The Secret to Suess

Last Christmas I donated all of my Dr. Seuss books to “A Book Under Every Tree.” It’s a wonderful literacy initiative that benefits kids who may not have a lot of books in their home. I was happy to donate the books but the fact is I kinda miss them as well.

You see Dr. Seuss is one of my favourite authors and even though Will and Thom think they’ve outgrown his stories, I know I haven’t. Perhaps it’s his use of nonsensical words or the enjoyable way they roll off my tongue. Perhaps it’s the unstated yet resonant message of his stories. Or perhaps it’s my appreciation for the man himself.

Dr. Seuss (born Theodor Seuss Geisel) had moxie. Despite the fact that he came from a family of German brewmasters during the onset of prohibition and World War I, Seuss (aka Ted) was able to gain popularity with his peers simply by being himself.

Seuss had perseverance –his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before going to publication.

He had talent and versatility. Before he was a best-selling author he was a cartoonist for such notable publications as The Saturday Evening Post, Life and Vanity Fair. He was an ad man, a patriot and an academy award winning animator of World War II military training films.

And he changed the way educators approach children’s literacy.

Not everyone is aware of this, but Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat –considered to be the first “playground word-of-mouth bestseller” –was actually written in response to a challenge from William Spaulding, then-director of the education division at Houghton Miffin.

Spaulding had read a 1954 Life magazine article by John Hersey that suggested the reason schoolchildren couldn’t read was because books, like Dick and Jane, “were too boring”. (True that!) Spaulding then challenged Seuss to not only write a story that 1st graders wouldn’t be able to put down, but to write it using no more than 250 of the 348 words that Spaulding felt were important for grade one children to know. Seuss used 236.

I guess that’s the secret to Seuss and why he’s a favourite of mine –moxie, perseverance, talent and legacy. Yes, I admit I still miss my Dr. Seuss books but when I consider the benefits they’re providing to their newest owners I think I can live without them. 🙂

~ Trina

Singing a Different Tune

Last week I got to read Miss Emily Goes to Bat to three different classrooms (photos an updates on these coming soon!). I hadn’t read to a group for over a month and was surprised by just how much I’d missed it.

The thing is, I can’t sing. I love music – blues, big band, do-wop, country, reggae, classic rock, 80’s hair bands, 90’s grunge and yes, even the new bands whose lead singers are young enough to be my own kids.

I watch American Idol, The Voice and even that cheesy game show, Don’t forget the Lyrics. But I can’t sing. In fact I’m such a bad singer that when my boys Will and Thom were babies and nursing,  anytime I began to sing to them they’d respond with a tiny little hand to my mouth. “Please don’t sing mom, you’re ruining a perfectly good meal here.”

So you see, I’ll never make it as a rock star. Naturally I thought that the acclaim of the crowd (or even my babies) was forever out of my grasp. And then Miss Emily happened and the crowd went wild…

Yes, I know it’s not really me; it’s Miss Emily and Will and Thom that the kids love. Yes, I realize that their laughter is really reserved for the three mice riding on the top of the bus, that their attention is on Rover the Dog as he steps in a pail and they lean forward in their seats –breaths held in anticipation– over Coach Burt’s reaction to the “mess that’s been made”.

But when the story is over and I see the small hands lift up from within the crowd of listeners, not to ask for silence but to ask questions, I realize I might be wrong. I think about the melody in narrative, the tempo in the telling, the chorus of action in all the characters. Maybe I’m just singing a different kind of song after all.