Friday, March 26, 2010

Green Eggs & Sam

Like most parents who read to their kids, I can (still) recite from memory most of the popular Dr. Seuss books. Go Dog Go was my daughter's favorite; Green Eggs & Ham was my son's (mine is Put Me in the Zoo, which I still think is the best of Seuss.)

When I was little the only things I can remember the adults in my house reading were the Bible, the Sunday newspaper and Life magazine (I was not allowed to touch any of them, but occasionally I'd filch Life to look at the pictures.) I was also not a Dr. Seuss kid; my mother and grandmother were not bedtime story readers. We were encouraged to read, but it was more along the lines of "read so you'll do well in school" versus "read because it will enrich your life."

The first book I owned was one I bought myself for the then-exorbitant sum of ninety-five cents from a Scholastic book flier my teacher handed out. I paid for it by borrowing the money from my grandmother and then paying her back a nickel at a time by doing extra chores after school. I washed a small mountain of dishes and folded a couple dozen baskets of clothes for that book, which I still own, btw. I'm also not too old or proud to admit that every couple of years I take that book out and read it -- and still love every word.

I bought a few more chores-for books, and hoarded what I acquired like the treasures they were to me. By the time I was in middle school I owned maybe twenty, the majority from church rummage sales and birthday gifts from a book-loving aunt, all stashed away in my bottom bureau drawer under my pjs. I dreamed of the day I could have a room in my house filled with nothing but books where I could go and shut the door and read (that took another thirty years to acquire.)

I can't offer you any hard statistics on how the books I read and loved in childhood helped me as an adult. I make my living writing books, but of course that might just be a coincidence. Reading a biography about Abraham Lincoln and how he educated himself also probably had nothing to do with me teaching myself to write stories. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and A.M. Lightner's Day of the Drones likely had no influence on me during desegregation, when I ignored all the racist adults shrieking at each other and made my first African-American friends.

It's true that there are a lot of books littering my past, but really, all those Cherry Ames novels I read as a kid don't have to be why I went into the medical field. Some could argue that A Wrinkle in Time and Sea Horse in the Sky are not the reason I later wrote all these SF books, and that The Long Winter didn't necessarily inspire my Dream Mountain or Rebel Ice.

No, now that I think about it, it was probably cartoons, or pinball games, or random jolts of creative inspiration beamed into my kid brain from the cosmos at large. How could mere books change any kid's life?

Seriously now, with all the very cool gadgets and gizmos out there that children want, and working parents who are exhausted by the time they get home from the day job, books are not high on anyone's priority list. I understand. I know it's also a lot easier to sit a kid in front of a TV screen than curl up with them and spend a half-hour with Sam I am as he convinces his stubborn pal to try those green eggs.

But I believe reading exercises the mind, inspires the soul, and encourages kids not only to see someone else's dream worlds, but to actively use their own imaginations when engaging the real world around them. Given the state of our species and the planet, I think we need all the imaginative, creative future adults we can nurture. And they need green eggs & Sam.


  1. "Do you like my hat?"

    Ahhh. I could read that forever. My small fry have flown, but I kept the book. In fact, I have all three of the ones you posted here. Love 'em all.

  2. The first book read to me was the hallowed The Night Before Christmas; from there it was Little Golden Books, until I said I could read them by myself thank you very much. Must have been all of five-years-old. And I moved on to Trixie Belden (still have them), The Famous Five and then Dragonflight and The Moon of Three Rings.

    What also held my attention was Kimba the White Lion, Captain Scarlet, The Banana Splits (Uh oh, Chango!!!) Roller Derby, English Soccer and... wrestling. We'd all sit down in front of the teev and watch the Wonderful World of Disney, too.

    I wrote my first story after watching Space 1999, but I still love those green eggs and ham, Sam I am...

  3. Anonymous6:30 AM

    Your hoarding books as a child didn't make me cry, not one bit. (It must be allergy season.)

    My parents read to us, Winnie-the-Pooh, among others. I still have the first book that was *real* to me - Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates.

    My mother has read for herself forever and every year gives everyone a gift card to Barnes and Noble. My BIL belongs to the SF&F book club and the BF "reads" audio books. Every year, for their birthday, books are given to nieces and nephews.

    A Book-loving Aunt

  4. We've read to our kids every day of their lives, and surrounded them with books. (And paints and crayons and scissors and glue and construction paper and modeling clay and Legos) My kids both make up wonderful stories of their own and even if they never do anything but exercise their imagination, that's worthwhile. It takes imagination to solve problems.

  5. My parents have always been book people, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. When I was in high school, my dad and I made a bargain. I would read Tolstoy's War and Peace, if he would read Stephen King's The Stand. We were both enlightened. LOL. My dad is the first person I called when I acquired my agent.

    Subsequently, I've always tried to instill that love of books in my own kids. My oldest son hates school, but reads Stephen Hawking and fantasy.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  6. Reading a bedtime story is still the most important nighttime ritual for my youngest child who's only learning to read. I don't find reading to my wee ones exhausting, I think it's relaxing to sit down, dive into and act out a storyworld. And "If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good."

    You're so right about the sound and the fury that surrounds kids today, but it is up to us as parents to make sure winding down with a book doesn't become a lost art, and that our kids learn what's inside a library.

  7. I don't remember my parents reading to me, but I do remember my mother reading for pleasure - constantly - so maybe that's where I got the bug. I used to read to my daughter all the time. I don't know if that's why she reads - constantly - but I think between seeing me or Grandma with books in our hands, and being read to as a child, she definitely got the bug. I can't imagine a world where reading wasn't a crucial part of our lives.

  8. Liz B9:20 AM

    Just a couple of weeks ago, on March 2nd for Read Across America Day (which is on Dr. Seuss's birthday, an event I have been celebrating for about the past twenty years), I drove several hours to celebrate with the daughter of a friend of mine, which is the closest thing to a child I plan on having anytime soon, and spent the day in a bookstore reading all of the Dr. Seuss books. She loved it, especially when she was able to read a few of the words. While I am far too selfish a person to want to take care of anyone else for an extended period of time, the bright smile on this little girl's face as we spent the day reading gave me a great feeling. It more than made up for the eight hours I spent in the car driving to and from the visit.

  9. I know she's now considered non-pc but Enid Blyton was my world, as a child growing up poor in a mining village.

    Books make a huge difference in a child's world, just by getting them reading and using their imaginations.

    Lovely post. :-)

  10. Oh thank you for reminding me about Cherry Ames, there was also Trixie Belden, the Bobbsey Twins, and Nancy Drew. I loved them all :) We went through 2 copies of Go Dogs Go. I still have a bookcase full of the books the boys read just waiting for the Grandchildren (please soon). Like you I had very few books as a child. I remember my Mother taking me to the library and I bought home an armful which I promptly read in two days and wanted to go back. She didn't believe I had read them all until I told her the plot of each book.

  11. My mom and dad read me all the books you mentioned, but it was THE SLEEP BOOK from Dr. Seuss that was my favorite and I still have it. Sometimes, I wonder if my mom got bored with those books quickly because in first grade she started reading me The Hobbit and then the Lord of the Rings series, then Mary Stewart's Crystal Cave. (I read the Babysitter's Club on my own.) In middle school we read The Color Purple together. I have a great mom! Now I read to the kids I babysit and just finished Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief. I love reading!

  12. One of the strongest memories I will always carry of my father is him sitting in his La-Z-Boy, reading the paper every day from the first page to the last. Some days took longer for him than others depending on how many sections there were, but it gave me the desire to read as well.

    I started with Charlotte's Web when I was in first grade (after an argument between the librarian at our school who thought I was much too young for it, and my mother, who thought it was too easy) and went from there. But I didn't have the Seuss books until I had kids of my own. They're both readers now, though the younger one will deny it with every breath. She has a bookshelf full though and reads them in her room so *shhh* we won't know. She has an image to retain after all :P

    As a side note, I almost wore that copy of Charlotte's Web out, I checked it out constantly and eventually, many years out of school and when the library was redone, I bought it. One of my most cherished books.

  13. Put me in the Zoo was one of my favorites too. My husband started our granddaughter's Dr. Suess collection before she was even born. We had already bought 4 or 5 books for her collection - and have bought many more in the last year. Her mom reads to her at night sometimes.

  14. Wonderful post.

    The first book I ever read, by myself, was Bears on Wheels by the Berenstains. I read it to my daughter now. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by book lovers; my grandma supported herself and 6 kids as a short order cook and eventually became a librarian. She was a child of the Depression and could not stand to see the withdrawn books go in the trash (it was downright painful!) so they went home with her (shhhh!). Then they got passed out to all of the grandkids.

    My mother figured out she could get a few extra hours of sleep if she left a stack of books by my bed, lol. I know what impact loving books has had on me, and I can think of no finer thing to try to instill in my child.

  15. Ohh man this post brought back memories!

    I loved ther Berenstains's B Book, and Fox in Socks and the epic tweetle beetle battle on a poodle eating noodles.

    From there I went straight to teen romances, I think. 0_o

  16. Just a note -- Put Me in the Zoo is not actually by Dr. Seuss (the author was Robert Lopshire). I love the Seuss books but my youngest isn't a fan for some reason. The older two girls were so I can still recite several of them.

    Goodnight Moon is the only classic my youngest (now four) has any patience with these days. She does like the occasional Sandra Boynton still -- those have a lot in common with Seuss. Her favorite is Robert Munsch. I think it's all the repetition combined with the illustrations.

  17. Green Eggs and Ham was the first Dr Seuss book I found when I went to work to the States. It was love at first sight, even before I knew who this doctor was.
    I was lucky to have parents who encouraged reading. One year, I found a cute little collection of classics for children and I made my parents by one each day! I still don't know how they fitted them on the suitcase on the trip back.

  18. Sandy, I thought no one remembered Trixie Belden but me. I also loved the Anne of Green Gables books and does anyone else remember Barnabas Collins the vampire and his cousin Quentin, the werewolf? I picked up the doggy-doo of a tempermental corgi to keep myself in those paperbacks.

    We read the munchkin Boo, Baa, La, La, La by Sandra Boynton so many times to the munchkin, both her dad and I can still do most of it from memory.

  19. My mom taught me to read when I was 4 because she was tired of reading Green Eggs and Ham to me over and over again(BTW, first book middle niece read out loud to me, and I still tear up thinking about it). I come from a huge family of readers, so I got new books almost every week(my brother got a new Star Wars figure and I got a new book). Book Fair week was always my favorite week at school. I've passed on my love of reading to all 3 of my nieces and they all know I'm an easy mark at a bookstore. We had a house fire when I was 12, so I lost most of my childhood favorites, but have replaced many to date.

  20. Anonymous3:15 PM

    I definitely appreciate a post like this one. Thank you for sharing your reading history with us. I've been reading "The Lion, The Witch, And the Wardrobe" my my kids lately.

    Reading is far more enriching than the "boob-tube."

  21. I'm that aunt. The one that gives everyone books even when I'm sure they'd probally enjoy something else more. All my nieces and nephews read for pleasure.

    Our only book at home growing up was a copy of Andrew Lang's Red Fairy Tale book. We were dirt poor.

    Thankfully, I lived right next to the library (it was a small town) until I was thirteen and could take out 6 books at a time even when I hadn't brought all of the last six back.

    I still get 90% of my books from the library. I only buy the most special books and even those will get passed on occasionally if I think someone needs them more.

    Green Eggs and Ham is my favourite Dr. Seuss.

    Blessings to all the readers & libraries out there and to everyone still pushing reading books for fun!


  22. Love this post. :) I definitely agree with you...a love for reading has to be introduced at a young age, and that love helps people have a greater thirst for knowledge than they would have had if they did not love reading.

    As a kid I always enjoyed reading, and I couldn't help it. My parents were like yours; they thought reading was mainly to do well in school or otherwise it's a waste of time. :/ I was lucky enough to have a natural "thirst for knowledge" but there are so many kids today who spend more time watching TV and playing video games rather than reading good ol' books. :( It's unfortunate.

    I'm still a new follower to your blog, but I've liked and enjoyed what I've read so far! :D Looking forward to reading more...


  23. My mom read to us when we were little but like so many parents made the mistake of quitting when we could read by ourselves. She was always good about taking us to the Library and I was a voracious reader. As a pre-teen I got a dollar a week for allowance which was just enough to buy a new Trixie Belden book until I had the whole set.

    I have wonderful memories of reading to my four boys. They all shared a room when they were young and I would put them to bed and read for about an hour each night. It was a great way to introduce them to books I had loved .... like Mustang, and Black Gold by Marguerite Henry, My Friend Flicka, and Tarzan of the Apes. We also discovered new books together, such as the Narnia books, Big Red and Trumpet of the Swan. My youngest is 16 and it has only been about two years since I quit reading aloud to him.

  24. BOOKS! I read to my kids , love too and they love it . "The Black Stallion" by Walter Farley has to be second only the The Bible as the book that means the most to me.
    In the 2nd grade it fueled a lifelong PASSION for the Arabian horse. I have turned that passion into an International business and have my 11th magazine cover out today.
    My first cover?? A BLACK ARABIAN STALLION of course.
    The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation is doing great things to get books into the hands of kids who might not ever get one and inspire that love, that we all, that read your great books, have. Check it out!

  25. robert.rinne@rogers.com10:32 PM

    "Seahorse in the Sky"?
    I thought I was the only one who read that, or anything by Edmund Cooper for that matter.
    Wowsers. Thank you for that and everything else you do on your blog.

  26. Robert wrote: "Seahorse in the Sky"? I thought I was the only one who read that, or anything by Edmund Cooper for that matter.

    You're not alone; I'm pretty sure I've read just about everything Cooper published. My copy of Sea Horse in the Sky is in pretty good shape, too, considering it's now 41 years old. :)

  27. Both of my girls love to read. And they love Dr. Seuss. Our bookcases are so full I had to take holiday books out and only bring them out on the specific holiday just to make room. But, with monthly visits to the bookstore we still need more space.

  28. I have my original Go, Dog. Go., rescued from my parents after four kids and a couple of grandchildren after me got through it. I forgot about Put Me in the Zoo, but I loved that one, too.

    Robert Silverberg's Time of the Great Freeze was probably the only science fiction I read, but I loved it, and it's long overdue for another reading, I'd say.

    My mother wasn't a confident student when she was growing up, but she made a point of reading to me constantly when I was young, and I'm sure that influenced my lifelong love of reading. I knew all those Dr. Seuss books by heard, and I'd "read" them to her.

  29. I remember in grade school bringing armloads of books to and from the library. I was, and am, a big reader. How interesting that you are now a writer. Somewhere that seed was planted.

    I'm too old to have read Dr. Seus as a child, but my children loved those books. I would "read" them to my children, but they knew them by heart and would say the words with me.

  30. My husband started reading Harry Potter to our son when he was 3 years old. I thought he was crazy because the 3 yr old spent the whole time climbing on him, jumping on the bed, and singing, but he perservered, a few pages every other night (the other nights it is my turn and I read Dr. Suess, Richard Scary, and other age appropriate books).

    Now my son is 4 and they have reached the third book. He listens in (mostly) attentive silence and tells me about what happened to Harry on our ride into work the next day. I am so glad to have a patient husband. :)


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