“Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.”
In the 1950s, little kids in the United States had a problem on their hands—and so did their parents and teachers. Most of the books written for children at that time were incredibly boring. The standard Dick and Jane primers were stale snoozers that created no compelling reason for kids to dive back in and develop their reading skills. Enter the Good Doctor.
Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote The Cat in the Hat in 1957 as a direct effort to expel the tedium of Dick and Jane from school libraries and family bookshelves. Spurred on by a challenge from the director of Houghton Mifflin’s educational division, he set out to “write a story first graders can’t put down.”
Seuss met that challenge and many more to come, forever changing the game of children’s lit. His secret was to infuse his books with an irresistible fun factor, which augmented his sage and prophetic messaging. The positive impact of his prolific publishing output, spanning a remarkable seven decades, is unparalleled. Thank you, Doc!
Seuss inspired so many of us from an early age to unlock our imaginations (If I Ran the Circus), open our minds (Green Eggs and Ham), and embrace adventure (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!). He also used his own potent imagination to deliver powerful social commentary for all ages. Timeless works like How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (on materialism) and The Lorax (on sustainability) manage to communicate profound, universal advice to humanity— advice even young children can begin to grasp—without ever getting preachy or talking down to readers.
How the Oobleck did the Good Doctor pull that off? The man had a paintbrush and a killer wisdom beard, but what Seuss had most of all was FUN. He brought it into every page and spread it to the world, one wocket, wumbus, and bippo-no-bungus at a time.
Deep messages are woven into works like The Sneetches and Other Stories, a book Seuss published in 1961 that eloquently deals with discrimination and cultural obsessions with physical appearance. But why our repeat reaches for the lessons it teaches—even a half century later? The fun way it’s told makes the story irresistible. The combination of peculiar illustrations, inventive wordplay, and a rhythmic roller coaster of rhymes is masterfully magnetic.
No fun in the writer, no fun in the reader. Seuss made kids’ books fun and enjoyable for parents and teachers as well as for kids, and as a result, that joy still gets transmitted to the tiniest tots at bedtimes around the globe.
This article is excerpted and adapted from the book Life is Good by Bert and John Jacobs, published by National Geographic on September 1, 2015. Copyright © 2015 The Life is Good Company.