Dr. Seuss

Comprehension Activities

Springfield matching activity: https://www.seussinspringfield.org/kids-games/seuss-springfield-matching-activity
Official Dr Seuss videos: https://www.seussville.com/video/horton-hears-a-who-2/
Official Dr Seuss games: https://www.seussville.com/play/ 


He brought us barbaloots, wockets and the zizzer-zazzer-zuzz… His middle name is actually pronounced “Zoice”… and he makes millions of dollars every year, even though he died in 1991. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Dr Seuss—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

Theodor Seuss Geisel—known and loved by his pen name, Dr. Seuss—was born on March 2, 1904. Even though Dr Seuss died 31 years ago, kids all over the world celebrate Dr Seuss day every March 2. And this week, we’re going to celebrate him too!

Today, we’ll take you through WHO Dr Seuss was; WHAT makes his books so fantastic; and WHY his foundation decided last year to stop printing six of his books.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Little Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield, Massachussets, in America, in 1904. His dad’s name was Theodor Geisel, and so was his grandfather’s! Ted’s middle name was his mum’s last name before she got married. Both sides of his family originally came from Germany, so the traditional way of pronouncing his name was Tay-oh-door Zoice Guy-sel.

So when and why did Ted Geisel start calling himself Dr Seuss?

This is a pretty funny story. From a very young age, Ted loved to read and draw. He contributed cartoons to his high school newspaper, and then he went off to university, at Dartmouth College. Now, when he started uni, it was during a time in American history called Prohibition, when alcohol was completely against the law.

Let me guess, uni students weren’t so great at following those rules?

You are correct. So Ted had a bit of a party in his room with nine other students, and … they were caught having a drink. Ted’s punishment was that he couldn’t do any outside activities, including writing and drawing for the university newspaper. Now, he loved doing that so much, he decided he would just sign his drawings with his middle name, Seuss.

When did he add the “doctor”?

That’s also kind of a funny story. His Dad had always wanted Ted to study medicine… so he just made himself a Dr in front of his pen name, and became Dr Seuss.

A pen name, of course, means a name that someone uses instead of their real name, when they’re publishing books. So did Dr Seuss start writing kids books as soon as he left university?

Actually, no. His first job was as a cartoonist and illustrator for magazines. But in 1936, he was on a boat with his wife, and the rhythm of the engines got him thinking of a line that ended up in his first children’s book…
And that is a story that no one can beat
And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street.”

That’s the book about a kid called Marco, who uses his imagination to dream up a parade of characters that go past him on his walk home… Did Dr Seuss live on Mulberry Street, or did he just make that up?

Mulberry Street is a real street in Springfield, where Dr Seuss grew up. He didn’t live there, but the town of Springfield has a great website where you can play a matching game with some of the drawings in the book, and old photos of landmarks in the city… I’ll pop that link in your episode notes.

So his first book was published in 1937… how many did he actually write?

More than 40! Whenever he got stuck for ideas, he would put on one of the crazy hats he kept in his cupboard for inspiration, and get back to it! By 1991, when he died at the age of 87, his books had sold more than 600 million copies and been translated into more than 20 languages. The books inspired 11 television specials, five feature films, a Broadway musical, and four television series… he won all kinds of awards, including two Oscars, two Emmys, a special Pulitzer Prize, and two honorary PhDs.

Aha! So when you get a PhD, you can call yourself Dr… so then he really was Dr Geisel!

Or Dr Dr Seuss…Despite delighting billions of kids over the decades, Dr Seuss himself never had kids… he once said “”you have ’em, I’ll entertain ’em””. And he’s definitely done that… his books are still so popular that last year, he earned $48 million dollars, 30 years after he died. In fact, he’s made the list of the world’s highest-paid dead celebrities every year since 2001, when it was first published.

Who knew THAT list existed… so Amanda, WHAT is it about Dr Seuss’s books that kids love so much?

Bryce, how do you feel about anapestic tetrametre?


Anapestic tetrametre. It’s a poetic metre used by many famous writers throughout English literature.

When you say metre, I don’t think you mean 100 centimetres.

I do not! Metre is the rhythm of a poem… and Dr Seuss’s books are written as poems. Have a listen to these lines from Yertle the Turtle, and the emphasis that you hear in the syllables:
“And today the Great Yertle, that Marvelous he
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.”There are two weak syllables, then one strong one… and that repeats four times each line. Now most people, adults AND kids, aren’t going to listen to a Dr Seuss book and think… “aha! I like this because of the anapestic tetrametre”!

Ah, no… but we definitely do respond to rhythm, don’t we?

Exactly, it’s very pleasing to our ears. Now the other thing that’s pleasing to our ears are ridiculous, hilarious rhymes. And Dr Seuss had them in spades.
“Sometimes I feel quite CERTAIN
There’s a JERTAIN in the CURTAIN
A ZLOCK behind the CLOCK
And that ZELF up on that SHELF!
I have talked to him MYSELF. ”

Those made-up creatures that are hiding behind… and rhyming with… everyday objects. Brilliant!

Not just brilliant, but really helpful if you’re learning to read! I mean, what a great way to tell the difference between certain, spelled c-e-r-t-a-i-n, and curtain, c-u-r-t-a-i-n. Dr Seuss was really great at making learning to read FUN.

Was he really trying to help kids learn to read? Not just convince us, say, to try new foods… like in Green Eggs and Ham?

That’s the perfect example to bring up! Did you know that Green Eggs and Ham only has 50 words in the whole story?? He wrote it to win a bet! He’d used only 236 words for The Cat in the Hat, which his publisher asked him to write because kids found those learn-to-read books so boring. After The Cat was such a hit, his publisher bet him he couldn’t write a book with even fewer words.

Well, he definitely won that bet! Now Amanda, with Dr Seuss so beloved, WHY is it that the Dr Seuss Foundation announced that it wouldn’t publish six of his books anymore?

When Dr Seuss was still alive, he made some changes to And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street, because he realised that it included some racist stereotypes.

A stereotype is a fixed idea about a group of people that may be untrue, or only partly true. For example, it’s a sexist stereotype to say that all boys love football, or that all girls want to be ballerinas.

Sure is. I love footy and I’ve never done a day of ballet in my life! Although Dr Seuss had made some changes to those racist stereotypes during his lifetime, last year on March 2, Dr Seuss Enterprises announced that they were no longer going to publish six of his books, because they still portrayed people in ways that were “”hurtful and wrong.”” They said they wanted to make sure that Dr Seuss’s work represented and supported all communities and families…

Well, I’m glad there are still dozens more books for us to get stuck into!

The S’Quiz
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. How many words are used in Green Eggs and Ham? ”
2. Which country did Theodor Seuss Geisel’s family originally come from?
3. We talked about the stereotype that all girls love ballet. What other silly stereotypes have you heard?