Readers Review: "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" by Dr. Seuss

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:55
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" begins like this.

MR. BORIS KARLOFF

11:07:03
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville did not.

REHM

11:07:14
And, of course, the holiday classic by Dr. Seuss is now more than a half century old. It's been adapted into a well-loved animated version from which you just heard, and a live action feature film. Joining me here in the studio to talk about the enduring popularity of this month's readers review, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," Phillip Nel of Kansas State University, children's literature specialist Maria Salvadore and the Reverend Derrick Harkins.

REHM

11:07:59
We'll take your calls, your e-mails. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org, and if you'd like to join us on Facebook or Twitter, send us a tweet. I can't imagine that there's anybody in this world who hasn't read or heard about "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," but let's hear a little more from the opening lines of the story.

KARLOFF

11:08:48
The Grinch hated Christmas, the whole Christmas season. Please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be perhaps that his shoes were too tight. It could be his head wasn't screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

REHM

11:09:18
And that, of course, is Boris Karloff narrating the 1966 television special based on "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Here in the studio, Phillip Nel. And Phillip Nel, I want to ask you why this is still such an American classic all these years after it was first published.

MR. PHILIP NEL

11:09:49
Well, I think, like many of Seuss's characters, the Grinch speaks the power to change -- to change yourself. The Grinch starts out a Christmas curmudgeon, but of course, that's not the message of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." The message is that people can change, and he does change, and that's a theme in many of Seuss's books, especially in the ones with a moral or a message like, "Horton Hears a Who," or "The Sneetches."

REHM

11:10:15
So that change is part of what Seuss is writing about in all his books?

NEL

11:10:23
In the books with a political message, that's what he's writing about. It's not necessarily in all the books, but certainly in the ones where he is trying to make a point. And this particular book develops from him wanting to change himself. He said, at the time of the book's publication, that about a year earlier he was looking in the mirror and he saw a Grinch-ish countenance staring back at him. And this troubled him. He thought something has gone wrong with Christmas, or more likely with himself.

NEL

11:10:53
And so he wrote "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" in order to find out something about Christmas that he believed he had lost.

REHM

11:11:02
When he wrote it, how many other books had he already written?

NEL

11:11:08
He had done at least a dozen. This was the same year as "The Cat in the Hat," another iconic Seuss character. In fact, they're probably Seuss's best known characters, and they are also two sides of his personality. I mean, his stepdaughter said that she always thought of Ted - that was his real name, Ted Geisel, as the Cat in the Hat when he was in a good mood, and the Grinch when he was in a bad mood. (laugh)

NEL

11:11:33
And his license plate actually read Grinch. So he...

REHM

11:11:36
Grinch?

NEL

11:11:36
Yeah. He definitely identified with the Grinch as much as with the Cat.

REHM

11:11:38
How marvelous. Maria Salvadore, as we just heard, many of Dr. Seuss's books have really extraordinary and enduring popularity, but this one is so special. It appeals to adults absolutely as much as children.

MS. MARIA SALVADORE

11:12:01
I think it's because the way Dr. Seuss conveys his stories. Pleasure -- he's got a message clearly in this one, and as Phil suggested, it's certainly about change, but it's also about the deeper meaning of Christmas. But it also is the way he tells his stories. He does it with such a joy and such pleasure. There's fun in the language. There's fun with the characterization, and he's got it all in a very short rhyming book.

REHM

11:12:35
How old were you when you first read this book?

SALVADORE

11:12:40
Oh, I must have been six or I don't know. I must have been -- I was young.

REHM

11:12:47
You were young.

SALVADORE

11:12:48
I was young.

REHM

11:12:48
Yeah.

SALVADORE

11:12:49
I was certainly in elementary school.

REHM

11:12:50
Did your parents read it to you or...

SALVADORE

11:12:53
Absolutely. Books were always...

REHM

11:12:54
Yeah.

SALVADORE

11:12:55
...read in our home. And -- and there were certain traditions, you know. "The Night Before Christmas" was certainly something that we read every, every year, and that I continued until my son said, enough. (laugh) But certainly the Grinch is part of that almost -- it's because almost part of an oral tradition.

REHM

11:13:15
Truly. And Reverend Harkins, you've got to describe the Grinch for us.

REV. DERRICK HARKINS

11:13:21
You know, I think the Grinch is the repository of all the cynicism and all the maladjustment (laugh) and, you know, and really because we talk a lot about that this time of the year.

REHM

11:13:32
Yeah.

HARKINS

11:13:32
You know, this is a hard time of the year for a lot of people, and maybe the Grinch is so enduring as a character because he really does -- he starts out as the embodiment of all of that, that cynicism, that sense of not being included, and therefore, I'm going to make sure that no one else in included. And what a wonderful transformation and that's the, I think, the enduring element of the story as well.

REHM

11:13:56
Do you know people like him?

HARKINS

11:13:58
No. Not in my congregation, no. Not at all. (laugh)

REHM

11:14:04
Phillip, what do you like most about this book?

NEL

11:14:08
Well, I think I'm going to pick up on what the Reverend Harkins said in that one of the things that endures the most from this is the 1966 special and the song. You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.

REHM

11:14:22
Wonderful.

NEL

11:14:22
As sung by Thurl Ravenscroft. And it speaks to that part of the holiday season that people don't like to talk about, you know. That people do get grumpy or grouchy or curmudgeonly. And the song celebrates that. It does not actually celebrate his transformation. It celebrates the Grinch unreformed, you know. He's a mean one.

REHM

11:14:45
But give us the story line.

NEL

11:14:48
Well, the story line, of course, is it's a Scrooge story, where, like Scrooge, he starts off the (word?) malcontent, and then discovers that Christmas doesn't come from a store. Christmas perhaps means a little bit more, and at the end joins the community, joins the Whos. And the final moment in the book is the Grinch moving from exile outside of the community to becoming one of the Whos, becoming part of the community.

REHM

11:15:16
But there's an awful lot in between.

SALVADORE

11:15:21
He gets rid of the trappings of Christmas, though, during this transformation, which I think is fascinating. I mean, he has to get rid of all of the things that are overwhelming him and really making him grinchy. And I think that that's -- only then can the true meaning come out for him.

HARKINS

11:15:41
I thought it was interesting how, you know, one of the news stories in the last couple of days is that the most searched word this past year has been austerity. And isn't it interesting that in the midst of austerity, the Whos still have the full measure of joy and celebration.

HARKINS

11:15:55
So what a wonderful kind of lesson for us that, in fact, if someone is wrestling with the fact that Christmas is going to be maybe more austere this year for all the reasons that we've been hearing about, you know, for the last several years now, that that doesn't necessarily diminish -- well, it shouldn't at all diminish the meaning and the -- of Christmas.

REHM

11:16:12
But describe the Whos for me. Who are the Whos?

NEL

11:16:17
Okay. Well, the Whos first appear in "Horton Hears a Who" which appeared in 1954, three years before this book, and the Whos are people, and that's part of the point of "Horton Hears a Who." They are people. A person's a person no matter how small. Smallness in that book is a mark of difference. And in fact, when the book was published, one reviewer called it a rhymed lesson in protection for minorities and their rights.

HARKINS

11:16:39
Wow.

NEL

11:16:39
So it's really about people. And then they, of course, return in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" as the embodiment of people in general.

REHM

11:16:47
You know who -- you started out talking about Ted Geisel's political...

NEL

11:16:53
Yes.

REHM

11:16:54
...thoughts.

NEL

11:16:55
Yes.

REHM

11:16:55
...leanings. So that almost in every book he wrote there is that kind of a message. These are not just children's fun books.

NEL

11:17:09
Right.

REHM

11:17:09
They are teaching...

NEL

11:17:11
Right.

REHM

11:17:11
...documents.

NEL

11:17:12
Exactly, yeah. No. He was a liberal Democrat, and those politics certainly appear in his books. He wrote "The Sneetches" as a criticism of anti-Semitism, although, of course, it also works as an anti-racist critique in general. That's the one where there are birds with stars on their bellies and birds without stars upon thars. And at the end, they learn that sneetches are sneetches, and no kind of sneetch is the best on the beaches.

NEL

11:17:35
So that sense of liberal politics, back when liberal was not a dirty word, definitely informs Seuss's world view and his books.

REHM

11:17:44
And who are the Whos?

NEL

11:17:46
The Whos are us. I mean, the Who is, you know, the pronoun for Who, for us.

REHM

11:17:53
The ordinary people.

NEL

11:17:54
Yeah. They're the ordinary people. And they're very specifically people. They look a little bit like bugs. They have little antennae sticking out of them (laugh) but there's a great conversation between Seuss and Helen, his first wife, when he was drawing "Horton Hears a Who," and she also served as his editor informally. And she's criticizing him, saying, you know, those don't look enough like people. And Seuss says, they're bugs. And she says, they're not, they're people.

NEL

11:18:20
And he realizes she's right and he goes back and redraws the illustration.

REHM

11:18:23
Phillip Nel. He's the author of "Dr. Seuss: American Icon." He's director of the Program in Children's Literature at Kansas State University. In just a moment, we'll open the phones, take your calls, your comments. I look forward to hearing from you as we talk about the Grinch.

REHM

11:20:04
And welcome back. Of course, this month's Readers Review, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" by Dr. Seuss. And we have three guests with us. The Reverend Derrick Harkins, he's senior pastor of the 19th Street Baptist Church in Washington. Maria Salvadore, she's children's literature specialist, former coordinator of children's services for the Washington D.C. public library system. And Philip Nel, he's the author of "Dr. Seuss: American Icon" and director of the program in children's literature at Kansas State University.

REHM

11:20:54
I'm going to open the phones shortly, but first I wanted to ask you a little about the rhythm that we find in Dr. Seuss because it's one of the things that makes reading this book so appealing to children, Maria.

SALVADORE

11:21:14
The sound of words delights children. The meaning comes second, I think. I think if we think back to Mother Goose Rhymes, and Dr. Seuss, when read aloud, it's the sound that engages children. But the thing about Seuss' words is that he really is sophisticated in the presentation and so it doesn't bore the adult reader nor the child listener.

REHM

11:21:42
That's a good point.

SALVADORE

11:21:42
And I think that it's important to recognize that books for children have to work on a number of different levels, none the least of which is to engage the adult. I think it was C. S. Lewis who said, a children's book that -- a children's -- a book that is enjoyed by -- what does he say?

NEL

11:22:02
It's words to that effect.

SALVADORE

11:22:03
Yeah, it's...

NEL

11:22:03
I mean, he makes that point that -- yeah.

SALVADORE

11:22:04
...he said a children's book that isn't enjoyed by adults is just not a good book.

REHM

11:22:08
Interesting.

NEL

11:22:09
Right.

SALVADORE

11:22:09
And I misquote him terribly, but (laugh) ...

NEL

11:22:11
But that's what he means.

SALVADORE

11:22:12
...that's essentially...

REHM

11:22:13
I get it.

SALVADORE

11:22:13
...the idea. But the point is is that Seuss delights on many levels...

HARKINS

11:22:17
Right.

SALVADORE

11:22:17
...on meaning, on the sound and the rhythm of words. And it's just huge fun.

REHM

11:22:25
Philip, would you read for us?

NEL

11:22:27
Sure. "Then he slithered and slunk with a smile most unpleasant around the whole room and he took every present. Pop guns and bicycles, roller skates, drums, checker boards, tricycles, popcorn and plums. And he stuffed them in bags, then the Grinch very nimbly stuffed all the bags, one by one, up the chimney. Then he slunk to the icebox, he took the Whos' feast. He took the Who pudding, he took the roast beast. He cleaned out that icebox as quick as a flash. Why that Grinch even took their last can of Who hash."

REHM

11:23:04
You know, it's interesting because it's the same rhythm as "The Night Before Christmas."

NEL

11:23:12
It is, it is. He writes in anapests. Usually an anapestic tetrameter and that's two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable repeated. And the easiest way to remember that is think of a limerick. A limerick is written in anapest. It's that da-da-da, da-da-da, da-da-da. And that is the Seuss rhythm. It's a popular rhythm, "Night Before Christmas," also the limerick. So I think that's part of -- to par what Maria was saying...

REHM

11:23:35
Its appeal.

NEL

11:23:36
...yeah, part of its appeal.

HARKINS

11:23:37
Sure.

REHM

11:23:37
Absolutely. Derrick, do you want to read for us?

HARKINS

11:23:39
Absolutely. "And the Grinch grabbed the tree and he started to shove, when he heard a small sound like the coo of a dove. He turned around fast and saw a small Who, little Cindy Lou Who, who was not more than two. The Grinch had been caught by this tiny Who daughter, who got out of bed for a cup of cold water. She stared at the Grinch and said, "Santa Claus, why? Why are you taking our Christmas tree? Why?"

REHM

11:24:11
And what does he answer?

HARKINS

11:24:15
"But you know that old Grinch was so smart and so slick, he thought up a lie and he thought it up quick. 'Why my sweet little tot,' the fake Santa Claus lied, 'There's a light on this tree that won't light on one side. So I'm taking it home to my workshop, my dear. I'll fix it up there, then I'll bring it back here.'" (laugh) Wonderful stuff.

REHM

11:24:36
How wonderful.

HARKINS

11:24:37
You know, Di, I just wanted to mention. It's interesting, and Phil and I were talking before we came in, that this wonderful, wonderful rendering, the animated version kind of was in the midst of the Golden Age of all of these Christmas specials that still endure. I've got a 10-year-old and a 16-year-old and they both love shows that I watched as a youngster. But I think the thing that stands out about Dr. Seuss, especially in this story, is that he really writes in, I like to call it broad inviting strokes because the message of Christmas is not preachy, but it engages people who might not otherwise -- "The Charlie Brown Special" which we all know and love...

REHM

11:25:14
Of course.

HARKINS

11:25:15
...comes very much out of Charles Schultz's very clear Christian conviction, which I certainly applaud as the focus of the real meaning of Christmas. But at the same time, the wonderful thing about this story is that it invites into that larger conversation of peace on earth and goodwill to men a lot of people who might not necessarily take to the Gospel of Luke. But that's okay, and I think that Charles Schultz is wonderful and enduring, and Dr. Seuss is as well.

REHM

11:25:42
Tell me about Dr. Seuss, Ted Geisel's religious beliefs or convictions.

NEL

11:25:51
Well, he grew up Lutheran. He was a German Lutheran. And, in fact, they spoke German in the church that he grew up in until the First World War. He was born in 1904. And the First World War, of course, produced a lot of anti-German sentiment in this country. And so in Springfield, Mass. where he lived they stopped speaking German in the church. In fact, he remembered being teased as a kid for being part of the German community in Springfield.

NEL

11:26:15
His grandfather had emigrated from Germany. And that also actually informs his politics, his sense of standing up for people who get picked on because he remembers being teased and being chased home from school with brick bats and other kids shouting, kill the Kaiser, at him.

NEL

11:26:31
But he was -- yeah, he was a Christian, although I don't know how much he practiced. He was suspicious of institutions generally, and I would extend that to religious institutions. But he does have his religious moments. There is a piece that he wrote around Christmas time in 1955 called "A Prayer for a Child" and that particular piece really, I think, gets at the meaning and the moral of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" a few years before "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" comes out.

NEL

11:27:04
And it's a prayer for peace and it was published in 1955 in Vanity Fair, and this is it. "From here on earth, from my small place I ask of you, way out in space. Please tell all men in every land what you and I both understand. Please tell all men that peace is good. That's all that need be understood. And every world in your great sky, we understand, both you and I." That's called "A Prayer for a Child" and that's Seuss at his most religious.

REHM

11:27:35
What did he do before he began to write books?

NEL

11:27:41
He was an ad man. His most famous campaign was "Quick Henry, the Flit," which was for Flit bug spray and it was a national catch phrase, like where's the beef or got milk. It was one of those things that just (laugh) everybody in the culture knew. But that's how he made his money until the year of the Grinch. "The Cat in the Hat," which was published six months before the Grinch, allowed him to write for children full time. Before that, he was making his money as an ad man. He wrote children's books, too, but that wasn't his main source of income.

HARKINS

11:28:10
So he transformed from Don Draper to Dr. Seuss (unintelligible) .

REHM

11:28:16
And what about the drawings in these books?

NEL

11:28:20
His art. His art came more easily to him than his words. Maria spoke earlier of the verse. He worked very, very hard on the verse. He wrote and rewrote to get it just right. His ideas usually came from images. They usually came from what he drew. He liked to say that -- he would doodle a couple of characters and if they started fighting each other, then he knew he had a story. But he was untutored as an artist. He was entirely self-taught.

NEL

11:28:49
He was somewhat suspicious of artistic instruction, in fact, (laugh) for that reason. He liked to tell a story of being in his high school art class and turning a picture he was drawing upside down. And his...

REHM

11:29:03
What's how I learned to draw...

NEL

11:29:05
And do you know...

REHM

11:29:06
...upside down.

NEL

11:29:07
And you turn it upside down to check the composition, right. I mean, you check -- if it looks okay upside down, if it looks balanced that way, then it's going to look right right-side-up.

REHM

11:29:15
No. It's how I learned to draw...

NEL

11:29:18
Oh, really.

REHM

11:29:19
...looking at pictures upside down, looking at works of art upside down.

NEL

11:29:27
Why upside down?

REHM

11:29:28
Because you get the other side of the brain working.

NEL

11:29:31
Interesting.

REHM

11:29:32
And you turn off the critical side.

NEL

11:29:36
So is this a class or was it...

REHM

11:29:37
Yes.

NEL

11:29:38
Interesting.

REHM

11:29:38
And Betty Edwards is the woman who started this movement across the country. So I wondered whether that was what you meant.

NEL

11:29:48
No. He was doing this...

REHM

11:29:49
You were saying he turned it upside down after.

NEL

11:29:52
He was doing it intuitively.

REHM

11:29:54
Wow.

NEL

11:29:54
And his teacher criticized him and said, Theodore, real artists don't turn their pictures upside down.

REHM

11:29:59
Oh, my gosh.

NEL

11:30:00
And he felt that they did and so he walked out of the class and never came back.

REHM

11:30:03
He sounds like a true rebel, doesn't he?

REHM

11:30:08
He really does. I mean, he's a man who came at this his own way with his own approach to how to reach children.

HARKINS

11:30:19
But I think that's what we love about him because...

REHM

11:30:21
Exactly.

HARKINS

11:30:21
...the rebelliousness is within the framework of things that are affirming and engaging. That's why we love "The Cat in the Hat" because he's rebellious. But he's rebellious in the most wonderful and charming of ways. And I guess that speaks to sort of the nature that we all have.

REHM

11:30:37
How do the Who win over the Grinch, Maria?

SALVADORE

11:30:44
By being themselves. By embracing that which is good, which is essentially what they are, who they are. That's the Who. And I think that that's a wonderful statement on who people are. I think it's very affirming. I think that we know the Whos just like we know ourselves and we know essentially what we are.

HARKINS

11:31:16
I've got to ply my trade as a minister and say that there's an epiphany that happens with the Whos.

NEL

11:31:22
That's right.

HARKINS

11:31:23
And it's there when it says, "that's a noise, grinned the Grinch, that I simply must hear. So he paused and the Grinch put his hand to his ear and he did hear a sound rising over the snow. It started out low, then it started to grow." You mention that Theodore Geisel was not necessarily an overtly religious man, but that's a wonderful sort of -- look, it's the angels in the field singing to the shepherds. I mean, again, the broad wonderful message of redemption and renewal.

HARKINS

11:31:53
And these -- the Whos are able to do it without the trappings of materialism, without the trappings that he thought defined Christmas. He said, you know, that, by taking all of this away, I'm taking away Christmas. And they make it ever so clear that, no, you can't take away...

NEL

11:32:09
Right.

HARKINS

11:32:09
...what's in our hearts.

NEL

11:32:10
Right.

REHM

11:32:10
Because even after he has stolen everything that was in the Who's house...

HARKINS

11:32:19
Every thing, right.

REHM

11:32:20
Every thing, still there is this feeling coming from the heart and coming from their voices affirming that Christmas is there.

HARKINS

11:32:33
Absolutely.

NEL

11:32:34
And that's where he overlaps with Charles Schultz, I think. It's anti-commercial book about Christmas. A commercial success, but it's anti-commercialism as is, of course, "Charlie Brown Christmas."

SALVADORE

11:32:46
But it intrigues me. He uses many of the techniques that advertisers use.

NEL

11:32:50
Right.

SALVADORE

11:32:51
He uses the short snappy phrases and the really catchy illustrations. And I think that's intriguing to have an anti-commercial.

REHM

11:33:04
Maria Salvadore. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to drshow@wamu.org. First to Pocatello, Idaho. Good morning, Bob, you're on the air.

BOB

11:33:29
Thank you, Diane, for taking my call.

REHM

11:33:32
Surely.

BOB

11:33:33
Flit, that was before DDT as I remember.

NEL

11:33:38
That's right. Yeah, DDT was in Flit.

BOB

11:33:39
Yeah, it had a smell you wouldn't forget. No wonder the flies just keeled over, but...

BOB

11:33:48
...whatever. I think even Peanuts plants an appreciation seed for -- an appreciation of perhaps later Beethoven exposure. But whatever. I think of the song from South Pacific goes, you know, we have to be carefully taught, and that it not only applies to bigotry, it applies to most things. And, you know, as sophisticated as our educational process has become -- I mean, we go back to the McGuffey Readers, the sixth grade McGuffey Readers.

BOB

11:34:19
We're teaching Shakespeare, you know, and somehow I think our children are losing appreciation for some of the greatest things of past culture. But, you know, I feel, at this time, that there's a circus going on back there on the Potomac, and those with the security clearances really can't talk about it. But, I mean, essentially the balance of power has kept the peace. And as George Washington said to be prepared (unintelligible) ...

REHM

11:35:00
All right, Bob. And you know what? This morning I'd just as soon not talk about things that the congress is doing. This is a program devoted to a wonderful favorite of children, certainly here in the United States, and probably all over the world.

HARKINS

11:35:26
Amen to that. (laugh)

REHM

11:35:27
"How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Let's go to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, Michael, you're on the air.

MICHAEL

11:35:37
Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:35:39
Sure.

MICHAEL

11:35:40
I heard this -- I actually work for a church and I really appreciate your show this morning. I heard this in a homily a long time ago and I was wondering if it was actually true. How many publishers did Ted Geisel have to go to before he got published? I heard it was a rather large number.

REHM

11:35:59
Philip.

NEL

11:36:00
Well, that depends on which version of the story he tells.

NEL

11:36:03
The number can be as small as 20 or as high as somewhere in the 30s. And it was for the first book that he published, which was "And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," published by Vanguard in 1937. Seuss, when talking to the media, was much more interested in telling the good story than he was in telling a true one. So the reason that you heard different figures or may not be sure about the figure is that he wasn't either. The important thing for him was that it was a big number. Exactly how many? (laugh) Not important.

REHM

11:36:33
Nobody knows. And, I mean, there are tons of well-known authors who've had to go through publisher after publisher...

NEL

11:36:43
Sure.

REHM

11:36:46
...who become discouraged, but continued.

NEL

11:36:48
Right, right.

REHM

11:36:49
And clearly Theodore Giesel -- and by the way...

NEL

11:36:53
Yes.

REHM

11:36:54
...he chose Seuss because...

NEL

11:36:57
Well, Seuss is his middle name. It's also his mother's maiden name and his mother certainly influenced him. And she worked for a baker and she used to chant the names of the pies, sort of a bedtime rhyme, to he and his sister when they went to sleep. But the story that Seuss told the most was this. When he was a senior at Dartmouth and editor of the humor magazine, "Jack-O-Lantern," he and some friends were caught drinking in his room.

NEL

11:37:24
And this was during prohibition, weren't allowed to do this. And so he had to choose a different name to publish under in "Jack-O-Lantern" because he was prohibited from publishing cartoons in this humor magazine that he edited, and prohibited from editing. And so he adopted the nickname Seuss to evade the authorities at Dartmouth.

REHM

11:37:42
Philip Nel. He's the author of "Dr. Seuss: American Icon."

REHM

11:40:03
And we'll go right back to the phones. Let's go to Laura who's here in Washington D.C. Good morning to you.

LAURA

11:40:13
Oh, good morning. I'm so glad I got on. Maria, this is Laura Klineman.

SALVADORE

11:40:18
Oh, my goodness, Laura, how are you? (laugh)

LAURA

11:40:20
I'm fine. Maria was one of my most important mentors. And we haven't been in touch in so long, but I just wanna say thank you. Thank you for...

SALVADORE

11:40:30
Well, do you have a question, Laura? Have you -- you're a school librarian now, right, and a mom. How has...

LAURA

11:40:35
Yeah, I have a six-year-old, almost seven. And I have been at the Oyster Adams Bilingual School for 16 years.

REHM

11:40:43
Good.

LAURA

11:40:44
Yeah. And of course...

REHM

11:40:45
And tell me how you use "The Grinch"?

LAURA

11:40:49
Okay. I will. Well, I use all of Dr. Seuss. What I remember from a child is dah who dor-aze, dah who dor-aze, which I think a lot of people my age can remember. But what I mostly wanted to bring out, and I think Dr. Seuss would be very happy about this, is that there's a publishing company in New York called Lectorum and they have finally gotten a translator, her name is Yanitia Kaneti, that has translated about five of Dr. Seuss books into Spanish. And they're actually Seuss-iant.

REHM

11:41:27
Do you know about this, Phil?

NEL

11:41:30
That particular publisher, yeah, yeah, I've seen the Lectorum translations of "Cat in the Hat," "Grinch," "Como el Grinch robo la Navidad" I think is the...

REHM

11:41:39
Oh, that's terrific.

NEL

11:41:40
...Spanish title (unintelligible) , so yeah.

REHM

11:41:41
That's wonderful. Thanks for calling, Laura. Let's go to Winston-Salem, N.C. Ginny, you're on the air.

GINNY

11:41:50
Hi, Diane.

REHM

11:41:51
Hi.

GINNY

11:41:51
I'd like to hear the panelists comment on the role of narrative poetry in the culture of storytelling. If they could comment on the pleasures of rhyme and rhythm and why we seem to allow ourselves to enjoy them only at Christmastime.

REHM

11:42:04
Phil.

NEL

11:42:05
Sure. Well, for Seuss, rhythm was what kept you reading. He felt that rhythm sustained a child's attention. And if you interrupt that rhythm, you lose that attention. And in fact, he uses that to keep you reading right from the very first page of the book where he begins a rhyme on page one and ends it on page two, right. The first is on page one here is, "Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot." Well, now you have to complete the rhyme, so you turn the page and, "But the Grinch who lived just north of Whoville did not."

HARKINS

11:42:35
Sure. And maybe not so much in the specificities of pentameter and all of that, but the rendering of the Christmas story in Luke is a matter of the rising ark of the story and then the transition. I mean, it is poetic in its own right, and I think so therefore the tradition of understanding narrative in poetry is from the very outset part of this holiday season.

REHM

11:42:58
Let's talk about the dog.

HARKINS

11:43:00
Max. (laugh)

REHM

11:43:02
Max.

NEL

11:43:03
Max.

REHM

11:43:04
What role does Max play, Phil?

NEL

11:43:07
Max is us. Max is the one who observes the Grinch and watches what he does. And his expression registers what our expression is supposed to be. We're not really sure we like what this guy is doing. Max isn't really sure he wants to be part of this. He kinda has to be a part of it, but his expression signals to us how we should read this story, I think.

REHM

11:43:26
Maria.

SALVADORE

11:43:27
I think Phil's absolutely on target. I think that the whole -- he's reflecting what the reader's response to...

NEL

11:43:35
Right.

SALVADORE

11:43:35
...the Grinch's behavior is.

HARKINS

11:43:38
Surely you're right. And he's sort of observing throughout sort of the transformation. And it's interesting that, you know, this story, even though it doesn't -- we talked a little while ago, it doesn't bear sort of evident religious imagery, but it is very much a part of the family traditions that have been forged. We were just -- Maria mentioned that. And to me, that's just as much a part of what authenticates Christmas as even when we speak to the literal renderings from scriptures, so I think that it has its rightful place in all of the traditions of this season.

REHM

11:44:10
And let's go to Lindon, Utah. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD

11:44:17
Yes, hi. I'm glad to be on your show. I'm really enjoying this discussion.

REHM

11:44:21
Good.

RICHARD

11:44:21
As a child I grew up in San Diego and I believe that's where Dr. Seuss spent his final years, but...

NEL

11:44:29
Yep.

RICHARD

11:44:29
...I read these books...

NEL

11:44:30
Mount Soledad.

RICHARD

11:44:31
...to my children, too, and they're favorite story was the one from the Sneetches called "What Was I Scared Of?" about the pale green pants. And that story is delightful in terms of overcoming fears and things like that. But one thing I wanted to comment on, too, was the thing that drew me as a child -- and these were the first books I remember checking out of the library -- was his fantastic art and his ability to draw such fanciful, creative, imaginative things. I just love that about him.

NEL

11:45:03
Yes. Seuss' art is part of what makes Seuss Seuss. He has what I would describe as an energetic cartoon surrealism. It's cartoon. That's what his background is in. And the energy comes from his sense of line. If you look at a Seuss drawing, it's almost as if you've happened upon him in the act of drawing for some of them. There's a real verve...

REHM

11:45:26
It's true.

NEL

11:45:27
...and a real energy to it.

REHM

11:45:28
It's true.

NEL

11:45:28
And then I think of surrealism in a sense because of the slightly warped or bent point of view that he comes from and the sort of odd characters that merge different other characters together to make them.

REHM

11:45:42
Here's an e-mail from Stephanie who's in Salt Lake City, Utah, who says, "My son, who is four years old and has special needs, easily picked up on the lesson of the Grinch. He did something very nice the other day and I said to him that was such a nice thing to do. And his response was, my heart is growing two times."

NEL

11:46:13
That's great.

REHM

11:46:13
Isn't that lovely?

NEL

11:46:14
That's great.

REHM

11:46:15
Isn't that lovely?

NEL

11:46:16
Yeah.

REHM

11:46:16
All right. To Patchogue, N.Y., good morning, Holly.

HOLLY

11:46:22
Good morning. I'd like to add as an addendum to the rhyme and rhythm comment that was made a little earlier, two calls earlier. It seems that on National Public Radio, which you're on, they had a program on rap music and people who read Dr. Seuss will understand that rap music nowadays is educational for people to learn to read.

REHM

11:46:52
Good point.

NEL

11:46:53
Not only that, but the early '80s rapper Kool Moe Dee...

HARKINS

11:46:56
Yes.

NEL

11:46:56
...learned to rap. You know this story? He learned to rap from Mohammad Ali's rhymes and from this book...

REHM

11:47:02
Dr. Seuss.

HARKINS

11:47:03
That's right.

NEL

11:47:03
..."How the Grinch Stole Christmas." That was a big influence on him.

REHM

11:47:05
How interesting.

NEL

11:47:06
So if you were feeling particular exuberant, you could call Dr. Seuss the original rapper.

NEL

11:47:12
Well, but especially in the sense that he does verse to educate and he does use verse to make political statements.

SALVADORE

11:47:17
But he's never didactic. He isn't...

HARKINS

11:47:19
That's right.

SALVADORE

11:47:19
...he doesn't beat you over the head with message. And I think that's one of his never ending appeals. I think, you know, regardless of how message driven the books are...

NEL

11:47:29
Right.

SALVADORE

11:47:29
...they're never didactic.

NEL

11:47:30
There's also story.

REHM

11:47:30
Yes, yes. All right. To Phoenix, Ariz., good morning, Matthew.

MATTHEW

11:47:36
Hi, good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

REHM

11:47:37
Sure.

MATTHEW

11:47:38
I have a Dr. Seuss book authored by P.D. Eastman called "Go Dog Go." Are you familiar?

NEL

11:47:44
It's a P.D. Eastman book, but Seuss was the editor for that, yes.

MATTHEW

11:47:47
It's curious because my parents went to a party many years ago and had that book autographed by Dr. Seuss.

NEL

11:47:53
Well, there's an interesting story there actually. Seuss edited Eastman and he edited Eastman quite a bit. There's actually a letter in Seuss' papers where he is fairly annoyed about P.D. Eastman and his work and...

REHM

11:48:06
Why?

NEL

11:48:07
He feels that his, Seuss' editorial contributions have made Eastman's work the success that it is and not Eastman. Now, I can't verify that. I haven't actually seen the manuscript. But I think his editorial role in the beginner books of which "The Cat in the Hat" is the first one and which were designed to teach children how to read -- and "Go Dog Go" is a beginner book and those P.D. Eastman books are beginner books. But his role as editor there, I think, shapes some of the verse of those authors and that's why a lot of people think of P.D. Eastman books as Seuss books. They're not, but Seuss edited them and I think he left his mark on Eastman's verse.

REHM

11:48:42
Interesting. Thanks for calling, Matthew. Norman sends an e-mail saying, "I'm wondering if any of your panelists know why Dr. Seuss never won a Caldecott Award or if the organization ever expressed regret for neglecting to honor his genius."

SALVADORE

11:49:09
I can't answer that specifically. There are -- a new committee each year selects the Caldecott Award. It's given to one book out of a field of hundreds, if not thousands of contenders. There is now, however, a Theodor Geisel Award that is given annually by the American Library Association for the most significant contribution to the body of easy readers -- easy reading literature. And that credits Dr. Seuss' work and his "Cat in the Hat."

REHM

11:49:42
He should've gotten his own first award.

NEL

11:49:44
Well, he did get Caldecott honors.

SALVADORE

11:49:47
Yes, he did.

NEL

11:49:47
He never won the award itself, but he did get some Caldecott honors, so Caldecott recognized him, but not perhaps for his best known works. As I recall, "Bartholomew and the Oobleck," I think, was a Caldecott honor. And I wanna say "If I Ran the Zoo" might've been the other one. They were from late '40s, early '50s.

REHM

11:50:05
Here's an e-mail from Wichita Falls from a TV anchor and producer, who says, "I use 'Hop on Pop' to this day to practice diction and vocal warm-up."

NEL

11:50:23
That's wonderful.

REHM

11:50:23
Isn't that terrific?

NEL

11:50:24
Yeah.

REHM

11:50:25
All right. To New Windsor, Md., good morning, Lisa.

LISA

11:50:31
Hi, good morning, Diane.

REHM

11:50:32
Hi there.

LISA

11:50:32
Thanks for taking my call.

REHM

11:50:33
Sure.

LISA

11:50:34
I just wanted to say that this book in particular and the dog in particular (laugh) has served me through my whole career because the character for the dog, for me, really taught me as a kid that people can change. And that if you work with them and you're patient and you accept them and you can see people really do change, so, you know...

REHM

11:50:57
Sometimes.

HARKINS

11:50:58
Sometimes, yeah.

NEL

11:50:59
Sometimes.

REHM

11:50:59
Sometimes.

HARKINS

11:51:00
And it's a wonderful thing to see that transformation take place here. The point was made a little earlier that this is not a didactic story. And, you know, obviously, Charles Dickens and "A Christmas Carol" come right alongside this by way of comparison. But you walk away from this, maybe not with quite the heaviness that you do after seeing the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, but this story, to me, is still just as profound and, one more time, fits appropriately into this season, even if it's not necessarily as biblically grounded.

REHM

11:51:30
And carrying on with the Max theme, from Michelle, she says, "I wonder if Dr. Seuss also intended us to recognize the character of the dog Max and his meaning, how often are there grinches in real life who can continue to be because they're supported willingly or not willingly by the character represented in Max. At this time of the year, I often ponder how often I am Max instead of a Who."

NEL

11:52:08
That's a nice a point.

HARKINS

11:52:09
Max the enabler.

REHM

11:52:10
That's a nice point. Yeah, Max the enabler. You got all kinds of enablers out there. Thanks for calling, Lisa. And to Carrie in Phoenix, Ariz., you're on the air.

CARRIE

11:52:23
Hi, my name's Carrie. I have two kids, one is almost five and one is one. And I just wanted to make a comment that in our house we don't read Dr. Seuss. And we're both abstract painters. And you would think of all the people who would appreciate that, that would happen in our house. But as it turns out, we go for Richard Scary. So it's really funny that children have their own, you know, visual and auditory aesthetic and they gravitate towards different writers, even from very early on.

REHM

11:52:57
Absolutely. I think that's such a good point, Carrie. Thanks for calling. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Rochester, N.Y., good morning, John.

JOHN

11:53:10
Hi.

REHM

11:53:11
Hi.

JOHN

11:53:12
I'm really enjoying your program.

REHM

11:53:13
Good.

JOHN

11:53:14
I wanted to ask the guests if they had much knowledge about what kinda music Dr. Seuss might've been influenced by or what kinda music he liked to listen to. Because -- and maybe it's because I'm somewhat of jazz aficionado. But, you know, from the first time that I started reading those stories to my kids, it just rang all kinds of bells with me, how much this reminded me of -- as were talking earlier -- they were talking earlier about the surrealist element in Dr. Seuss. Related to that, there's sort of like a jazz influence that just comes right through. I mean, I just can't read those stories and look at the illustrations without thinking of Ella Fitzgerald singing (laugh) Cat and Charlie Parker taking flight on his alto sax.

REHM

11:54:12
That's really interesting. Phil.

NEL

11:54:12
Yeah, that's nice. That's nice. And certainly, "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" has been covered by jazz musicians as well as by musicians of many stripes. But Albert Hague actually wrote the music to that and the story is that Seuss gave him the lyric. Albert Hague set it to music, invited Seuss over to play the song and then started playing the song. And Seuss said, anyone who can slide an octave on the word Grinch gets the job.

REHM

11:54:36
That's wonderful. Finally, to Dusty here in Washington D.C., you're on the air.

DUSTY

11:54:44
Good morning, Diane, and Merry Christmas.

REHM

11:54:46
Merry Christmas.

DUSTY

11:54:48
Thank you so much. I have three children. Two of them are twins that were born at 29 weeks. And they are autistic spectrum. They were reading Dr. Seuss "The ABC Book" well before they could speak. And the comprehension was there. He had a gift for teaching. That's my first point. My first -- my second is that someone said that liberal was a bad word. And liberal is not a bad word.

REHM

11:55:21
You're right. Liberal is not a bad word. And I want to close this program, Derrick Harkins, by having you read for us the last few pages of, "The Grinch."

HARKINS

11:55:40
"And the Grinch with his Grinch feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled three hours 'til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more. And what happened then, well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day. And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, he whizzed with his load through the bright morning light. And he brought back the toys and the food for the feast. And he, himself, the Grinch, carved the roast beast."

REHM

11:56:50
Rev. Derrick Harkins, he's senior pastor of The 19th Street Baptist Church here in Washington D.C. Maria Salvadore, she's a children's literature specialist. Philip Nel is author of "Dr. Seuss: American Icon" and director of the program in children's literature at Kansas State University. And of course, our book "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." Thank you all so much for being here...

NEL

11:57:27
Thank you.

HARKINS

11:57:27
Fun, fun, fun.

REHM

11:57:28
...with those beautiful readings. I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year. We'll be back with you on January 3. We'll bring you some of our favorites between now and then. I'm Diane Rehm.
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