The doctor is "in"!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Dick Wolfsie

This year is the 75th anniversary of Theodor Geisel's first book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street." It's worth celebrating. Dr. Seuss changed reading and the way it was taught. You can look it up. To quote one pundit: He slew Dick and Jane.

Almost 60 years ago, Mrs. Morgan read the book to my second grade class. My memory of this is clear, partly because Mrs. Morgan had only one arm, having lost one as a child in a fall from her apartment window. She often repeated the story of her accident during one of her frequent safety lectures. Whenever she read aloud, the class offered their rapt attention as she held up the book and deftly negotiated the page turning, despite her disability.

This was Geisel's first book and it had been rejected by 28 publishers. The author had previously been told by his high school art teacher that he had no talent, but he persisted with his dream. Dreaming is really what his book is about.

"Mulberry Street" remained Dr. Seuss's simplest narrative; no hidden agenda like "A Cat in the Hat," where critics now question why the parents are not home caring for their young children. A full-length animated feature has just been released based on another Seuss Classic, "The Lorax." The movie has a not-so-subtle message about our stewardship of the earth's resources and corporate greed. Maybe he should have named it: "And to Think That I Saw It on Wall Street."

While Mrs. Morgan read "Mulberry Street," I sat there mesmerized as Marco's imagination took him to places he had never actually gone. Each image was a building block to a new one, another exciting layer in the fantasmagoric story he was weaving about what he saw on the way home from school. His tale kept getting bigger...and better. At what point was it a lie? That's a fine line. "Did the stuff in your column this week really happen?" people ask me. "It was based on truth," I say. Thanks for the lesson, Marco.

To a kid like me who was already spending three days a week after school for disrupting class with my own creative ideas, I related to Marco's dilemma. Where was the harm in living in a made-up world -- at least for a while? That's what I thought as a seven-year-old. I still do.

Marco knew when he got home his fantasy would not fly and chose not to face the scowl of a doubting father who, ironically, had lectured him on being observant. Dr. Seuss wished Marco could have shared his fantasies with his dad. Then the two might have celebrated the value of a boy's vivid imagination.

"Was there nothing to look people to greet?

Did nothing excite you or make your heart beat?"

"Nothing," I said, growing red as a beet,

"But a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street."

Unwittingly, Marco's father had stifled his son's creativity. As teachers and parents, we should guard against this. When I was a kid, I was proud of the wisecracks that had earned me detention at school, and I would share them at the dinner table. After my father's death, my mother told me that Dad sometimes had to excuse himself from the room so I wouldn't see him laughing. He thought if I saw him enjoying the joke, it would encourage me to continue my disorderly behavior.

I totally understand my father's concerns. I just wish there had been a doctor in the house.

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