Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning

The University of Mississippi School of Education

Wise Words from Our Friend-Dr. Seuss

Posted on: March 2nd, 2020 by Cathy Grace

Only if someone likes you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better..its not. The Lorax

Mississippi was recently recognized as making the largest gains in reading in the country. This is quite an accomplishment and serves as a recognition of the work of dedicated teachers and committed school districts across the state.  Also, a tip of the hat must go to leadership within communities that supported local efforts around the importance of education, especially early childhood education.

Many community-wide events are held throughout the year to promote reading, but none more famous than that celebrating Dr.Seuss through Read Across America Day on March 2. Some schools have expanded the one day to a week or even a month. The point of the celebration is to call attention to the joy of reading and the wisdom that is often passed down through stories and characters who wrestle with situations that test their hearts and souls.

Many of us grew up listening to or reading stories written by Theodor Geisel, or Dr. Seuss as he is called by millions of fans.  Even though he died 29 years ago, his genius in telling stories is alive and well as indicated by the sale of over 600 million books that bear his name.

Why are the books so popular? Some suggest Dr. Seuss did not insult the intelligence of the reader. Scholars who have studied his body of work have several ideas as to the why his work is timeless. Every Seuss book had a serious and sensitive message, even though the silliness was always present and the rhymes evident throughout the text. Today the message delivered by the Lorax about the environment is possibly even more important for children to read and discuss than when it was first published in 1971. Oh the Places You Will Go, the last book published before Geisel’s death, is often given to high school graduates as it is about the challenges of life and the importance of staying the course and getting through whatever life throws your way. It is a story of hope.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the repetition, rhythm and rhyme found in Dr. Seuss books are very helpful in supporting infants and toddlers process speech they hear and fine tune connections between auditory and language networks in the brain.  Many parents and educators have mistakenly assumed that Dr. Seuss’ books are more for pre-school and elementary age children due to the text and illustrations. This study and others point to new knowledge on how baby brains develop and specifically about language processing.

In recent years, Geisel has been criticized both as an illustrator and author when his work was reviewed through a non-biased lens.  Philip Nel, a professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University, believes Geisel used both racist and anti-racist themes in his books. Other scholars express a belief that his early work was a reflection of the times and not intended as being racially discriminatory .

We can celebrate the man who gave us The Cat in the HatGreen Eggs and HamHorton Hears a Who and many more unforgettable stories by giving ourselves permission to curl up, find our favorite Seuss tale and enjoy.  Of his many quotes, this one resonates today, “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.”

by Dr. Cathy Grace

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