Dr. Seuss's Please Try to Remember the First of Octember!
illustrated by Art Cummings
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A mythical holiday!
As you start reading First of Octember, it begins to occur to you that this doesn't quite feel like the Seuss you're used to.
Something's a little different.
It's not that Art Cummings did the illustrations, rather than Seuss himself. No, whenever Seuss (Theodore Geisel) wrote as Theo. LeSieg, someone else was doing the pictures.
You can't quite put your finger on it. So you turn to your friend who's making it a point of re-reading every Seuss book as an adult. (That's your humble reviewer waving his hand in the air.)
Here's what it is: Seuss usually created a world of invented creatures and things that - within the context of the story - were real. That Cat in the Hat isn't a figment of anyone's imagination. He's a character in the story, just as genuine as the human siblings he torments.
In contrast, Seuss presents a book here that takes place in the real world, where it's pretty much understood that the First of Octember doesn't actually exist. So if you covet a mythical creature for a pet, or an electronic device that only exists in the imagination - or even something real but expensive - the First of Octember is when it will be delivered.
You'll get your non-existent gift on this non-existent day!
a big green kangaroo.
you would like to have TWO.
I want you to have them.
I'll buy them for you...
...if you'll wait till the First of Octember.
This could have been a little depressing. Seuss, the champion of imagination, who previously made anything seem possible, now telling readers that it was all just a lie. You want a new Jook-a-ma-Zoon? A Jeep-a-Fly kite? Sure thing, kid. When heck freezes over.
But it doesn't read like that. Instead it reads like a celebration, the announcement of a new holiday that'll exceed Christmas and birthdays combined. A day we can actually look forward to. You can take that cruise you always dreamed of...
Want to take a great trip?
Well, I know a great ship!
It sails to Alaska,
Nebraska and Sweden,
making stops in Ga-Dopps
and the Garden of Eden.
And it sails on the First of Octember!
It's quite the tightrope the book walks. To me, the book makes the point - to parents, actually - that saying no is all about presentation.
I remember taking my daughter to the grocery store. As kids do, she would ask for things I didn't intend to get her. I quickly learned there was a better answer than a brusque "No!"
Instead, I made No fun. I sang funny No songs. I made silly No faces. She asked me for things she KNEW I wouldn't get her just to hear me say, "No!"
The focus shifted from what she wasn't getting to the joy of silliness.
That's what Seuss manages here. You can say, "No," to your kids, but you can do it in a positive way. You can make it fun. The First of Octember is that magical day when anything is possible.
I'm reminded of the sweetest scene in one of my favorite movies, The Sixth Sense. Reunited after school and work, instead of sharing their disappointing day, the bullied boy and his distraught mother share a pretend day, the school day/workday of their dreams. It brings them both joy to do so, and their positivity foreshadows better real days ahead.
That's the philosophy of Please Try to Remember the First of Octember! And it's a much nicer answer to an unreasonable request than "When pigs fly."
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