Dr. Seuss did not teach me to read.
My mom did that…and Dick and Jane…and comic books.
On Tuesdays, before I started elementary school through about the second grade, the bookmobile would come to our neighborhood. It would park for the afternoon about five blocks from our house. Mom was then and is now a voracious reader. She and I would trudge to the bookmobile every week, toting our books we had checked out from the week before. It had to be done every week or our books would be overdue and there would be a fine to pay. Worse, the bookmobile lady would scowl. (Before you ask; no, her name was not Marion.)
We would trudge home and Mom would read my books to me or ask me to look at the pictures and tell her the story. I don’t remember any of the books being by Dr. Seuss.
What I remember clearly is the dagger I carried home in my chest from my first day of school. I had been assured that I would learn to read when I went to school. That was a big falsehood. We’ve heard a lot about “the big lie” lately. I experienced it in 1957. I had been to school for the day. I had not yet learned to read.
(I had also not yet added “damn!” to my vocabulary.)
Dick and Jane began to rectify that deficiency…the reading part, not the cussing.
Mom had lit a fire, Dick and Jane added the fuel, but comic books were the accelerant for my personal reading eternal flame.
The bookmobile wasn’t enough for Mom’s addiction. We would make regular foraging trips to Mr. Dennis’s bookstore on North Lime; once known as Mulberry Street – how ‘bout that. Mom would carefully choose her treasures while I would plunge into the comic book table. Archie and Veronica and Batman and Superman and Aquaman and Casper, the Friendly Ghost gave me stories to imagine and tell and later read.
I didn’t really discover Dr. Seuss until I was in high school.
I took a part-time job in the Children’s Department of the Lexington Public Library all through high school. I shelved books, checked them in and out, read just about all of them, and guided kids, parents, and kiddie-lit students from Transylvania University.
I loved Dr. Seuss. I dove into McElligot’s Pool. I loafed in awe down Mulberry Street. I improved on the zoo and the circus. I heard Who’s with Horton. I scrambled to thwart oobleck and deal with half a thousand hats along with Bartholomew Cubbins. I fretted about how to corral the Cat in the Hat’s Thing 1 and Thing 2 before the parents returned. I loved the rhymes, the nonsense words, and the drawings. But mostly, I was captured by the wide-eyed wonder of the stories’ participants.
I wasn’t alone.
Dr. Seuss books were a hot item in the library when I worked there. They were constantly checked out. They were read to pieces. Their tattered covers were repaired or replaced every year. Many a child would drag themselves through other books imposed on them by teachers and parents just to be rewarded with a romp with the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who.
That Mister Grinch may been a “foul one”, but I’m sure he taught a goodly number of children to read.
They didn’t seem to be offended or hurt by the drawings, but the readers then were overwhelmingly white and didn’t think much about those that might not be.
I certainly wasn’t offended or hurt…and…ditto.
Actually…I’m still not hurt or offended. I’m also not hurt or offended by Hugh Lofting’s drawings in his Dr. Doolittle books. I’m not hurt or offended by Harper Lee’s depiction of the white racist father in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I’m not offended or hurt by Charlie Chan, or Archie Bunker, or Stan Laurel, or the Three Stooges.
I do however, have people in my life I care about who are stung by these things. I care about these people and would not have them hurt. I don’t mind at all if they choose to not watch or read these artists and works. And if their non-watching and non-reading reduces the financial viability of the works and causes them to be not be published or reproduced, that’s the way it goes. That’s business.
The government didn’t do it. The Left didn’t do it. The Right didn’t do it. The Church didn’t do it. The Proud Boys didn’t do it. The deep state didn’t do it.
The market did it.
I collect books. I cherish the feel of bindings and pages. I always want every book to be always published.
The market dictates otherwise.
Can we now know better and be better?