Oh the Places You'll Go! Dr. Seuss museum opens its doors
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Squiggly, pink handrails can be found outside the entrance to the front hall. Everywhere, the new Amazing World of Dr. Seuss museum says, "You're off to Great Places!"
Walking into the museum that opened in the author and illustrator's hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, is like walking into one of his beloved children's books.
The museum is dedicated to Theodor Geisel. He wrote under the pen name Dr. Seuss. He both wrote and illustrated dozens of rhyming children's books. They included "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham."
The museum features interactive exhibits and artwork never before displayed publicly. The museum helps to explain how his childhood experiences in Springfield shaped his work. The city is about 90 miles from Boston.
"He would absolutely be at ease here," said Leagrey Dimond. She is one of Geisel's stepdaughters. (He didn't have any biological children). "And to know that he's going to be here permanently, safe, protected, that people who want to know more are going to make this trip here to see him...it's perfect."
Examples of Geisel's early advertising work and World War II-era propaganda and political illustrations that critics consider racist are absent. But that's because the museum is aimed primarily at children. This is according to Kay Simpson. She is president of the Springfield Museums complex.
The organization has in the past hosted exhibits of Geisel's wartime work, she said.
Kids are definitely the focus of the first floor of the museum. It was created in conjunction with Dr. Seuss Enterprises. That is the family company that protects Geisel's legacy. It features games and climbable statues of Horton. There are the stack of turtles from "Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories" and Thing 1 and Thing 2 from "The Cat in the Hat."
"This museum is about visitors encountering the creatures that sprang out from Ted Geisel's imagination. They include Horton, the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax and Sam I Am. Those characters got kids excited about reading. (That) was really his preoccupation later on in his career," Simpson said.
Visitors are taken through Geisel's boyhood bedroom and his grandparents' bakery and brewery. Different rooms are painted in brilliant blues and radiant reds. The rooms are decorated in almost fanatical detail with scenes from the books.
The museum's second floor has a more intimate feeling. It includes the actual furnishings and assorted knick-knacks from Geisel's studio. They came from his La Jolla, California, home. That is where he lived until his death in 1991. He was 87. Even his collection of 117 bowties is on display.
But by not referencing Geisel's wartime work, which often stereotyped the Japanese, the museum is telling only half the story. That is according to Katie Ishizuka. She has written on Geisel's work.
"They don't acknowledge the full picture of him or they try to minimize that or sweep it under the rug," said Ishizuka. She is director of The Conscious Kid Library. The library lends what she says are more diverse and appropriate books for young readers.
Even in Geisel's children's books, characters of color are subservient or secondary to the white characters. Or, they are depicted as stereotypes and caricatures, she said.
Dimond never heard a prejudiced word out of Geisel, she said. But she knows he had some regrets about the wartime work.
"If there is criticism of Ted, it has its place," she said. "I know that he changed with the times."
The museum is expected to draw about 100,000 visitors annually.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is Dr. Seuss worthy of a museum?
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