Dr. Seuss (rhymes with toys, not juice!)

Jonathan as the Cat in Seussical (2006)

Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday, or well, Theodor Dreisel’s anyway. People all over the place are probably dining on green eggs and ham, which I ate, appropriately, when my kids were small. Having sacrificed myself for their little sakes, I have no intention of ever repeating that dining experience, but I’m game if anyone wants to join me. You only live once, and I wouldn’t want anybody named Sam following me around all day with the same pestering question.

Like most kids who grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s, watching the Dr. Seuss specials, when those magical Special Presentation promos popped up on NBC or whatever, were cause for celebration. My all time favorite Christmas special remains How the Grinch Stole Christmas even though I have never, ever, read the book. Let’s just say that no one narrates better than Boris Karloff. Ever. Jim Carey is an imposter.

The theme of the Grinch still serves us well today, and another one of his stories, Horton Hears a Who has a magnificent tag line : A person’s a person, no matter how small. There is talk, even controversy (mostly led by his widow) that the Pro-Life movement has latched onto that as a battle cry.

Whatever. Geisel claimed that direct moralizing in his stories would ruin them because it becomes obvious and manufactured. I agree. To look at that line in isolation is to discredit the whole story, except that, wait a minute, that line encapsulates the whole story. His widow can get over herself. Quick.

I love Horton Hears a Who precisely because of its subtle, but so profound theme of respect for life. Here’s a little venture into that great big vault of old blog posts, this one resurrected from the files of Rosary Army when I was writing a weekly Monday Musings. It’s brief, but captures something about the joy of that story.

from March 27, 2006

This weekend my son finished a run as the Cat in the Hat in his middle school production, Seussical. It was elaborate and required a great deal of hard work on the part of the cast, crew, and adults who supported it at all levels. I’m proud of him and his classmates who managed to pull off such a huge endeavor.

Were there mistakes? Sure. Was anything so disastrous that the show fell apart? Nope. In the end everyone worked together to fulfill their roles, whether large like the Cat or Horton, or small like JoJo or a propman. They lived the theme of the play, loosely based on Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

That message, as a Catholic theme, was not lost on me. Today’s society puts to the test the Church’s teachings on social justice. Like the Who’s in Whoville, too tiny to be heard, the Church identifies “the least of our brothers” to be heard above the din of our noisy distractions.

The Church, in her wisdom, calls us to be like Horton. Do we hear the voices of the unborn? Do we hear the voices of immigrants? Do we hear the voices of the homeless, or poor, or ill?

Christ calls each of us, personally, to hear those voices. Like the fictional Horton, can we hear — and more importantly — act?

I have a soft spot for Dr. Seuss. He did much for literacy, and much more for instilling and supporting a value system in his readers. I discovered, as an adult, that he wrote one final book that was published posthumously, My Many Colored Days,  and illustrated by some contemporary artists. I used it for many years when I taught high school, and it remains my favorite Seuss book. It’s listed as a children’s book, but with a talent like Gesel’s, you know it’s just as much for adults.

One thought on “Dr. Seuss (rhymes with toys, not juice!)

  1. Didn’t someone say, “Unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” I’ve often thought that the best children’s stories had something profound to say to adults. Just because the language is simple doesn’t mean the ideas are. Dr. Seuss’s work is an example of that. Others are “The Velveteen Rabbit,” and “The Little Prince.”

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