Yes, I know it looks awkwardly painful to read on the floor in a scroochy position like that, but that was me as a kid. I was the awkwardest nerd in Wright County, Iowa, when I was a boy. But Dr. Seuss taught me early on to read and enjoy the imaginary worlds that reading created in my stupid little head.
I don’t remember the first actual book I read, other than to firmly believe it was a Dr. Seuss book like Yertle the Turtle, or Horton Hears a Who! But I do remember the first chapter book, the first great adventure. It was The White Stag by Kate Seredy. It was the Newberry Medal winner published in 1937, and told the mythical journey of Hunor and Magyar, two brothers and leaders of two peoples who are on an epic quest to find the land where they belong by following a magical white stag.
I was nine when I read and fell in love with that book. I picked it off Miss Mennenga’s reading shelf because it was a simple red book with a plain red cover (the paper illustrated book cover had long since disintegrated in kids’ hands over time.) Red was my favorite color.
But I fell in love with the movie version that unfolded in my mind’s eye. It was when I learned to dive so deeply into a book that the characters became real to me.
The following year when I was ten the book was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Jim Hawkins was my best friend that year. That was followed by Rudyard Kipling’s First Jungle Book. I walked around the jungle with Mowgli and Bagheera the black panther for quite a while after that.
I think it is important to often look back on the beginnings of things. This is the story of how I became a reader for life. And it matters now that I am furiously trying to cram in more books of all sorts before the end. The journey nears completion, and it helps to focus on what goals and what loves I had at the outset. Will there be reading in Heaven? I hope so. Otherwise, truthfully, I may not go.
I’ll say it again while my tongue is not loose,
I did learn to read from the good Doctor Seuss!
Yes, this writer I have chosen to talk about today, this wunderful wubble of werfinsky cartoons and sniggly sayer of savantish snapoons, is, perhaps, the most important literary influence on my life. Back in the early 1960’s my parents bought a subscription to Dr. Seuss books that were written in simple, easy words… but the secret was always in the pictures and the sounds. Yes, the sounds. It’s the sounds that you see which will bollox the ear, and sear into your memory for many a year. Oh, and the rhymes… the rhymes make a memory for many old times. See if you can get that out of your head. I bet you can’t. The rhythm will make you remember instead.
The secret is how with picture and word the old master teaches you painlessly how to read. I loved Dr. Seuss as a child. I loved him even more when I was a teacher who often had to teach middle school and high school students belatedly how to read. I can’t tell you how many times I read Dr. Seuss books out loud while students looked at the words. I can’t tell you because it is such a big number that my old teacher-brain swells with the effort to remember and count. And it is not merely the reading skill you learn from this, especially the reading a book like Fox in Socks. Some time in the future when I regain a bit of health, I’ll have to show you on YouTube the tantalizing tongue training I went through with Fox in Socks.
You learn life lessons from Dr. Seuss. He not only made me a reader, he helped shape the sort of man I am.
The Lorax taught us about conservation of resources. The Sneetches teach us not to have foolish prejudices based on surface differences. He inspires us to be better than we are.
So here is the thing that I want to say,
If you read Dr. Seuss, there’s no better way,
To learn about life, and learn how to play,
And be the best you for all of your days.