Dr. Seuss’s Influence on Reading and Children

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Date: 2016
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 937 words
Content Level: (Level 4)
Lexile Measure: 1240L

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Throughout his life, Theodor Seuss Geisel—widely known as Dr. Seuss—created some of the most memorable rhymes and characters in children’s literature. His books have been helping children learn to read for decades and his influence extends across continents. The works of Dr. Seuss are celebrated annually on Read Across America Day, a national event sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA) honoring Geisel’s birthday on March 2. The day is dedicated to helping children learn to love reading. Today, Geisel’s work continues to inspire readers and writers of all ages.

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Fast Facts

  • The Lorax, which tells the story of a once beautiful place that turned sad and gray after people began abusing its resources, is often used to explain the importance of protecting the environment to children.
  • Geisel wrote the book The Cat in the Hat to help children learn to read because he believed the popular educational book series Dick and Jane was too boring.
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, the last book published during Geisel’s lifetime, is a favorite gift for recent high school and college graduates. The book sells an average of 300,000 copies each year.

Dr. Seuss Is Given a Challenge

Dr. Seuss books have been met with enthusiasm by children, parents, and educators since their initial publication. The author’s passion to get children to read more books began in 1954 following the publication of a Life magazine article about how illiteracy was becoming a problem among schoolchildren across the country. The article suggested children were not encouraged to read because most children’s books were boring. Geisel’s publisher challenged the author to write an interesting children’s book that contained at least two hundred important words every child should know. The result was Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957.

The Cat in the Hat contained pages of rhyming verses that described the misadventures of a brother and sister after they meet a giant, walking, talking, hat-wearing cat who inspires them to turn a rainy day into endless fun. Readers often praised Geisel’s use of wordplay, which engaged readers by being both fun to read and easy to remember. The character of the Cat in the Hat dazzled readers with his strange sayings and uniquely humorous perspective on life. Most importantly, The Cat in the Hat encouraged creativity in readers by urging them to use their imagination. The book became one of Geisel’s most famous creations and continues to influence young readers decades after its release.

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Geisel is one of several authors who invented words for use in their works. His book If I Ran a Zoo (1950) introduced the word nerd into the English language. The term is now used to describe someone who is dedicated to intellectual topics, or may be used to describe someone who is socially inept or unstylish. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, invented two words that would later enter English dictionaries: galumphing, a combination of galloping and triumph, and chortle, a mix of the words chuckle and snort. Perhaps the most prolific inventor of words was playwright William Shakespeare, who introduced more than two thousand words to the English language through his plays. Some of Shakespeare’s invented words include uncomfortable, addiction, and eyeball.

A Day of Reading

Dr. Seuss books have played an important role in preschool and elementary education throughout the years. In honor of Geisel’s legacy, the NEA holds their annual Read Across America Day on the author’s birthday, March 2, or whatever school day falls closest to that date. The day’s events normally include adults reading a children’s book aloud to students as they follow along. Readers can choose from a number of books, but many often pick a featured Dr. Seuss book to read to the children. Geisel’s books combine entertaining wordplay with moral lessons that appeal to both educators and students. Some of the most often read Dr. Seuss books include Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.

A Critical Understanding of Dr. Seuss’s Appeal

Apart from their role in childhood education, Dr. Seuss books have also been analyzed on an academic level for their mass appeal. Researchers have studied why Dr. Seuss books have remained so popular after so many years. Some scholars believe it is due to the type of poetic meter that Geisel used to tell his stories, which gives the books a solid rhythm and humorous effect.

Other experts turn to a discussion of theme when trying to understand the appeal of Dr. Seuss books. Some writers believe that Geisel’s repeated call to awaken the imagination is what continuously attracts readers. The Cat in the Hat is a straightforward example of this theme. Other examples include Green Eggs and Ham, which is all about getting someone to try something he has never tried before.

Several of the author’s stories involve a young person trying to win the approval of an authority figure, such as a parent. This had led some critics to argue that there is a psychological aspect to Dr. Seuss’s appeal, as many kids can relate to desiring the praise and attention of a parent. Many of Geisel’s books also detail a young person’s frustration with adult rules, which is another draw for young readers.

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Words to Know

The quality of being unable to read or write.
Lacking in skill.
The pattern of rhythm in lines of poetry.
An unfortunate event.
An understanding of a situation from one person’s point of view.
One who produces large amounts of work.
That which influences a person’s will or mind.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|DJYZOW308171129