Happy birthday, Dr Seuss! Is it that time of year already? Time to dust off some well-loved kids books and crack open some good ol’ family reading time. Oh, who am I kidding! His books are read almost every single day by our three-year-old, and still frequently referred to by everyone else in the family. Dr Seuss is an honorary member of the Evil Genius Lair, and will always have a seat in the ‘Reading Room’.
So many people are stunned when I list Dr Seuss in my Top 5 Authors Of All Time. Sure, the kids love his books and will celebrate his birthday with a plethora of crazy cooking experiments from Kazoo. But, once they are in bed and tucked away in the land of Na-Nupp, then I’m going to catch-up with the other side of Dr Seuss.
Here are seven things you may not know about Dr Seuss:
You’ve been pronouncing his name wrong
Every time I have heard his name said out loud, I have heard it rhyme with ‘loose’. Or, as some people like to think, ‘Mother Goose’. Dr Seuss’ real name is Theodore Seuss Geisel, with Seuss being his mother’s maiden name. And it is pronounced ‘SOICE’ like ‘voice’ or ‘choice’. Seriously.
He was a prolific political cartoonist
Geisel was the absolute personification of critical thought. I may not agree with everything he produced but he would never have wanted that. Ever.
Geisel was a staunch anti-isolationist, with strong views on America’s participation (or lack thereof) in World War II. The constant theme of global citizenship and arrogant ignorance are highlighted in a lot of his art. In particular, Geisel expressed great disdain for anyone who showed a distinct valuing of American lives (and especially white middle-to-upper class lives) over any others. He was also more than happy to point out the hypocrisy of people who would shout “American lives first”, while expressing clear discrimination against black Americans and Jewish Americans.
He predicted the Atomic Bomb before it happened
Geisel’s creativity and foresight almost gave away the US Military’s ‘big plan’ at the end of World War II. He was part of a team publishing newsletters to soldiers remaining overseas, and who were disillusioned because they were looking forward to coming home. After writing an article on “The Weapons of the Next War” and specifically mentioning the Atomic Bomb, Geisel received a call from the Pentagon ordering him to reveal his ‘sources’ and destroy all evidence. This was before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
He wasn’t perfect, with racist views against the Japanese
That’s right—Even Dr Seuss was susceptible to fear-mongering in the 1940s. There are many cartoons with horribly racist commentary on the Japanese during World War II. This ugliness is amplified by the treatment of American-Japanese at the same time.
However, Geisel also showed how every one of us can learn from our mistakes, and make amends. When he visited Japan after the 1945 bombing, Geisel spoke about how ‘moved’ he was by the devastation and the innocence of the children he met. And while he did not come out and officially apologize for his contribution to the negative propaganda at the time, Geisel did make a peace-offering in the form of Horton Hears A Who, reminding us (and himself) that every life matters, including the minority groups. Very much a “know better, do better” philosophy for amends.
“We can… and we’ve got to… do better than this.” – Theodore Seuss Geisel
He was not afraid to bring political commentary into his children books
Yertle the Turtle was a characterisation of Hitler or Mussolini. Geisel could never totally decide which, however at one point Yertle was sporting a rather iconic moustache. The Lorax was a direct statement to the logging industry and consumerism in general. You already know the reason for Horton Hears A Who, but don’t believe the memes about The Cat In The Hat; Nothing to do with religion and everything to do with questioning the authorities.
Comparatively, Hooray For Diffendorfer Day is all about awesome teachers who encourage critical thought and do not fall to the administrative concept of standardized testing. Geisel was a rare breed of adult who never underestimated the brain power of children.
He had no children of his own, and never wanted them
To some, he said it was because he was still a child himself. To others, he claimed to be the creative father of over 200 million children around the world, fostering their imagination and philosophy. He was a step-father to his second wife’s two daughters but never expressed any desire to have children of his own. To himself, he considered that to be enough.
He was an Academy Award Winner
Well, actually two awards. He and his first wife, the late Helen Geisel, received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Design for Death, in 1947. He also received an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film (with United Productions of America) for Gerald McBoing Boing. Geisel also received two Emmy’s, a Pulitzer, and a Peabody—plus a bunch of other accolades. Nice work, Ted.
Now if I haven’t scared you away from Dr Seuss and his continuing relevance in our society today, why not check out my more light-hearted article on 5 Ways To Celebrate Dr Seuss’ Birthday? There’s cake and funky hats…