Saturday, March 3, 2007

Happy (one day late) Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Well this post was going to be up by yesterday morning (March 2nd, the birthday of Dr. Seuss), but Blaine had a sleepless night followed by a whiny day (mostly Blaine whining, but then I joined in) so...

By yesterday evening I said, "what's the point of writing about Dr. Seuss's birthday now?" But I am the boss of this blog, so we're going to have a belated birthday celebration.
Dr. Seuss's birthday is a hoot at school. We read all sorts of his stuff, make red and white striped hats out of paper, and talk about his life and career. My favorite thing to do on his birthday is to have a read-a-thon (in fact the National Education Association has dubbed March 2nd, "Read Across America Day"). The kids get to bring pillows and blankets and one healthy snack and then we spend the entire morning reading. You'd think they'd get bored or restless, and of course a few kids do (and have to take a walk or two), but for the most part they just plop down with their pretzels and giant stacks of books and read read read! It's such a ball. Do it at home with your kids--they'll die about it.

I learned yesterday that it was not only Dr. Seuss's birthday, but also the 50th birthday of The Cat in the Hat. This classic is a perfect example of why we love Dr. Seuss so much and why his books are so great for emergent readers. His characters and stories are inventive and comical, and the writing is phonetic and simple, yet very clever and memorable. Even all of his nonsense words are completely phonetic, so a child learning to read can use the rules he knows to pronounce them correctly. All the rhyming and repetitiveness is perfect for beginning readers as well. That is the sort of thing that helps them learn "sight words"--those words that don't always make sense phonetically but are frequently used and crucial to reading fluently. Actually, Dr. Seuss didn't just happen to write books that help emergent readers. He wrote The Cat in the Hat in response to a complaint by a man named John Hersey that the reading primers being used in schools (this was 1954) were full of "insipid illustrations" of "abnormally courteous children." Hersey said, “Why should [school primers] not have pictures that widen rather than narrow the associative richness the children give to the words they illustrate — drawings like those of the wonderfully imaginative geniuses among children’s illustrators, Tenniel, Howard Pyle, “Dr. Seuss,” Walt Disney?” Dr. Seuss responded to this challenge by writing a book that came from a 223-word list of vocabulary words for school children. Because the list was so limiting, it took him 9 months to complete. The finished product--The Cat in the Hat.

And of course, Dr. Seuss's books are chock full of life lessons and morals. From friendship to the true meaning of Christmas to learning to try new things, his morals are clear but not sappy, which I find refreshing.
So here's what you've got to do. Read all of the classic Seuss titles with your kids. You know--The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Oh The Places You'll Go, etc. THEN, get to know some of his less commonly known greaties. Our favorites are The Lorax (I'll dedicate an Earth Day post to this poignant and clever story) and The Sneetches (an absolute must read which I'll write about another time). You've also got to check out It's got a biography of Dr. Seuss, a list of all of his books, and super fun games for your kids to play.
Enjoy a day with Dr. Seuss and remember to wish him and his cat a Happy Birthday!

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