Although my students will be familiar with Dr. Seuss as a children’s author, chances are they will know little of the man and his life. Because many of Dr. Seuss’ books were written as a result of personal or world-related events, my students must begin to look at his books through
eyes. The importance of individual experience is clearly at the heart of the unit so they must be awakened to the knowledge that Dr. Seuss has lived through almost all of the twentieth century, meaning he has experienced international conflicts such as World War I, WW II, racial discriminations, the nuclear arms race, and personal freedom debates as a boy, a young man, a soldier, and a mature adult. These experiences shaped who he was as a person, and likewise shaped his style of writing. Therefore, a short biographical sketch will be necessary to activate my students’ prior knowledge of these historical conflicts and connect to Geisel’s own personal perspective. Once armed with this information, they will be better prepared to tackle the implicit themes that arise within each of the chosen books.
The biographical sketch itself will not need to be lengthy as the real purpose will be to provide students with a historical perspective in which to think about
. As students read about the life of Theodor Geisel, they will have an accompanying worksheet with sections corresponding to each time period of Geisel’s life. This worksheet will guide whole class discussions and provide an opportunity for students to take notes on the various conflicts (internal and external) prevalent in each time period. For example, after reading about his early childhood, we will discuss the conflicts that occurred between his father, the brewer, and prohibitionists in his neighborhood, and Geisel’s German background and the growing anti-German sentiment in his neighborhood. By taking the time to address these issues early on, students will begin to open their eyes to the historical and personal conflicts that later became the foundation of Dr. Seuss’ “message books”.