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Celebrating Seuss

The Bloogs, Nizzards, Sneetches, and Whos are just a few of the fanciful creatures he's made immortal. This year, in honor of his 100th birthday, the Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York City commemorates the imagination of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. The decision to create the 4,000-square-foot exhibit, titled "Oh, Seuss! Off to Great Places," was an easy one. "By appealing to the funny bone in both adults and children, Ted Geisel made family reading time one of the great pleasures of life," says executive director Andrew Ackerman. "He made learning to read both fun and natural. This exhibition is a perfect way to celebrate the genius of Dr. Seuss."

The exhibit, which will remain in New York for a year and then begin its national tour in July 2005, includes 25 activity areas that allow kids to explore the magical worlds of Seuss classics. Young visitors can build a Throm-dim-bu-lator, drive the Green Eggs and Ham train, and help Horton hatch an egg, to name just a few of the hands-on experiences. Parents will appreciate the gallery featuring photos, sketches, and manuscript pages that illustrate Dr. Seuss's creative process. (For more details about the exhibit, visit www.cmom.org).

In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, Child spoke to Audrey Geisel, his widow and the founder of Dr. Seuss Enterprises. Here, she offers a glimpse into the creative life of the beloved children's book author:

Q: Why do you think kids are so drawn to your husband's words and illustrations?

A: Ted happened to have the kind of thought process where he could leave reality behind and go to another world. When he went into this world, he saw it visually -- in the form of animals, not really animals, but as something resembling animals. He had an enormous capacity to do that. Children, when they attempt to draw a house or an animal, create something that vaguely resembles reality, just vaguely. I think that's why they see what Ted does with his imagination as authentic, appropriate, and funny. Ted had a longstanding rule that none of his books could be used in schools as textbooks. If that happened, it would be the kiss of death. It would be studying, and his books would lose their appeal. To this very day, we don't allow any of his books to be used as textbooks. They would soon lose the fun feeling about them.

Q: Can you tell us about his creative process?

A: He'd get an idea and scuffle over to wherever I was and say, "I believe I've got it." I learned to not ask what "it" was. I'd just say, "That's fine." Then he'd scuffle out and begin. He'd write for a while, then he'd draw for a while. Nothing stopped him, and it would get to be midnight. He'd go on and on until he reached a stopping place that worked for him. Once or twice, not very often, he'd dry out and have no further thought. He would then drag the easel out and paint. He'd paint for a particular period of time and his paintings would have nothing to do with what he was writing and drawing [before]. It would be entirely separate but have his style. If he still had difficulty getting back to his work, he'd read suspense paperbacks and finish one a day.

Q: Of all his books, what was his favorite?

A: It's like choosing which child you really, really like. He was fond of The Cat in the Hat and The Lorax. But he seemed to be fondest of whatever book he was working on [at the moment]. He liked everything he did, really.

Q: Many of Dr. Seuss's books have a deeper meaning. Is there one universal message that your husband wanted to convey through his books?

A: The last 20 years, the years when I was with him, he did his most serious work. But his books were always funny and catchy. He did have a message and the messages were serious -- they were about war, about preservation of our lands, about how one should treat one's neighbors -- but there was no preaching.

Q: What would you say is your husband's greatest legacy?

A: His greatest legacy is the boost he gave literacy, which I carry on as my number one philanthropy.

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