The importance of literacy is obvious…..because everywhere you look in this world there are words! Words on the signage at the bus stop, words on your food packaging, messages on you mobile phone, words on the Internet, words in magazines and books. Literature and Literacy is obviously quintessential for getting the most out of life and we take it very seriously here in Australia. National Literacy & Numeracy Week is celebrated annually, and 2012 is no exception. This year’s much celebrated event will be held from 27th August – 2nd September 2012. This year’s celebrations are compounded by the fact that 2012 is also the National Year of Reading. So get reading everyone! Read, read, read! Read to yourself, read out-loud and please everybody read to your children. There are in fact organisations that are grounded on the basis of reading, such as the The Pyjama Foundation. The Pyjama Foundation is an organisation who works in partnership with trained volunteers from the community and offers a literacy-based mentor program to children in foster-care. The joy of reading can be instilled in children of a very young age and every individual will benefit from reading well into their old age!
The perennially popular Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss has a history steeped in literacy foundations. In the mid 1950s an article in Life magazine drew the spotlight on the poor literacy skills amongst American school children. The gist of the article was that books for children were boring and featured “Goody-two-shoes” children, banal plot lines and uninspiring illustrations. They had very little appeal. The question was could fun illustrations bring the books to life and heighten the children’s desirability to read? The Life article specifically named the illustrator Dr Seuss and several other children’s illustrators and “wonderfully imaginative geniuses” (such as Disney). German-American writer & illustrator Theodor Geisel (A.K.A. Dr Seuss) accepted the challenge to write a rhyming book that appealed to children, was eye-catching, enjoyable to read and was literacy based. The twist in the challenge was that Seuss was restricted to the use 225 specific words chosen from a list of 348 words. The words included in the list were purposely chosen by literacy experts. Seuss’ “baby” had a gestation period of nine months and the end result was “The Cat in the Hat”.
The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957 and the masterpiece is no ordinary children’s book. It has been translated into many different languages and millions of copies of the book have been sold around the world. It is enjoyed by children and those that are young at heart and remains perennially popular today. In 1960 a Random House publisher made a bet with Seuss that he could not write a book using a vocabulary restricted to 50 words or less. Seuss accepted the challenge (yet again) and the result was another of his beloved book, Green Eggs and Ham. Incidentally, this is his best selling book title and the Cat in the Hat comes in second! Perhaps the all time success of Dr Seuss’ books can be attributed and best described by the author himself….he testifies that “I don’t write for children. I write for people”.