Buzz a Kazoo for Dr. Seuss

March 2 marks the birthday of Dr. Seuss (the pen name of Theodor Geisel); he would have been 113 this year. While he is no longer with us, his legacy lives on in the pages of his inimitable books. He forever changed the way children’s books are written and continues to inspire generations of happy, giggling readers.

In honor of his birthday, you might want to read his first full-color picture book, Happy Birthday to You, which came out in 1959. Dr. Seuss understood how momentous birthdays seem to young children, and captured that sense of occasion in this tale. On the morning of his birthday, a little boy is awakened by a horn blast and the arrival of the Great Birthday Bird, who will guide him through a day of celebrations. And what a festive day it will be!

It’s your Day of all Days! It’s the Best of the Best!
So don’t waste a minute.
Hop to it!
Get dressed!

Like the Cat in the Hat, the Great Birthday Bird is full of high spirits and eager to bend the usual rules: the day begins with jubilant shouting and ends with a party so wild, “it will take twenty days just to sweep up the mess.” During their adventures, the bird and boy sniff flowers that smell like licorice and cheese, are serenaded by Singing Herrings and try to find the tallest pet at the Pet Reservation. (“But you have to be smart and keep watch on their feet / Because sometimes they stand on their tiptoes and cheat.”) Throughout the day, the Birthday Bird cheers how miraculous it is to be alive and to be one’s unique self: “There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”

If we didn’t have birthdays, you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.

The bird gleefully concludes: “But you … You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!”

Dr. Seuss’s verses are fun to read aloud, with phrases that are nearly tongue twisters, like “Snookers and Snookers … the only cake cookers who cook cakes today.” His topsy-turvy rhymes and repetitions—“clip and clop with clapping clippers”—help children detect rapidly shifting phonemes, a vital skill in early literacy. And the pleasure one takes in the slightly nonsensical puns and wordplay might one day come in handy when reading James Joyce …

As well, Dr. Seuss’s fantastical illustrations push back against the bland decorum of some children’s books. There are no straight lines in his pictures, and lots of propulsive movement. In this story, a precarious railway is “pulled through the air by Funicular Goats”; French horns are worn as masks; mountains are coiled like soft-serve ice cream; and each creature sports a unique arrangement of tufts and ruffs and topknots and plumes, often ruffled by an invisible wind. It is this imaginative, surrealist imagery that has made Dr. Seuss the most published children’s author on earth, with 600 million copies of his books sold.

If we were to make Dr. Seuss one of our traditional TCS birthday charts, some of our favorite things about him would be: his exuberant artistry, his poetic talent and his invention of characters, like the Birthday Bird, who encourages children to be explorers and to value their own individuality.

Maureen