Reading & Writing: Dr. Seuss

Fiction

Writing The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat contains 1,626 words (source). Reportedly, Theodor Geisel thought he could write it in a couple weeks. It ended up taking him “a year and a half” (source).

Just something to think about.

reading

How to Read Dr. Seuss

You know, I’m really not a Dr. Seuss fan. It really isn’t his fault, except for the creepy way he illustrates feet. Mostly I blame the people that read his work aloud, because 99% of them read his rhymes in that ploddy, sing-song voice that is worse than the sound of two pieces of Styrofoam grating against each other. Take this page, for example:

(From Anita Silvey’s Children’s Book-A-Day Almanac)

Some people read it like they are learning to drive a stick for the first time:

Putmedown said the FISH

Thisisnofunat ALL

Putmedown said the FISH

Idonotwishto FALL

And then there’s those who read like first-year poetry students, trying to guess the meter:

Putme DOWN saidthe FISH

Thisis NO funat ALL

Putme DOWN saidthe FISH

Ido NOT wantto FALL

Just a note to readers of verse: inflect the words like a normal person. Just because something is written in meter doesn’t mean you should read it like you are sitting on a galloping horse. Ignore the rhyming words and line breaks and read it like a narrator during the narration, and an actor during dialogue.

“Put me dooooown!”

said the fish.

“This is no fun at all. Put. Me. Down!”

said the fish.

“I do NOT wish to FALL!”

Actors and actresses interpret dialogue differently, so each reader should read aloud differently. If you find yourself reading like the first two examples, break the habit, give yourself some credit as a reader, and have some fun with the reading!

Introduction to Poetry

Well, now I feel sheepish. I completely forgot that April was National Poetry Month until I was in Seattle and saw posters about it. To make it up to you, I’m going to introduce you to my favorite poets.

I’ll divide them into the categories I read most and give you a link to one of their most well-known poems. I won’t type their poems here because that would be plagiarism.

Taste a sample, and if you like it, check out their books of poetry. Every bookshelf could house more poetry.

Contemporary

These poets are still living.

Ada Limón I just ADORE. Start with “How to Triumph Like a Girl” and “Dead Stars.”

Billy Collins was my favorite poet in college. He’s hilarious and masters visuals in an incredibly fun way. His popular poem “Introduction to Poetry” is appropriate for this post, and  you can read it here.

Li-Young Lee is more serious, lyrical. He’s known for “Persimmons,” which is read in most poetry classes, and for good reason. Read (or reread) it here. I also recommend “The Gift” and “Dreaming of Hair.”

For 180 contemporary (1980s-current) poems chosen by somebody at The Library of Congress for American High Schoolers, go here. Don’t expect much diversity there.

Harlem Renaissance

I love Harlem Renaissance poetry. What Jazz did to loosen and free music, Harlem poets did to poetry. Their rhythm is unmistakable. Please, don’t only read what dead white guys have written.

Langston Hughes is probably a familiar name. Read “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” here.

Gwendolyn Brooks might be less familiar, but she is my favorite woman-poet. I think “The Bean Eaters” is her most well-known poem, but be sure to read a bigger sampling of her poems. Some are listed in a little blue box on the right column of her biography here. Also, if I could have a writer’s portrait half as cool as hers, I’d be very pleased.

Classics

There are SO MANY (it’s all we read in K-12). I’ll just let you read two of my favorite pre-20th century poems:

“Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. If Poe’s fiction is overrated, his poetry is seriously underrated. This is a master of form.

“She Walks in Beauty” by George Byron. This is just such a lovely poem.

Like I said, there are so many more! But that’s why I have a poetry section on this blog. I’ll keep adding to it 🙂 In the meantime, here’s a bunch of recommendations from poets themselves.