For more than five decades, Dr. Seuss published children's books that will undoubtedly remain literary staples for posterity. Born Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss developed a love for reading and word play from his mother Henrietta Seuss Geisel. His creativity may have been inspired by frequent trips to the zoo nearby his boyhood home and by tinkering alongside his father, Theodor Geisel, on machines and inventions. Always fond of doodling, Dr. Seuss experimented with his illustrations and wit during his time at Dartmouth College where he published his cartoons in the campus humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern. Following a brief stint at Oxford University where he studied literature, he returned to the United States to focus on cartooning. His readership, primarily an adult audience, often criticized his work in the magazines LIFE, Vanity Fair, and The Saturday Evening Post. Occasionally fan mail praised his efforts, however, and when the first time a child requested his autograph, Dr. Seuss discovered his target audience: children. His books have taught generations basic reading skills and essential life lessons.
Dr. Seuss's Beginner Books and his Bright & Early Books for Beginning Beginners are just the right tools for teaching young children. These books are best suited for pre-K through first grade students. Add Dr. Seuss's ABC to an alphabet lesson or One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish to lessons on counting or identifying colors. These texts are simple to read, making them highly accessible to readers with a limited vocabulary. In fact, the 1957 classic story The Cat in the Hat is told using fewer than 230 simple words. Another easy-to-read selection is The Shape of Me and Other Stuff, which encourages children to use their critical thinking skills to identify objects by their silhouettes.
Green Eggs and Ham is another children's favorite by Dr. Seuss. Like The Cat and the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham is useful for teaching sound devices such as repetition, rhyme, and alliteration. Dr. Seuss's stories are memorable, too, making them a go-to reference when more complicated lessons need to be taught on meter in poetry or even Shakespeare.
Young readers are fond of Dr. Seuss's creative writing style and zany illustrations, but perhaps the life lessons taught by the stories are what make them timeless, as they are relatable to people young and old. In the 1954 story Horton Hears a Who!, the elephant, Horton, discovers that living on a dust particle is not only a Who but an entire society. The gargantuan Horton feels a responsibility to protect his small friends from the dangers of the world. No other creatures believe Horton's claim about the microscopic population of Whos, but that makes no difference to Horton. From this story, children can learn to show compassion. Horton's story teaches the universal theme of how the strong should protect the weak.
During WWII, Dr. Seuss supported the war effort by making cartoons for the army that were used to train soldiers. Seuss also published editorial cartoons that ridiculed Germany and Japan. Although he published no children's books during this period, later stories like Yertle the Turtle were inspired by this dark time in history. While in the pond, Yertle becomes obsessed with ruling all that he can see and desires to see more, no matter the cost. His power-hungry disposition compels him to create a higher throne at the expense of his subjects. Yertle orders the other turtles in his pond to crawl atop one another as he balances high above their tower of shells. Poor Mack, the turtle at the bottom of the stack, respectfully complains to King Yertle about the pain he endures throughout the ordeal. From the illustrations, readers can infer that each of the other turtles in the stack is suffering, but only Mack is bold enough to confront the ruthless leader. Yertle ignores their pain, even when they run the risk of their shells cracking. Mack saves the day in an unusual way: he burps, causing Yertle's throne of turtles to topple, sending Yertle into the mud, his new realm. While young readers won't be able to make the connection that Yertle symbolizes Hitler or Mussolini, they can take away the message that all living creatures should be free from oppression.
This June, The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum will open in Springfield, Massachusetts. Besides housing personal items of Dr. Seuss and memorabilia, the museum's mission will be to use Dr. Seuss's literature to teach children literacy skills and instill in them a love for reading. The creation of this museum is one of many ways that Dr. Seuss has been immortalized. His work will continue to make an impact on young readers for years to come.