Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dr. Seuss, the Hardy Boys, and me

My birthday is the same day as Dr. Seuss’. I never knew that until after he died, when schools began adopting his birthday (our birthday), March 2nd, as a day to celebrate literacy.

I knew of Dr. Seuss’ books when I was growing up, of course. Who didn’t know about the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch? But I don’t remember having any of them around the house, at least not until my nieces and nephews started arriving. I think that my mother, a school librarian who had very definite opinions about what constituted “good books,” believed that his books’ fantastical illustrations and easy-reader qualities made them perfectly acceptable for other people’s children, but unnecessary for her own.

My mother was also less than thrilled when, in third grade, I discovered “The Hardy Boys” series and wanted to read almost nothing else for a year or two. I thought the books were terrific, and Franklin W. Dixon was a genius! I wanted to write him a fan letter and tell him I wanted to be a writer, just like him, when I grew up. My mother said the books were “formulaic,” and worse, she claimed Franklin W. Dixon didn’t even exist—she said that was just a pen name for an assortment of not-particularly-talented writers who had been authoring the series since the 1920s. I was crushed. And she was right, of course. You can’t fool a librarian.

Even if he didn’t exactly exist, I’m happy to see that Franklin W. Dixon rates his own entry in Wikipedia. I spent a lot of quality time with Frank and Joe (and their silly girlfriends, Callie and Iola, whom I could have done without), but I suppose their friend Chet Morton was my true alter ego. Besides the fact that Chet was more concerned with where his next meal was coming from than with solving crime, he took up a new hobby in just about every book. In one he was into fly-tying; in another it was carving scrimshaw. I also remember ventriloquism, taxidermy, and something to do with microscopes. He never stuck with anything very long, but he was always passionate about whatever he was doing at the time.

Sound familiar? If you know me, you know that I see nothing wrong with that!

By the time my own kids were growing up in the 1990s, the Hardy Boys had been turned into a dorky TV show (which, like previous TV incarnations in the 1960s and '70s, took outrageous liberties with the details of the books) and the favored book series was the ghastly Babysitters' Club. My kids were not big consumers of Dr. Seuss books, either, but a few of them ended up in their bookshelves, one way or another. I kind of liked them. If I were reading to the kids at bedtime, I could practically fall asleep to the sing-song sound of my own voice: “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.”

When Caitlin was in first grade, she brought home a video of The Lorax from school, and just imagine the shock she felt as a six-year-old when it set off a veritable uproar in our house. It seems that her stepfather, who is a logger, felt that the book sent the Wrong Message—something like “all tree cutting is bad, bad, bad, and results in environmental devastation!” I guess he thought Dr. Seuss should have written instead about the benefits of the selective harvesting of truffula trees. (He never could tolerate that bulldozer scene at the beginning of “Fly Away Home,” either, because, again, he was convinced that the portrayal of the developer as the incarnation of evil was going to turn people against all logging. I said, “Are you kidding? Who doesn’t love ‘Fly Away Home’?” but it turned into a Really Big Controversy…and eventually Caitlin just learned to say, “We’re not allowed to watch 'Fly Away Home' if Tony’s around.”)

Anyway, since Dr. Seuss has become a symbol for literacy, and since I’m a big fan of literacy (and, even more important, since I especially like anything that helps to turn my birthday into a Big Event), I’m very pleased that he and I share a birthday, and that it’s now called Read Across America Day.

One more fun fact: I recently read of Dr. Seuss that “his mother often chanted pie-selling rhymes to her children to make them fall asleep at night.” I don’t happen to know any pie-selling rhymes, but I did used to be a pie-baker and pie-seller, so I think that’s significant.


  1. Haha you forgot about my love affair with the R.L. Stine books. Thank god for Mrs. Taylor's Creative English class, huh?

  2. I too have that same birthday! I learned I shared it with Dr. Seuess when i was 8...loved it ever since!!