We hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Everyone on our DWM team certainly did. Next stop: Hanukkah and Christmas. A great time for presents of all sorts, and particularly wonderful for children’s books. There have been some great children’s authors such as J.K. Rowling, Shel Silverstein, Richard Scary, Beatrix Potter and Maurice Sendak. Yet, by far, Dr. Seuss has outsold them all. His 46 books have sold over ½ billion copies. His latest “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!! (1990) is still on the bestseller list.
There are lots of interesting facts about Dr. Seuss. Theodor Seuss Geisel wasn’t a doctor, and took the name because his father wanted him to practice medicine. He had no kids and didn’t want any. He is reported to have said, “You have ‘em, I’ll amuse ‘em.” He coined the word “nerd” in “If I Ran the Zoo” (1950). “Horton Hears a Who” is about Japan. And, “Yertle the Turtle” about Hitler. Dr. Seuss wanted kids to start reading early. “Oh the Places You’ll Go” was meant to be read in utero.
In the 1950s, parents and educators began to fear that American children were falling behind their European counterparts in terms of their educational achievement. Dr. Seuss was convinced the reason that reading levels were down was because “Dick and Jane” books were so boring. (Hear Hear!) In 1955, English professor Rudolf Flesch published the influential book “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” William Spaulding, who headed the educational division at Houghton Mifflin books, agreed with Mr. Flesch and presented Dr. Seuss with a challenge.
Spaulding had identified 348 words that first graders should know and asked Dr. Seuss to write a captivating and imaginative book using only those words. Geisel’s first response was that the challenge was “impossible and ridiculous” but decided to try anyway. The result: “Cat in the Hat.”
“Cat in the Hat” (1957) used only 236 words. It became an immediate best seller. Within three years, it had sold over one million copies. Today, almost 60 years later, it is still a bestseller.
Flush with the success of brevity of words, Dr. Seuss produced another bestseller using only 50 words. Yes, “Green Eggs and Ham” uses only 50 words, none of them more than 90 times. “I” is used about 85 times as is “not”. Then, it scales down from there with all the familiar words such as Sam, I, am, house, mouse, here and anywhere. It has been a tremendous perpetual best seller as well. From 1957 to 1965, Dr. Seuss wrote eight of the 35 bestselling children’s books of the 20th century including these two and
“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish,” and “Hop on Pop.”
What’s really amazing is that Dr. Seuss’s success is increasing, not waning. In 2013, his books sold 4.8 million copies. A 50% increase over 2010. Part of this popularity is certainly the impact of the baby boomers. In addition, his publisher, Random House, connects the books to major calendar events. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at this time of year, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” at graduation time, “The Lorax” for Earth Day and “Horton Hears a Who” for the newly created Anti-Bullying Day. And, Random House has published seven new Dr. Seuss books posthumously.
My personal favorite Dr. Seuss book is “Horton Hatches the Egg.” Horton, the faithful elephant, has always been one of my heroes. “And he sat, and he sat, and he sat. And he sat all that day, and he kept the egg warm. And, he sat all night through a terrible storm.” Horton sat there all winter through and when springtime came his friends gathered round and taunted and teased him for sitting on the nest. But, Horton continued to sit on the egg and continued to say “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, an elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent.” What a great lesson of accountability.
We’re right in the middle of the holiday season. For me, it’s not complete without reading a few Dr. Seuss books to some little ones or, better yet, have them read to you. Priceless. We hope you have a wonderful Holiday season.