Today, March 2, is Read Across America Day – Theodor Geisel’s birthday. Mr. Geisel is better known as Dr. Seuss. Millions of children began their love of books thanks to Dr. Seuss and the parents and teachers who read to them his whimsical stories, many with a profound message.
Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 books under that pen name. Most folks who are familiar with Dr. Seuss, would know his cartoons anywhere. He was a talented artist and created some of the world’s most beloved characters, like Yertle the Turtle, The Grinch, Star-Belly Sneetches, Horton and of course, the Cat in the Hat. What many don’t know is that he was a prolific editorial (political) cartoonist when the topic was the second World War and his caricature of Hitler always held up the tyrant to the ridicule he richly deserved.
My personal favorite is The Sneetches. “Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches – Had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches-Had none upon thars.” In the story, those Sneetches with stars considered themselves superior to those win “none upon thars.”
Throughout history unscrupulous people have profited from what makes you different from me. In The Sneetches, it is the very unscrupulous Sylvester McMonkey McBean, who is ever so happy (for a very small fee) to give the Plain-Belly Sneetches stars of their own. So, of course, those who originally had stars were upset by this new development.
And as you might expect, McBean, the “Fix it Up Chappie,” has a solution for the now very upset Sneetches who had stars at the first. He had a machine that would remove their stars and make them superior once again.
The chaos that ensues thereafter is a wonderful commentary of the politics of the day – way back in 1961 when Dr. Seuss wrote the piece. It was a volatile time. John Kennedy was inaugurated, the Bay of Pigs would follow, the Soviets put a man in space and tested the largest nuclear weapon ever and East German authorities begin construction of the Berlin Wall. Back in the United States, segregation on our railways would end, and the civil rights movement would begin in earnest.
There was plenty of Sneetch-like behavior back then. No doubt Dr. Seuss drew from his experience as a political cartoonist in wartime to come up with a whimsical way to communicate the silliness of one person thinking he’s superior to another. I’m sure it never occurred to Dr. Seuss’s that his message to children might not be lost on their parents – way back in February, 2020.
My eldest daughter and her 11-year-old recently moved back in with us. Her husband is serving in the Air Force in a place where military families don’t go. Since December, I have been treated nightly with the sound of her reading to son – and of him reading to her.
My mother instilled in my siblings and me a love of reading. My wife and I tried (and succeeded) to do the same for our children. And they, in turn, are working on our grandchildren.
Reading is its own reward. But, of course you know that – you’re reading a newspaper. It’s Read Across America Day 2020, or Dr. Seuss Day 2020, today. Read some Seuss – preferably to a child. His messages, humor and art survive quite nicely today.
Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City
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