One of my favorite Seussian books is Sneetches and Other Stories, a collection of four short, silly and didactic stories. Kids love them for their imaginative zaniness, but you can read fairly profound messages into each of them. "The Sneetches" conveys powerful lessons in the foibles of identity politics and the parasitic greed that drives our popular culture and fashion; in "The Zax" there are truths about hyperpartisanism and gridlocked government; in "What Was I Scared Of?" we learn about how cultural misunderstandings can transform into irrational fearmongering.
But the shortest story in the book, "Too Many Daves," is my favorite, not for any subtext railing against overpopulation, but because of its pure silliness. It's the vignette of a harried mother who names all twenty three of her sons Dave, which causes trouble when she calls Dave home for dinner. Then, just because it's his book and he can do whatever he wants, Dr. Seuss launches into a riff of hypothetical alternative names they could have been given, all of them totally absurd and hilarious.
I've read the book a hundred times, and still the kids and I can't help but laugh out loud every time we get to this line:
And one of them Ziggy. And one Soggy Muff.
One Buffalo Bill. And one Biffalo Buff.
Why is that so funny? I don't know, but it cracks us up everytime.
Our other favorite names are Stinkey, Bodkin Van Horn, Snimm, Sneepy, and to finish off the silliness, he gives us Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate, which always garners a benedictory chuckle.
To me, this lesser-known Seuss story is perfectly emblematic of his genius. Sure, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are his signature works, but in a minor story like this you can glimpse his joie de vivre, the pure delight he took in his own silly imagination. Kind of like seeing paintings by Michaelangelo: you can appreciate his artistic mastery in the Sistine Chapel, but if you could see what he painted on his kids' bedroom ceiling, you might get a better picture of the man's true soul.
So here's to Mr. Dr. Seuss, a visionary genius who joyfully revolutionized children's literature.
From your biggest fan,