A Slice of Childhood

Few names from childhood are as well known as Dr. Seuss.  When my wife and I read Theodor Seuss Geisel, in the Lives and Legacies series, we realized that neither one of us had learned to read with his books.  It’s not that they hadn’t been written and widely adopted yet (they had by the time we started school), but rather that our districts had gone with other fare.  I learned with the famous Dick and Jane series, and I think there must’ve been some Seuss thrown in here and there.  We didn’t own any of his books, but I remember my mother reading from library copies of Hop on Pop.  When our daughter was born we read to her daily and Dr. Seuss was a large part of our informal curriculum.  Before reading this book, however, I knew very little about who Theodor Geisel was.

The series Lives and Legacies features short books, so this is a quick and no-frills way to meet the man.  Although Geisel was born into a middle class family, he experienced (ironically) the trauma of being in a German family during the First World War.  What we would call hate crimes today were committed against German-Americans during the war, even though there were sizable populations of Teutonic Americans by that point (including my mother’s family).  Not only that, but Prohibition put his father’s brewing company out of business.  Still, Seuss was accepted at Dartmouth and, like many who make it to the Ivy League, his connections helped him to a successful career in advertising and then in writing children’s books.

Geisel was a successful man, but wasn’t driven by money.  He was an artist both with images and words, and as Pease makes clear he approached his craft seriously.  As he matured he began to address social and political issues in his larger formatted books.  He eventually became the most successful children’s book author in history.  Reading to my daughter when she was young we discovered that, unlike the often idealized times of the fifties (followed by the sixties into which I was born) there is a wealth of quality children’s literature available.  It’s easy for middle-class kids to be raised loving reading.  Dr. Seuss knew that the pretensions of adults often created the seriousness with which we face life.  Children enjoy fun and the ridiculous.  He never lost sight of that simple fact.  We live in times when it is readily to be wished that many of the adults in power would go back and read a little Seuss and perhaps, just perhaps, learn their lessons.

2 thoughts on “A Slice of Childhood

  1. Hi Steve,

    Since this morning, I’ve been racking my brains over this post. I don’t remember ever having kids books in our house. Probably in school, in 2nd or 3rd grade. The older I got, the more Dr. Suess we saw on television. I do remember spending inordinate time in our school library as a kid, and most likely, got to read Dr. Seuss there. That’s the best I can do with my memory.

    Those animated cartoons were the mainstay of traditional marker events.
    Those tv shorts were must watch television.

    That’s where my memory goes when I think about books early on. I’ve said before that the first books I read as a kid were The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

    We used to read the Bible in Sunday School. So that was just a given book, most families had in their houses and gave to their kids when we got out first communion and confirmation later on in life.



    • Hi Jeremy,
      We didn’t have Dr. Seuss at home. We did have some “Easy Readers,” which I still have, and lots and lots of Arch Bible story books. I really can’t remember how I first became aware of Dr. Seuss, but I certainly knew of him as a child. Since we didn’t own his books and I know my mother read them to us, the library seems a logical answer.


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