Every March 2nd we celebrate Read Across America day, otherwise known as Dr. Seuss Day. Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in on March 2nd, 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 distinct 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 rhythm 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 was the creator of the idea of “Beginner Readers” books, inspiring generations of readers for decades. In 1954, Life Magazine reported that children were not learning to read. Some believed kids weren’t reading because there wasn’t anything out there they wanted to read. School books were boring. Dr. Seuss was challenged by a publisher of children’s text books to write something kids wouldn’t want to put down. They gave him a list of 250 they thought were most important for first graders to learn and told him to use only words from that list. The results of the challenge was The Cat in the Hat, using 238 of the words from the list. After The Cat in the Hat came Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, allowing for a plethora of age appropriate stories for kids.
One book that didn’t make it to that stack initially was a manuscript completed and sent along to his publisher in 1973. With the manuscript was a letter outlining a special request of sorts for this new story. Although he’d illustrated his other books, Dr. Seuss didn’t think his art could stand up to this book. The letter outlined his quest to make this “the first book ever to be based on beautiful illustrations and sensational color.” He wanted to find an illustrator that would not be dominated by him or his story, but whose art would carry the story. Dr. Seuss didn’t find the artist he was looking for and the manuscript 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 that these two were the artists her husband had been looking for. Under the skills of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher the long-hidden manuscript was brought to life. In August of 1996 it was published as My Many Colored Days.
The prose and rhythm in My Many Colored Days is unlike anything else written by Dr. Seuss. It is a story of emotion, assigning each feeling to colors, creatures, and sounds.
The book combines these colors and creatures in what is arguably one of the most beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated children’s book published. From the happy, jumping Pink days, to the lonely purple days, the book moves through each emotion in a way a child can understand and recognize as a 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 grey 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 moral of the story is loud and clear on the last pages:
“Then comes a mixed up day and Wham! I don’t know who or what I am. But it all turns out all right you see. And I go back to being me.”
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 feelings. Just as he was challenged in 1954, he wrote a book that kids can’t put down to teach them something important. And even though it’s marketed for children 2-5 years old, I think the story telling and illustrations work for all ages. So, to celebrate today check out My Many Colored Days, and say a little thank you to Dr. Seuss.