Beyond the Shelf: Read Across America Day’s aim to encourage children to read remains in the spirit of Seuss
Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
When Claudia Prescott promised to stay on as Theodor Geisel’s secretary for two years in 1973, she didn’t imagine it would turn into a 50-year career.
Prescott continually remembers how much she enjoyed working with the legendary late author and La Jolla resident known around the world as Dr. Seuss.
“Change in his life was very difficult,” said Prescott, now the president of the Dr. Seuss Foundation. “He wanted everything to be the same. He wanted no ups, no downs. I found him and he found me, and we developed quite a friendship.
“The ease of working with a man of his talent … there was never a day that I could say was boring. He always wanted to keep busy and working. I spent a great deal of my time keeping people away from him so he could do what he wanted to do.”
Dr. Seuss is the bestselling children’s book author of all time, with 700 million books sold in more than 110 countries in close to 50 languages.
“The Cat in the Hat,” published in 1957, inspired the creation of Beginner Books, a Random House division focused on publishing books designed to help children learn to read.
My son Charlie had his personal “Aha!” reading moment in kindergarten with the book that started it all.
This brings me to the timeliness of this article. Read Across America Day, founded by the National Education Association in 1998 with the purpose of encouraging children to read, takes place on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, Thursday, March 2, and kicks off National Reading Month.
To mark the occasion, the Friends of the Library bookstore will gift a book to every child who finds the Cat in the Hat plush toy hidden in the Children’s Area that day.
“Ted always said he wrote his books for children to enjoy reading on their own,” Prescott said. “He didn’t really want them taught in schools. ‘You have them, I’ll entertain them,’ he would say.”
Throughout our conversation, Prescott emphasized that Geisel wanted his books to be enjoyed for the pure pleasure of learning how to read.
“We [at the foundation] hope children, before they get to kindergarten, have a basic understanding of reading,” Prescott said.
When asked about the lasting power of Dr. Seuss, she said, “The beauty of the world around him was he saw things in a little different perspective. And look what that did.”
Geisel’s other well-known works, like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” continue to work themselves into our daily lives in ever-evolving forms. Did your family go see “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” at the Old Globe theater or catch the Grinch marching in the La Jolla Christmas Parade last year?
You might take the kids to see “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” on the big screen when it premieres or find yourself rewatching the movie adaptation of “The Lorax” one of these days.
The La Jolla/Riford Library’s History Room houses the picture books that sparked recent controversy for containing racially insensitive imagery: “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra!” “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer.” They were so controversial that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the organization responsible for preserving the author’s legacy, stopped publishing them.
As a youth services librarian, I made the choice to relocate those books in our collection to the History Room and mark them “reference only” so people can still have access and very important conversations can be had. I am always willing to engage in a dialogue or show patrons up to the room, just as I did for Prescott.
“There was talk they wanted to use someone to alter the drawings to make them less racist,” she said. “We chose that was not the way to do it. Ted always said that what he wrote he did not want changed. So the thing to do was to remove the books.”
It is difficult to point to someone more synonymous with children’s literacy than Dr. Seuss. “His legacy today is helping children to read. But the most important part of the reading is to enjoy it,” Prescott said.
Read Across America’s evolution to become more inclusive, to celebrate diverse books by diverse authors and include more authors in the process, is in keeping. “That’s wonderful to continue,” Prescott said. “We at the foundation are in favor.”
Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. She has a master’s degree in library and information science from USC. Questions? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. ◆
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