Emilia asked me the other day, after we’d read The Lorax together, what my most very favoritest Dr. Seuss story was. Hers was a tie between The Lorax and The Cat In The Hat. The Grinch would have been a contender, she said, but she liked the TV show better than the book. I’d have chafed at that, but she does kind of have a point. The Grinch is a whole different experience with Boris Karloff.
Anyway. My favorite Seuss story is none of the above. It’s this one: Hooper Humperdink, Not Him. It’s about the awesomest birthday party ever, and the one boy who wasn’t invited. Well, until the end. He gets invited at the end, of course, because all Seuss stories end on a positive note. Yes, even The Lorax, which has been criticized for being gloomy. Of course the extinction of trees is gloomy. So’s being the kid who’s never invited to parties, or having a heart that’s two sizes too small. But the whole point of so many Dr Seuss stories is exactly that: to acknowledge the stuff about life that’s complicated or difficult or challenging (YOU try telling Sam I Am that you don’t want his green-tinted breakfast special) and then to remind you that, despite all that, there’s every reason to keep your chin up. There’s always hope, usually in the form of a person or persons with good hearts – hearts that will carry that one seed forward to bring back the trees, or that will rise up in song and inspire a Grinch, or that will invite Hooper Humperdink to that super-awesome birthday party. And the message is always there, in the closing lines and rhymes of the story, that YOU could – you SHOULD – be that person with that good heart. YOU can – you SHOULD – carry the seed, start the song, issue the invitation. You DO care a whole awful lot, Dr Seuss reminds you, in almost every story, and so you SHOULD do something about it. You WANT to do something about it.
In some respects, The Lorax and The Grinch communicate this better than does Hooper Humperdink, but it was Hooper who resonated for me when I was a child, I think because for a child – for the child that I was, anyway – Hooper’s dilemma is one that hues most closely to their real fears. The idea that the trees could disappear is pretty abstract. The idea that you might not be invited to a super-awesome birthday party is not. It’s comforting to me, really, that Emilia identifies more fully with the environmental concerns that The Lorax articulates, in part because I want her to engage with those concerns, and to live in a way that addresses them. But it also comforts me because it tells me that Hooper’s dilemma is not one that keeps her up at night, that the fear of being excluded is not one that casts a shadow over her own good heart.
And it comforts me, too, knowing that if – when? is it inevitable? – that particular shadow passes, I have a story to share with her, one that recalls my own childhood, one that can bring that childhood right into the room with us and bring full color and light to our conversation. And that I have a story that I can use to remind her that it’s not only the trees that deserve her care, although they do, very much, as do the whales and the birds and the people all around her, all of them.
Thanks for that, Theodore Geisel.
And happy birthday.
Below, Seussian words to live by. Well worth sharing – or reciting, mantra-like, to yourself – today. Or any day. (Props to Mamiverse for creating this.)