Every March 2nd we celebrate Read Across America Day, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss Day. Theodor Seuss Geisel was born March 2, 1904 and went on to become one of the most beloved children’s authors of our time. His stories are known for their quirkiness and whimsy, and the distint cartoonish style in which he brought his characters to life.
His professional career, under the pen-name of Dr. Seuss, took off in 1927. Originally, he worked as an illustrator, and political cartoonist, before publishing his first children’s book. That first title, published in 1937, was And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The book’s Seuss-ian rythm was inspired by the rocking of a cruise ship during a trip to Europe with his first wife, Helen. Though it was eventually picked up by Vanguard Press, with help from a connection with an old Dartmouth classmate, Dr. Seuss suffered the typical rejection that most authors face. And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was initially rejected by over 20 publishers!
You might not have realized it but Dr. Seuss created the idea of “Beginner Readers” books. In 1954, Life Magazine reported that children were not learning to read in school. Some believed it was because there wasn’t anything out there kids wanted to read. School books were boring. A publisher of children’s text books challenged Dr. Seuss to write something kids wouldn’t want to put down. They gave him a list of 250 words they thought were most important for first graders to learn and told him to use only words from that list. The Cat in the Hat was the result of that challenge! Dr. Seuss used 238 of the 250 required words. Next came Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, and a whole new world of children’s literature was created.
One book that didn’t make it to that stack initially was a manuscript Dr. Seuss completed and submitted with special instructions. Although he’d done the illustrations for his other books, he didn’t think his art could stand up to this one. He set out on a quest to find an artist who could make what he called “the first book ever to be based on beautiful illustrations and sensational color.” He wanted to find an illustrator who wouldn’t be dominated by him, and whose art would carry the story. Dr. Seuss didn’t find the artist he was looking for and the story stayed in the dark for more than twenty years.
After his death in 1991, Audrey Geisel picked up the quest for finding the right artist for the story her husband hid away. She found a husband and wife team and she knew instantly these two were the artists her husband had been looking for. Under he skills of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher the long-hidden manuscript was brought to life. In August 1996 it was published as My Many Colored Days. The prose and rythm in My Many Colored Days is unlike anything else written by Dr. Seuss. It’s a story of emotions, assigning each feeling to colors, creatures, and sounds.
The book combines these colors and creatures in what is argubly one of the most beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated children’s books published. From the happy, jumping Pink Days, to the lonely Puprle Days, the book moves through each emotion in a way a child can recognize as part of themselves. “Then come my black days. Mad. And Loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud.” shares the page with a howling black wolf. Red is equated with energy, and green days are slow days. There are yellow days and blue days, and at the end of the book there is a mixed-up day with all the emotions scrambled together in confusion. The moreal of the sotry is loud and clear on the last pages.
This book, with the stunning art from Johnson and Fancher, is a beautiful tool for teaching young children about feelings and the normalcy of having different emotions. Just as he was challenged in 1954, Dr. Seuss wrote another book that kids can’t put down to teach them something important. I think he would have been thrilled with the strength of the artists who eventually found their way to the story. Celebrate today by checking out My Many Colored Days, and say a little thank you to Dr. Seuss.