It's Read Across America Day today, and all across the United States students – and their teachers – are wearing red-and-white-striped hats. Some are even eating green eggs and ham in class. Most important, they're reading. It's all a way of saying both "happy birthday" and "thank you" to Theodor Seuss Geisel, the children's writer better known as Dr. Seuss.
Read Across America Day is the annual reading motivation and awareness program sponsored by the National Education Association. It is tied to Geisel's birthday in recognition of the ability of his books to inspire young readers. Many schools invite adults in their communities to join in and help read stories aloud to young students. In some school districts, the special programs last all week.
Geisel wrote more than 40 books in his life, many under the pseudonym of Dr. Seuss (he adopted the pen name "Seuss" while still in college and added the "Dr" later in life).
His first children's book was "To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," an illustrated poem published in 1937. That was followed by other very successful titles, including "If I Ran the Zoo" (1950) and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1957). And it was in 1957 that Geisel wrote what is perhaps his most famous book, "The Cat in the Hat," using only 236 words, most taken from a list of vocabulary that educators felt young readers should learn. ("Green Eggs and Ham," published in 1960, uses only 50 words.)
The vocabulary in both books may have been useful, but it was the stories that kids couldn't put down.
To date, 11 million copies of the original "The Cat in the Hat" book have been printed in 12 different languages (including Latin and Yiddish.) According to some estimates, the first book that 1 in 4 American children ever receive is a Dr. Seuss book.
For a man who never had children (he is said to have quipped when asked, "You have 'em; I'll entertain 'em"), it's quite a legacy.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.