Today is Dr. Seuss’ birthday. It is amazing and astonishing that any of us, Theodore Geisel included, gets born when we do, into the circumstances that we do. We are the creative product of a clash of chaotic coincidences – ancestors re-locating, parents meeting, all the whos and wheres of who we turn out to be multiplied by all the serendipitous connections that influence what we do and who we do it with – all those many turning point moments, big, small, recognized or overlooked.
Anita Silvey, in her brilliant Children’s Book-a-Day Almanac reminds that those turning points may be just around the corner, ready to help us be who we are and share what we do. She retells the story of how Dr. Seuss’ children’s book career was launched, after 2 dozen or more rejections of his first manuscript, by a chance meeting with a friend. He was walking along Madison Avenue, disheartened, with a fresh rejection in hand, ready to go home and burn the manuscript and give up writing for children when he encountered unexpected encouragement and opportunity: http://childrensbookalmanac.com/2011/03/and-to-think-that-i-saw-it-on-mulberry-street/ (and more, from a Springfield perspective, at http://featurewriter1.tripod.com/seuss.html)
Like so many millions of others, I am so grateful that moment happened that led to And to Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street. That moment gave me so much – it gave me my big sister reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to me so memorably that for one of her recent birthdays (she’s now in her 50’s), I gave her a copy of the book translated into Yiddish http://site.booksite.com/4382/showdetail/?isbn=9780972693936 , in tribute to two different, but compatible streams of our shared cultural heritage. It gave me the life-long charm of exchanging Horton Hears a Who quotations with my mom – and it is only as I’ve gotten older that I’ve realized how deeply we share the humanitarian view that “a person’s a person no matter how small” or hurt or troubled or persecuted or denied freedoms or opportunities (it’s probably what made me want to join PEN www.pen.org). Some of my long-term fondness for medieval-ish design, for silly-sounding and invented words, for storms in stories and for the triumph of the intelligent underdog comes straight from Bartholomew and the Oobleck and The King’s Stilts. My idea of a great party comes from If I Ran the Circus. My politics owes more than a little to Yertle the Turtle. And I still write in rhyme whenever I can.
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss! And thank you to Mike McClintock, Seuss’ old classmate and new editor who took a smiling chance on the Mulberry Street manuscript. 20th century children’s literature would not be the same without that friendship and creative courage.