Dr Seuss – the name conjures up specifically Seussian images: a cheeky looking cat with a hat, a green Grinch with evil red eyes, and of course, the Lorax. Harnessing a potential inculcated by the rhythmic pie-chants of his mother and inspired by an admiring comment on his ‘doodles’ in his Oxford class by his then classmate and later wife, ‘Ted’ Seuss went on to carve his own niche simultaneously in the art world and children’s literature. His art lies between the surrealist movement of the 20th century and whimsical doodling of a man who claimed that he had never really learnt to draw!
Though Seuss enjoyed writing books that would encourage children to read, his books have symbolic elements meant for adult comprehension – the irresponsibility of ‘once-ler’ in the Lorax in using truffula trees to fuel his ambitiousness, or the controversial butter-battle book with its oblique reference to the growing threat of arms build-up and nuclear war heightened by its highly disconcerting blank page ending. Even his playful change of title in Marvin K. Mooney, will you please go now!, as Richard M. Nixon in friend Art Buchwald’s column with Nixon resigning the next day aroused much notice.
As Dr Seuss wanted and envisaged, his books have been used for several decades as a medium for the teaching of English language, and as a means of encouraging children to read. His dream was realized to a great extent for even at the time of his death on September 24, 1991, his works had been translated into 15 different languages and over 200 million copies sold worldwide with 6 posthumous publications. The cat in the hat – intended as a children’s primer with the inclusion of 220 new-reader vocabulary words remains popular to date both in and out of schools.
He wrote 44 children’s books, over 400 World War II political cartoons and countless advertisements and editorials. Animated renditions of his nearly 30 of his books like the Butter Battle book, Gerald Mcboing-boing (1951), How the Grinch stole Christmas, and Horton hears a Who! (1971) among others, brought him further fame, prestige, one Oscar, two Emmys, a Pulitzer and a Peabody among others.
Dr Seuss enlivened many hearts and minds with his particular brand of fun and infectious optimism – “you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So . . . Get on your way!” Teaching above all, the message of tolerance to young minds, Dr Seuss gave it all in his swan slogan shortly before his death -: “the best slogan I can think of to leave with the U.S.A. would be: ‘we can . . . And we’ve got to . . . Do better than this.” Needless to say, we agree.