Happy (belated) birthday, Dr Seuss

Yesterday was Dr Seuss‘s birthday, as my sister reminded me today. It got snowed under, I’m ashamed to say, by chores and deadlines and planning for events. When it comes to significant days, March is actually pretty full of them: Thursday the 5th is World Book Day, Sunday the 8th is International Women’s Day, and Saturday the 14th is Albert Einstein‘s birthday (1879).

But let me get back to Dr Seuss. I grew up in the Netherlands and never went to an international school. I never lived anywhere other than Holland. While Dr Seuss is an intrinsic part of growing up in the US, and I imagine the UK as well though I can’t be sure (see previous), in the Netherlands his work is not nearly as well known. And that’s how I lived to the ripe old age of 25 before ever reading a Dr Seuss book.

My first one was Green Eggs and Ham, and it was my husband who introduced me to it. After he had finally recovered from the shock of realizing that I had no idea who Dr Seuss was nor why his stories are so amazing, he promptly handed me the book and I was immediately hooked.

After reading Green Eggs and Ham, I felt like I had some catching up to do so I read one book after another. Suddenly I became aware of a whole world of missed references. For instance: in Patriot Games, when Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is reading to his daughter Sally (Thora Birch) in the hospital he is reading from The Cat in the Hat. Duh! And I suddenly truly understood what it meant when I heard someone called a Grinch.

Dr Seuss was very creative and innovative with the language, but his books are more than just tongue-twisting fun: they are wise and compassionate and optimistic. Having read quite a few of them by now, my daughter and I have one particular favourite: The Sneetches & Other Stories. Every time we read the tale of the Sneetches, she bristles with indignance on behalf of the plain-belly Sneetches at the beginning, then dissolves into uncontrollable giggles when Sylvester McMonkey McBean introduces himself and sends all the Sneetches running through his clever machine. The names Mrs McCave would have given her sons in retrospect in Too Many Daves crack her up, and the pale green pants get all her sympathy at the end of What Was I Scared Of. And those Zax, well, clearly they’re missing more than just the point. They’re missing everything!

But it’s Dr Seuss’s compassionate wisdom and energetic optimism that really get me every time, even as he simultaneously manages to appeal to my somewhat misanthropic side. And in addition to the delightful mischievous nature of his stories, often his observations have a remarkably bolstering effect. Take this one, for instance:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” What a wonderful way to be reminded that just being yourself is already a pretty good thing to be. No need to worry about constantly competing.

And of course: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” I can’t help it: whenever I see this quote I just become happily motivated and, at least for a moment, I feel that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.

Nothing I say about Dr Seuss could do justice to his wit and wisdom, so I’ll leave you with some of the best advice I’ve ever read; by the man himself, of course:

“Life’s too short to wake up with regrets. So love the people who treat you right, forgive the ones who don’t and believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it. Nobody said it’d be easy, they just promised it would be worth it.”

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