By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — On a “cold, cold wet day” when the sun did not shine — much like the opening of the book that introduced his most famous character — children throughout America gathered Friday to celebrate the life and works of one of childhood’s most beloved authors.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, otherwise know as Dr. Seuss, would have celebrated his 109 birthday today, and libraries and schools through the country planned story times and parties in honor of the writer and his works, some in connection with Friday’s National Read Across America Day sponsored by the National Education Association.
About 20 children from 3 to 5 gathered for a “Celebrate Seuss!” program Friday at the Kenmore Branch Library, listening to Seuss stories, playing Seuss games and singing Seuss songs. Children’s librarian Nicole Birmingham donned the iconic striped Cat hat to read the book to the group, explaining to them that the stories have been read by generations.
“Even your parents enjoyed them when they were little,” she told the children, “because these books are awesome.”
Birmingham read “The Cat in the Hat,” “Hop on Pop” and “Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?” — the latter while the group happily made noises along with the talented title character, from knocking to mooing and tick-tocking to cock-a-doodle-dooing. (And “grumming” ... according to Seuss, the sound of a hippopotamus chewing gum.)
As the children worked at making a Cat in the Hat puppet, Birmingham mused over the continued popularity of the books. “The Cat in the Hat” was published in 1957, but more than 400,000 copies were still sold in 2009, according to Publishers Weekly. (”Green Eggs and Ham,” published in 1960, sold more than 500,000 copies that year, while “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” also topped 400,000.)
“It’s just fun, and there’s usually a good lesson in there,” she said. “I think parents have the tradition of it, and it just keeps going on and on.
“People feel a connection with Dr. Seuss. I think it’s about the memories.”
Kristin Schmutzler, who was helping her son Brody, 3, with his puppet, agreed.
“When parents love a book, they pass it on,” she said. “They’re just good stories, and kids like the rhythm, too.”
At the City of Tonawanda Library, director Glenn Luba also pointed out the strong nostalgia factor to the books’ popularity.
”Because the parents have fond memories of it, they’re kind of transferring that to their kids,” he said.
Librarian Betsey Higgins said that it’s all about the language.
“I think kids pick up on the onomatopoeia of it,” she said, referring to the way the sound of Seuss’ words echo their meaning. “For a parent, a grandparent, to read it out loud ... I think when they are read out loud, the legacy lives on.”
The North Tonawanda Public Library will celebrate Seuss’ birthday with a party from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today, featuring a program with Seuss stories, snacks and crafts presented by librarian Kelly Menzel. Children’s reference librarian Rebecca Stutzman said Friday that limited space is still available for the event; registration is required by calling 693-4132, ext. 5.
Stutzman said the books and their characters remain popular today for a number of reasons, and not just with toddlers and beginning readers.
“A lot of his stories are used not just with younger, but older children, because there’s a lot you can learn,” she said, referring to such stories as “The Lorax” and “The Butter Battle Book,” which hold themes of protecting the environment and the arms race, respectively. “It’s ‘hidden’ ... but it’s really there.”
For younger children, however, the simplicity and the bright colors continue to appeal.
“It’s just an easy stepping stone in their reading . It has a comfort level to it,” Stutzman said. “Kids like things that have rhythm and cadence and repetition, and you can find that through his easy readers.”IF YOU GO • WHAT: Celebration of Dr. Seuss' birthday • WHEN: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. today • WHERE: North Tonawanda Public Library, 505 Meadow Drive. • TO REGISTER: Registration is required; limited space remains. The activity is for the residents of North Tonawanda, Wheatfield and Pendleton. For more information, call 693-4132, ext. 5, or visit www.ntlibrary.org.