Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!
Today is Theodor Seuss Geisel's, a.k.a., Dr. Seuss, birthday. Had he not died in 1991, he would have been 107 today. I would like to use this virtual space to honor Dr. Seuss, the man behind the Cat in the Hat, who is far more than the beloved creator of countless whimsical literary characters; he is a critical figure in the development of literacy of American children.
By 1954, Geisel had already had prolific career as a humorist, copy writer, commercial artist, political cartoonist, World War II film-maker, and children’s book author when he was approached by William Spaulding, the education editor at Houghton Mifflin, to create a book using 348 of the most common sight words for first graders. This request came at a time when reading was taught through the use of sight words, rather than the combination of phonics and sight words that is used today. Life Magazine had just published an article by John Hersey on illiteracy among American children, which it attributed to the fact that their school reading primers (e.g. Dick and Jane) were not engaging to foster an interest and love of reading. Geisel rose to the challenge, reducing the list to 223 words (and adding 13), which became the basis for The Cat and The Hat. The book contained the winning combination of Dr. Seuss’s wildly imaginative story lines, a very naughty cat, a strict rhyme scheme that appeals to the young ear (and enables word prediction while reading) and words that were easily recognized by most young children.
Reading is a complex process that is part motivation, part early exposure, part developmental readiness, and part effective teaching. I began to read to my child from the day she came home from the hospital. I realize this may sound ridiculous: How can a newborn, who can barely focus, appreciate a book (even if it is fine children’s literature)? Because the child is listening to the lilting sounds of his/her parent’s voice. Because the infant is being exposed to the rhythms inherent in stories, but often absent from our speech. Because the baby is spending a shared, loving moment with a dear one and feels the love. Because the child comes to understand that reading is something valued in the household.Continued on the next page