New York Times columnist Michael Winerip counts himself among the legions of Dr. Seuss fans. So he celebrated the 75th anniversary of the publication of “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” – Dr. Seuss’s first book – by visiting the real Mulberry Street in Springfield.
Dr. Seuss, nee Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), is arguably Springfield’s most famous native son. “Mulberry Street” is the first of his 44 published children’s books, of which, Winerip notes, 600 million copies have been sold. With such works as “The Cat in the Hat” and “Hop on Pop,” Dr. Seuss’s playful use of language took learning to read many steps – many fun steps — beyond “Dick and Jane” and “See Spot run.”
“I planned to reread several Seuss books for the visit, including ‘The Sneetches,’ but could not find our copy. It turned out that one of my 21-year-old twins, Adam, had taken it with him to college,” Winerip writes.
“Dr. Seuss books aren’t primarily schoolbooks. They’re read-to-your-children-in-bed books. Christin LaRocque, a librarian at the Central branch in downtown Springfield, says Seuss books need to be replaced more often than any others — they wear out or disappear. Dr. Seuss is good for most anything that ails a child. To paraphrase Sylvester McMonkey McBean: He’s heard of your troubles, he’s heard you’re unhappy, but he can fix that all up, he’s the Fix-It-Up Chappie. Ms. LaRocque’s theory on why kids love Dr. Seuss: He’s very silly.”
Alas, Dr. Seuss would probably be sad to learn that 60% of third graders in his hometown are not proficient readers. They miss a critical benchmark that strongly predicts their chances of success in school and life. A citywide Read! campaign seeks to turn this around through school reform, supports for high-quality early education, partnerships with public housing, family engagement and summer programming.
The path to literacy begins at birth, as does the path to ensuring a bright and prosperous future for Mulberry Street and the rest of Springfield.