Dr. Seuss: 114 years young

Theodor Seuss Geisel would have celebrated his 114th birthday March 2.

He was obviously unable to do so himself, but many bookstores and elementary schools around the nation held parties for him.

Theodor Geisel was, of course, Dr. Seuss, probably the most popular author and illustrator of children’s books ever.

Dr. Seuss wasn’t his only pen name. He also wrote as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, T. Seuss, Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.

The prolific author had no close competitor in our home for popularity when our kids were growing up. They cut their early reading teeth on “Horton Hatches the Egg,” “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “The Lorax,” “One Fish Two Fish,” “Green Eggs and Ham” and many more.

To this day the Grinch is still a family favorite, and our grandchildren have enjoyed the movie versions for years at Christmastime — really, at any time.

And the artwork!

Geisel had an imagination like no other, and his story illustrations transfixed our youngsters as much as his made-up words, characters and lilting half-poetry, half-prose.

Barnes & Noble bookstores held birthday celebrations for Geisel last Friday, when they divulged some nuggets about his whimsical life.

For instance, he may have originated the word “nerd.” Its first known published use was in the Dr. Seuss book “If I Ran the Zoo,” which came out in 1951.

Geisel had no biological children of his own. But he would make up stories about his imaginary daughter Chrysanthemum-Pearl, to whom he dedicated his book “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” — “To Chrysanthemum-Pearl, age 89 months, going on 90.”

He wasn’t a real doctor.

He added that title to his name to honor his father, who wanted him to practice medicine. But Dartmouth College granted him an honorary doctorate degree in 1956.

Dr. Seuss wrote “Green Eggs and Ham” as the result of a bet between himself and his editor Bennett Cerf (people of my vintage will remember him as a panelist on the old TV quiz show “What’s My Line”). Cerf bet Geisel that he couldn’t write a book using fewer words than “The Cat in the Hat,” which has 225. Geisel won in a walk — “Green Eggs and Ham” has only 50.

Geisel was often asked where he got his ideas. Here’s his standard response:

“I get all my ideas in Switzerland near the Forka Pass. There is a little town called Gletch, and two thousand feet up above Gletch there is a smaller hamlet called Uber Gletch. I go there on the fourth of August every summer to get my cuckoo clock fixed. While the cuckoo is in the hospital, I wander around and talk to the people in the streets. They are very strange people, and I get my ideas from them.”    

Surprisingly, Dr. Seuss never received either the Caldecott Medal or the Newbery Award, the best-known awards for children’s books.

But there is now the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, given annually to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers.

It’s probably just as well that Dr. Seuss is deceased.

He would no doubt win his namesake award every year.

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