Dr. Seuss is hitting the road this fall with a large interactive exhibit that will immerse visitors in some of the most iconic books by the beloved children’s writer.
The exhibit is centered on a maze based on “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” the Dr. Seuss book that urges children to explore the world and move mountains despite the pitfalls and challenges. Children and adults will be able to explore rooms based on “The Cat in the Hat,” ″The Lorax,” “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?” and other works.
The 15,000-square-foot exhibition announced publicly Wednesday is scheduled to open in Toronto in October. There are plans to take it to Boston, Seattle, Houston and several other North American cities.
Not only do Dr. Seuss’ more than 40 books have crazy rhyme structures and illustrations that are uniquely Seussian (many of the plants apparently were inspired by succulents at the San Diego Zoo), but Theodor Seuss Geisel also had a political agenda that he worked into some of his silliest-sounding books. And so, despite writing for kids, he voiced his opinion on dictatorships, nuclear proliferation and participatory democracy.
Friday marks the opening of the latest
Photo: The 1954 Dr. Seuss book “Horton Hears a Who!” became a film of the same name in 2008. (20th Century Fox / Associated Press)
“When it was reviewed, people said it was a rhymed lesson in the protection of minorities and their rights. Like the Whos, Seuss argues minorities deserve rights even as they have less power. This was significant if you consider that that Brown vs. the Board of Education was taking place at the same time he was writing the book. It was implicitly and explicitly an anti-discrimination book.” (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.)
“During a trip to Japan [in the early 1950s] Seuss saw how democracy and participatory democracy was taking hold there and how allied occupation had changed things. He visited Japanese schools and saw the importance the individual was taking on in Japanese society. The importance the individual has in making a democracy work is key to ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ It is important that everyone makes his voices heard.” (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp)
“He was a liberal democrat, a New Deal democrat. He supported Roosevelt and the Democratic Party throughout his life. ‘The Butter Battle Book,’ which came out in 1984, was a critique of the arms race Reagan had started and nuclear proliferation.” (Mandeville Special Collections)
“The most political ones were written after the war: ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ was anti-discrimination; ‘The Sneetches’ was an opposition to anti-Semitism; ‘Yertle the Turtle’ was about the rise of Hitler, an anti-fascist children’s book; ‘The Lorax,’ about taking care of the environment; and ‘The Butter Battle Book.’ There are other ones with political messages, but those are the most obviously engaged.” (Amazon.com)
“It is important to remember that Seuss told a lot of stories about himself and the press would write them. That’s fine, he was a creative person, and he’s a storyteller. The story he told about his name was that he was saving his real name for the great American novel. That’s not true.” (Masterson Productions)
“In his senior year at Dartmouth, in the spring of 1925, he was editor of and contributor to the Jacklelantern, a humor magazine, and he and his friends were caught drinking gin in his room. He was suspended from working on the magazine, so he started using different names so he could still contribute. One was Seuss. Then as a magazine cartoonist he calls himself C. Theophrastus Seuss. (Theophrastus was the name of a stuffed toy dog he had as a child. He used that in 27 of his cartoons and then shortened it to Dr. Seuss. Seuss is his mother’s maiden name and should probably be pronounced ‘Soice’ [rhymes with voice].” (Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P.)
“Helen, his first wife, could not have kids, and when he married his second wife, he inherited two teenage daughters. So he didn’t have kids [of his own] but not by his choice. His response to kids is essentially that kids are like adults. Some you enjoy the company of and some you don’t. People would ask him, why he didn’t have children but wrote for them. He said, ‘You make ‘em. I’ll amuse ‘em.’ ”
Photo: “The Cat in the Hat” became a 2003 movie, with, from left, Spencer Breslin, Mike Myers and Dakota Fanning. (Universal Studios)
“I wanted to explore the books and bring the characters to life in a new and engaging way,” said Susan Brandt, president of San Diego-based Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company founded by Audrey Geisel, the late widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel, who under the pen name Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated dozens of children’s books.
Because the exhibit is based on Geisel’s children’s books, there are no references to his earlier and more controversial political cartoons.
The maze inspired by “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” features thousands of suspended balloons.
Visitors entering “The Lorax” room can wander through a forest of truffula trees. The “If I Ran the Circus” room features a working carousel, while “Horton Hears a Who!” consists of a field of waist-high pink clover.
The exhibit is a partnership between Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Kilburn Live, a division of Los Angeles-based entertainment company Kilburn Media.
The Dr. Seuss Experience, more than two years in the making, is unlike anything the company has been involved in before, and that’s what attracted Kilburn to the project.
The exhibit is not just about promoting literacy but about the pro-social messages in Dr. Seuss’ books, Kilburn founder and CEO Mark Manuel said.
“The Lorax” teaches environmental stewardship, while “The Sneetches and Other Stories” teaches tolerance and individuality, he said.
The exhibit will change in every city. Some rooms will be flipped out to be replaced by rooms based on other Seuss classics. The rooms will even change based on the time of year, with a “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” room planned for the holiday season.
“Our goal is to have children shriek with joy,” Manuel said.