The book, “The Cat in The Hat,” by Dr. Seuss, sits on a book shelf at West Elementary School during a National Read Across America Day event Mar. 2, 2017 at Yokota Air Base, Japan. National Read Across America Day is a holiday to share the fun of reading with children of all ages, and is celebrated on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Donald Hudson)
For many decades, Dr. Seuss has been a legend in children’s literature and educational settings. Growing up, I could just as easily recognize the striped top hat from The Cat in the Hat as I could my Barbie doll. Having such vivid illustrations to associate with Seuss’s stories just piqued my interest as an avid young reader. Who knew that I was also learning moral lessons and increasing my cognitive function that allowed me to recognize letters of the alphabet?
Many of Seuss’s books maintained views of society and touched on politically charged issues from environmental awareness to the dangers of materialism. But most of all, the books of Dr. Seuss have promoted literacy in children through creative visuals and rhythmic poetry.
Six years after Seuss’s death in 1991, a group of National Education Association members wanted to do something to get children excited about reading. They decided the best way to do this was to dedicate a day to reading and to one of children’s literature’s most legendary benefactors. Celebrated on or around Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2, Read Across America has more than 3.2 million participants and supporters doing their best to change a child’s life through reading.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 26% of children who were read to three or four times by a family member in the last week recognized all letters of the alphabet, versus the 14% of children who were read to less often. Further still, the US Department of Education also found that students who picked up a book on their own to read for fun had higher reading scores than those who didn’t. The books that Seuss produced were ones that drew children in, electing to read on their own time. According to National Public Radio, Dr. Seuss was one of the first authors to achieve the goal of providing children with books that taught them to read and were fun at the same time.
William Spaulding, the then-director of Houghton Mifflin’s education division, had seen an article written by John Hersey in a 1954 issue of Life magazine that claimed Hersey knew why kids weren’t choosing to read: the books were too boring! Spaulding contacted Dr. Seuss, asking him to write a book that could keep first-grade readers engaged. In response, Dr. Seuss wrote Cat in the Hat from a vocabulary list for six- and seven-year-olds as a replacement for the Dick and Jane readers. Up until this time, Seuss had been used to making up his own words—sticking to a list was quite the challenge. In the end, the 236-word book was a huge success, not only in sales (he sold two million by the second year!), but also through breaking ground in child literacy by showing children how enjoyable reading could be.
In addition to Cat in the Hat, Seuss wrote more than 40 books, selling more than half a million copies between them. His inspiration ranged from his baker mother who used to sing him to sleep using “pie-selling chants,” to a bet where he claimed he could write a book using only fifty words, resulting in Green Eggs and Ham. It is his huge success as an author and his influence on the metamorphosis of children’s literature that makes him a perfect representation of Read Across America and its goal to promote lifelong reading and learning. This year’s event takes place on March 1, bringing together children and their teachers all over the country. Albert Einstein reminds us of the importance of imagination in his quote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Seuss enhances children’s imaginations through his creation of fictitious characters and illustration style, reminding people each day just how fun reading can be.
“Facts about Children’s Literacy,” NEA, accessed January 29, 2013.
“Fifty Years of the ‘Cat in the Hat,’ “ NPR, accessed January 29, 2013.
“10 facts about Dr. Seuss,” BBC News, accessed January 29, 2013.