Dr. Seuss still delights young

Ann Hollister, children's librarian Irene Tewksbury, Emma Hall, Rachell Silva, Brittany Silva, and Ryan Scherer. Photo by Susan Safford
Ann Hollister has special memories of Dr. Seuss. (From left) Ann Hollister, children's librarian Irene Tewksbury, Emma Hall, Rachell Silva, Brittany Silva, and Ryan Scherer. Photos by Susan Safford

By Ann Hollister - March 9, 2006

There were big pink, red, orange, turquoise, and yellow birthday balloons. Children's librarian Irene Tewksbury wore a tall "Cat in the Hat" chapeau and a huge red bow tie. A cake featuring the ultimate Cat was on a table, and a pile of Dr. Seuss books were on the floor. The scene was set in the light-filled activity room off the main children's room of the Oak Bluffs Library at 3:15 pm on Friday, March 3. It was Theodor Seuss Geisel's 102nd birthday celebration coupled with Read Across America Week.

What better place to celebrate the March 2 anniversary of one of the all-time favorite children's authors? The room calls out for fun! Last Friday afternoon the sun was streaming through six large windows onto the huge red, black, and gold floor tiles. On the floor a magnificent primary-color rug with hopscotch squares, backgammon, chess, and Parcheesi game patterns, and "Aa Bb Cc" borders greets every one who enters. Three purple, round-topped tables, each accompanied by six bright red chairs, reside under the windows. On this day, markers, crayons, and Seuss puzzles, cake and drinks, napkins and plates were all laid out in readiness.

Ryan Scherer: Photo by Susan Safford
Ryan Scherer wears the hat of the day to celebrate the great Dr. Seuss.
All that was needed were the guests. Fridays at 3:30 pm, the library hosts children from the After School Program. This was vacation week, and so the guest list was tentative. Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, there had been a pre-school celebration at 10:30 am. Now slowly the 6-to-11-year-old group appeared and were greeted by Irene "Cat in the Hat" Tewksbury at the glass-windowed door. After greetings, Ms.Tewksbury called the guests to a circle and had one youngster pick out a Seuss book, which she read aloud. There was much trying on of the tall striped hat as the small group settled into listening. "Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away! . . . Step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act," the words of Dr. Seuss's last book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"

I was the lucky recipient of an invitation to cover the party for the Martha's Vineyard Times and, in addition, became part of the party program. In the 1989-90 school, year my third-grade students at the Edgartown School became fascinated by Dr. Seuss after one girl brought in her favorite Seuss poem, "Too Many Daves," taken from his book "Sneetches and Other Stories." After reading it, the students decided to write an adaptation of the poem and called their version "Too Many Socks." Our school librarian, Patricia Carlet, videotaped the children reading their poem, and we sent the video, a letter, and a set of words to Dr. Seuss at his home in La Jolla, Calif. He sent us a hand-written note back. That led to a three-time exchange of notes, which included our sending him hand-made cards for his 86th birthday. It seemed deja vu that The Times asked me to cover the story, because the paper had published our story about Dr. Seuss in March 1990.

I brought my class Big Book to share with the party guests at the suggestion of Ms.Tewksbury. Rachel Silva, a savvy third-grader from Oak Bluffs School, read aloud with aplomb both the Seuss original, "Too Many Daves," and the children's adaptation, "Too Many Socks." I encouraged them to write to a favorite author of their own, to write an adaptation of a story they loved, or to try an original work. They were a charming, attentive audience who asked astute questions and made relevant comments.

The beloved Dr. Seuss is as much a favorite now as when he first wrote "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" in 1937. In between the first and the last, "Oh! the Places You'll Go" in 1990, he wrote some 41 books. His personal favorite was "The Lorax," about pollution and care of the environment, the book that took the longest to become popular.

Other clear message books are "The Butter Battle Book," a creative and anti-war response to the nuclear arms race, and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which was anti-curmudgeon. Then there are all those too-numerous-to-list lilting verse, amusing books on subjects from turtles to zebras. How many of us learned to read by first hearing a parent read a Seuss story to us and then approaching his early readers by ourselves? Dr. Seuss was awarded three Caldicott Honor Book citations and a special Pulitzer Prize, plus doctorates from seven universities, including his alma mater, Dartmouth College.

The Oak Bluffs Library children's party concluded with everyone singing a hearty rendition of "Happy Birthday" to the still-beloved Dr. Seuss.

Ann Hollister taught third grade at the Edgartown School for 25 years. She is now a supervisor for on-site student teachers here from various New England colleges and an instructor for the Martha's Vineyard Adult Learning Program's ESL program. She frequently writes about young readers' books for The Times.