Celebrating Green Eggs and Ham

I have been seriously remiss with regard to my promise a week or two ago to write a bit more about Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved author better known as Dr. Suess. But while I won’t fulfill that promise in full, I will share just a bit about one of his most famous creations.

Geisel, as you may know, thought that children’s books – particularly those designed to encourage reading – where a bit of a travesty: dull, unimaginative, boring. (And if you ever had to sit down with the “Dick and Jane” stories you’ll know what he meant!). And so he set out to rectify matters by taking a basic set of 225 vocabulary words that were the heart of early reading initiatives and using them to tell a story that would delight and inspire young readers. The result was his whimsical, rather rebellious, and fantastically popular The Cat in the Hat.

After the critical – and pedagogical – success of that effort, Geisel’s publisher bet him that he couldn’t write a similarly imaginative story with far fewer words. Rising to the challenge, Geisel used just 50 words to write Green Eggs and Ham, the twisty-curvy story of Sam-I-Am’s persistent efforts to convince a finicky, or at least traditional, eater to be open to the new taste and experience of green eggs and ham.

And these are just a couple of the hallmarks of the life-long Lutheran and counter-culture provocateur that I have always loved:

  • a tremendous creativity and discipline with language,
  • a devotion to inspiring kids to read,
  • and an incessant plea to be open, to be willing to reconsider preconceived notions, and to think things through once again.

At the 110th birthday of Geisel earlier this month, I came across several recorded readings of the classic story that went on to be the fourth most popular children’s book of all time. The first is by contemporary author for children and adults Neil Gaiman. The second by the Reverend Jesse Jackson who appeared on Saturday Night Live just a few days after Geisel died at the age of 87. (The video below is a partial reading; the full version does not allow embedding, but you can find it here.)

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