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History of Dr. Seuss in San Diego

Theodor Geisel would've been 108

The Grinch

The Grinch

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  • The Grinch
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Seuss Landing
  • Geisel Library at UCSD
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel
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The word “ubiquitous” sounds like one that whimsical wordsmith Dr. Seuss would have created. Can’t you just hear it? “The Ubiquitous, which dwelled in a well so swell,” etc.. etc. But ubiquitous means everywhere, and that’s where the legacy of Theodor Seuss Geisel resides in San Diego. 

There’s the Geisel Library at UCSD, which contains the largest collection of Dr. Seuss illustrations, manuscripts and memorabilia in the world.  There’s the Dr. Seuss statue, depicting the author and one of his most beloved characters, The Cat In The Hat, also on the UCSD campus. There’s the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park, every holiday season host to a live-action “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”, and the Lion Wading Pool painting at Safari Park in Escondido. Most important of all, there are libraries and bookstores (though not as many of those as there used to be) in Geisel’s latter-day community of La Jolla and throughout the county where children of all ages pick up and page through the picture books to which Geisel, who passed away in 1991, devoted his life.
 
This March 2 would have been Geisel’s 108th birthday. On that day this year, a new animated film, “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” will be released in theaters . It stars Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift, Betty White and Zac Efron. March 1, marked the 55th anniversary of the publication of “The Cat In The Hat,” the book that arguably launched a Seussmania that has never waned. (Geisel’s first children’s book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” was published in 1937.) Just ask Lynn Whinnery, a teacher-librarian at Normal Heights Elementary School. 

“He (Geisel) has reserved a place as one of the classics,” Whinnery said. “There are certain authors who have just become standard fare at elementary schools. I’d be surprised if there is a child who graduates from any of them who does not know at least one Dr. Seuss story.”
 
Why? “He’s timeless,” Whinnery said, “which I think is the definition of a classic.” Deborah B. Ford is district librarian for San Diego Unified. She says the Seuss books “are some of the worst looking books in the (school) libraries because they are read to death, and they have been loved to death.”
 
“Little kids like them because the stories are funny and they like the rhyming words. Older people like them because they have fond childhood memories of them.” The academic community recognizes as well the endurance of the Seuss books. “They’re still extremely well read,” said Dr. June Cummins-Lewis, associate professor of English & Comparative Literature at San Diego State and a frequent  instructor of children’s lit. “They don’t feel dated to kids at all.”  Cummins-Lewis says Geisel is much respected in higher education and that “He’s still very much alive in academic criticism of children’s literature.”
 
You need not search far to find the Lorax or the Sneetches as the subjects of an academic thesis or paper. “People do apply different literary theories to him,” adds Cummins-Lewis.
In the main, however, “Ted” Geisel – Dr. Seuss – is revered locally because it is here that he spent so much of his life. “He’s a giant in children’s literature,” said Cummins-Lewis, “and a very important person in San Diego history.”
 
Normal Heights Elementary’s Whinnery says she doesn’t have to show children where the Seuss books are on the library shelves – they find them. “Young kids love his books,” she said. “The most I do is remind them that he is from San Diego. Kids don’t usually tumble to local celebrities.”  But they do to the man who gave them Horton, the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat.
 
Postscript: Geisel’s birthday on March 2 is celebrated annually as the National Endowment for the Arts’ Read Across America Day. Schools, libraries, teachers and students will honor Dr. Seuss with a variety of activities. To see more about the events planned, click HERE and HERE.