Photo by Curt Yeomans
College Park siblings Jonathan Washington (from left), Gabrielle Washington, and Sydney Washington, show off their “Dr. Seuss”-inspired hats during a birthday celebration for the children’s books author, on Thursday.
“Do you like green eggs and ham?”
“I do not like them, Sam I am.”
— Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), “Green Eggs and Ham.”
Approximately 200 local children crowded into the gymnasium at the Jim Huie Recreation Center, in Jonesboro, on Thursday, to participate in an early birthday party for the man who gave life to a cat in a hat, a grinch, and a giant elephant named Horton.
That man is, of course, Theodor Seuss Geisel, who is more famously known by his pen name — “Dr. Seuss.”
The annual event was the result of a partnership between several agencies and organizations, including the Clayton County Parks and Recreation Department, Clayton County Public Schools and the Clayton County Library System.
There were games, such as a “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” fishing game. There were also arts and crafts activities, with several children trying to make their own version of the Cat in the Hat’s headgear. The famous cat, whose image eventually ended up in a seal that was on the covers of many of Geisel’s books, also wandered through the crowds at the event.
“It’s a good thing, because it’s Dr. Seuss’ birthday, and since we have birthdays, Dr. Seuss has birthdays, too,” said Jonesboro youth Jase Parker, 7.
Geisel, who died in 1991, would have turned 108 today. Although it has been more than 20 years since his last book was published, his works still resonate with children. At the early birthday party, several children — who were born years after the last book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” was printed — expressed an enthusiastic appreciation for the books.
“I just like all of those books,” said College Park youth Gabrielle Washington, 6.
Several of them had their own personal favorite book from Geisel’s body of work, but those opinions usually came back to what was perhaps his most famous character — the Cat in the Hat.
“It’s a great book,” said 5-year old Jonathan Washington, Gabrielle’s brother.
There were approximately a dozen groups and institutions that participated in the event by offering games and activities for children to participate in.
In addition to the recreation department, libraries and school system, some of the other participating groups included Arts Clayton, Mercer University, Heavenly Sent Childcare, Song of the South childcare, the Roane School, Tara Tarpons, and Rex Childcare and Early Learning Center.
“They’re doing activities that promote early learning techniques,” said Shacole Pearman, the program coordinator for the Jim Huie Recreation Center. “We really want to promote early literacy.”
Janice Arcuria, the assistant director of youth services for the county’s library system, said Geisel’s works are so important to the literary community because the whole purpose behind the books was to get more children to pick up reading materials.
“Dr. Seuss was originally all about how to make books fun — with just a few words — for beginning readers,” she said. “Most of the beginning reading materials available when he started out were so dull, that it wouldn’t inspire children to read.”
Although many of the children’s programs offered by the county’s recreation department are — as the office’s name suggests — geared towards recreation, officials said they do not shy away from offering educational programs as well. Clayton County Parks and Recreation Director Detrick Stanford said the department tries to incorporate educational and life skills development components into its programs.
Stanford took time to read a Dr. Seuss book to children at the event. “Any time you’re able to bring in an educational component, a programming component, and a life-skill development component — and marry all of those types of activities together — then you pretty much have a special event,” he said.
Clayton County Library System officials who participated in the celebration, however, said the thing that they were most taken aback by was the number of attendees. It was far more than they were expecting.
“I’ve been coming every year, and this was — by far — the largest attendance we’ve ever had,” Arcuria said. “Some of them [past Dr. Seuss celebrations] have been sparsely attended. All of us expected a small group. I knew [this year was different] as soon as I couldn’t find a parking space. I’ve never had that happen before.”