There seems to be a furor among some today over Dr. Seuss Enterprise’s decision to withdraw six Dr. Seuss children’s books from publication and about the mortal danger of “cancel culture” to American civilization. So here is a salute to Seuss.
Last spring, I was reading a new biography of Theodore Geisel, Becoming Dr. Seuss, by Brian Jay Jones, and came across what Geisel called the “seven needs” of children that he kept in mind as he wrote children’s books: a need for security, a need to belong, a need to love and be loved, a need to achieve , a need to know, a need for aesthetic satisfaction, and a need for change. He counseled aspiring children’s book authors to answer at least one of these needs in their books, especially the need to love and be loved.
Of course, these are the needs of all of us throughout our lives. So last summer I decided to preach a series of sermons based on each of these seven needs. The theme was, “Our Needs Are Holy to God.” They are, you know.
Obery Hendricks wrote in his book, The Politics of Jesus: “Throughout his ministry, Jesus treated the people and their needs as holy by healing their bodies, their souls, their psyche.”
The “Gospel of Dr. Seuss” was his mission to address the foundational needs of children. So the Lorax says, “UNLESS someone like you / cares a whole awful lot, / nothing is going to get better. / It’s not.” And from Horton Hears A Who, we read this poignant line: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” That’s a gospel for all of us.
The genius of Theodore Geisel was manifold — the captivating colorful art, the playful rhymes, his putting drawings near the words to help children learn them more easily. His Beginner’s Books series helped children read by using a small number of vocabulary words that children might know. The Cat in The Hat was his first triumph in this use of a small list of words. Green Eggs and Ham employed only 50 words. (Preachers might have something to learn here!)
Perhaps one of his most important messages was about the uniqueness of every person. So here’s his birthday greeting from his book Happy Birthday to You!:
Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
Stephen Shoemaker serves as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C. He served previously as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.