Like many of my contemporaries, I was an avid reader of Dr. Seuss books as a child. The simple rhyming structure and compactness of the volumes belied it’s deep and life-long influence. Theodore Geisel hid profound life lessons within the pages of his short works; lessons that I am only beginning to realize are still with me today.
I’ll start with the first of his books I can recall – Green Eggs and Ham. C’mon, say it with me, you know you know the line “I do not like them Sam I Am, I do not like green eggs and ham.” Throughout the pages of this brief masterpiece we are regaled with increasingly bizarre places to try eating this titular dish. Yet the protagonist resists. The idea of eating eggs in an unfamiliar color seems to be anathema to him. When he finally capitulates and tries the eggs he finds them delicious. He is suddenly willing to eat them anywhere and at anytime. The lesson I learned from this was that I should be willing to try new things, even if they seem weird and scary at first. I’m still working hard to embrace this message but being aware of it is a good first step (for me at least).
Another Dr. Seuss work that still resonates for me today is The Sneetches. In this tale there are two tribes of sneetches – one group has stars on their bellies and the other doesn’t. Naturally the star-bearing sneetches feel they are superior to their barren bellied brethren. Eventually a scammer offers a solution – a machine that will put stars on the Plain-Bellied Sneetches (for a fee of course). Naturally this outrages the Star-Bellied Sneetches who decided that perhaps barren bellies are the way to go. After numerous ridiculous interactions, both groups finally realize that this prejudice is ridiculous and they are truly all equal – with or without stars. I can’t say I fully grasped this concept as a child but as I matured I began to realize what a simple yet profound concept this was. It was reinforced over the years by various other studies and life lessons (such as the classroom activity when a teacher divided children up according to eye-color and proceeded to treat one eye-color group as superior to the other – the results were not quite so funny or charming in real life).
Another hugely influential Dr. Seuss tale was The Lorax. “I speak for the trees!” – I can still hear him protesting. This book had such impact on me as a child that I am still amazed that humanity hasn’t learned it’s simple lesson. If we run through our resources like locusts, we will be left with nothing. We justify our behaviors with a very “everybody needs a thneed” approach and don’t realize that some things are irreplaceable and some things, once broken, are unfixable. Children seem to understand this concept better than adults. Unfortunately many also seem to forget it as they grow older. Maybe we should make it mandatory for every adult to read this book at least once a year. I don’t see how it could be put in more simple, profound yet easy to understand terms.
A final Dr. Seuss tale that stuck with me through the years is The Zax, a tale of stubbornness taken to ridiculous levels. When the north-going Zax and the south-going Zax cross paths (or rather collide head-on), their refusal to compromise reaches epic proportions. I wish I could say reading this book kept me from becoming overly stubborn but that would be inaccurate. However I can say that it at least kept me honest about my ridiculous moments of monumentally stupid stubbornness. Once again, this is a life lesson I’m still trying to fully embrace but at least I realize the need.
Other Dr. Seuss classics such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat certainly stayed with me but didn’t have quite the same impact as the ones I mentioned above. I think I may need to re-read these books soon. It occurs to me that growing old is forgetting the joy and magic of childhood. In my opinion Dr. Seuss books help keep that spirit alive.