. Seuss, who upended the establishment with his creative approach to children’s literature, think of people trying to celebrate his birthday and his literary contributions by encouraging children to color in his drawings or read stories he wrote? He died in 1991, 6 years before the NEA began its Read Across America campaign, with his Cat in the Hat character accorded a status akin to campaign mascot, so we can’t ask him.
But think… when children’s books were expected to have a set number of words and only particular words deemed easy, Dr. Seuss rebelled. He wrote books that were way too long and included make-believe words the educators and publishers of the time contended would confuse children.
Dr. Seuss could have illustrated his books with bears and bunnies, but he took a divergent path, creating Sneetches and Whos.
Meaning no disrespect to Dr. Seuss and his cherished children’s books, I wonder if just maybe he might have been happier to see his works used as examples to launch children’s own imaginative endeavors…
Dr. Seuss died before his last book was completed, but writers used his notes and drawings to complete the posthumously published Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! What was this last message left to us by Dr. Seuss about educating children? The message that traditional schooling has the teaching concept all wrong and that children succeed if their inventiveness is nurtured is unmistakeable.
Instead of spending time merely reciting Dr. Seuss’ works or dressing up like his beloved characters, why not celebrate more in keeping with the Seussian spirit?
Encourage children to make up their own rhymes, their own characters. Show them how Dr. Seuss noticed little life occurrences and transformed them into stories with universal themes. Green Eggs and Ham, for example, was inspired by Dr. Seuss’ nephew’s persnickety eating habits. Children can express their own observations and assign them meaning, then transport them to an imaginary world of their own making. Oh, yes, that would be a lot more work than reading a story someone else has already written, but, truly, would it not be more in keeping with the legacy of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss?