“The Lorax” Published (1971)

We know it by heart:  “I am the Lorax.  I speak for the trees.  I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”  The trees got their voice on this day, August 12, in 1971, when Dr. Seuss published The Lorax.

Dr. Seuss is one of the most beloved authors in 20th Century American literature.  Kid’s literature, true, but I’d guess that every adult still thrills to read his anapestic tetrameter, see his phantasmagoric drawings and escape to his whimsical worlds.

Dr. Seuss was born as Theordor Geisel in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts (died 1991).  He was an industry cartoonist, and Standard Oil was his biggest client.  But he wanted to accomplish more significant work, writing serious books.  The only problem was that his Standard Oil contract forbade almost every kind of moonlighting.  There was one loophole—he could write for children.  And so he did, writing and drawing more than 60 books, many of which can be found in every child’s room in America.  He wasn’t immediately successful—his first book (And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street) was turned down by 26 publishers before hitting bookshelves in 1937.

Thedor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss (photo by Al Ravenna, New York World-Telegram and Sun)

Fast-forward to the start of the 1970s.  Seuss, now a publishing whirlwind, was living in La Jolla, California, and was increasingly disturbed by the commercialization of the town and its environment.  He decided to write a book about taking care of the world rather than just exploiting it.  But he was blocked, unable to grasp how to present his ideas.  A friend took him to Kenya for inspiration, and while watching a herd of elephants, inspiration struck.  Back at camp, he sat down and wrote the text for The Lorax on the back of a laundry slip—in 90 minutes!

When the book hit stores in 1971, it wasn’t very popular.  Readers and critics were disappointed that this story was serious, a downer compared to the zany tales they had come to expect.  Some politicians and forestry leaders objected to what they saw as an indictment of the logging industry.  After all, the Once-ler did cut down every last Truffula Tree to turn them into Thneeds.

But Dr. Seuss didn’t intend it that way.  The book was about conservation, not preservation.  Seuss didn’t object to logging, just to logging that was excessive and thoughtless.  He said, “The Lorax doesn’t say lumbering is immoral.  I live in a house made of wood and write books printed on paper.  It’s a book about going easy on what we’ve got.  It’s anti-pollution and anti-greed.”  He wanted to support the idea of sustainability—to live today so that others can live as they wish later.

The Lorax continues to inspire, as shown in this 2017 photo of the DC Climate March (photo by Edward Kimmel)

As the environmental movement gained traction, so did The Lorax.  When Lady Bird Johnson, the U.S. First Lady, began her environmental work, she positioned The Lorax at the center of her campaign.  Anti-logging sentiment in the West also drove sales of the book, perhaps spurred by a rebuttal book by the logging industry called Truax.  Since then, The Lorax has sold more than one million copies and been adapted into a feature film and TV special.  It sits at 33 on the list of the 100 best picture books of all time as judged by school librarians (in 12th place is another Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham).

The Lorax is far from Dr. Seuss’ most popular book, however.  Green Eggs and Ham takes that honor, also, with about 8 million copies sold.  In all, Dr. Seuss’ books have sold about 70 million copies, making him the most popular children’s author of all time.

So three cheers for Dr. Seuss, whether he’s just making us smile or also making us think.  And let’s get out there and plant some real-life equivalent of Truffula Trees!

References:

Ayers, Kyle.  2012.  The Environmental Message Behind ‘The Lorax.’  CBS New York, April 9, 2012.  Available at:  http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/04/09/the-environmental-message-behind-the-lorax/.  Accessed June 14, 2018.

Barber, Bonnie.  2012.  Professor Donal Pease Shares the ‘Story Behind The Story’ of The Lorax.  Dartmouth News, February 29, 2012.  Available at:  https://news.dartmouth.edu/news/2012/02/professor-donald-pease-shares-story-behind-story-lorax.  Accessed June 14, 2018.

Bird, Elizabeth.  2012.  Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results.  School Library Journal.  Available at:  http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/2012/07/06/top-100-picture-books-poll-results/#_.  Accessed June 14, 2018.

Priceonomics.  2001.  The Statistical Dominance of Dr. Seuss.  Available at:  https://priceonomics.com/the-statistical-dominance-of-dr-seuss/.  Accessed June 14, 2018.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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