“Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive more youer than you.”
That comes from Happy Birthday To You, one of the myriad of books in the catalog of Dr. Seuss masterpieces that decorate many a bookshelf and have influenced any number of childhood, and foster a creativity across all ages.
And today, March 2, 2017 marks the 113th birthday of Dr. Seuss, or Theodore Geisel, as he was born.
You look quite terrific for one hundred thirteen,
the lessons from you, we still every day glean.
These days, it’s hard to think of a time before Seussian rhyming and characters like the Grinch and the Cat in the Hat weren’t part of our everyday culture. Words like Nook, and Grinch have become a part of our lexicon.
There is so much that could be talked about personally about Geisel, who was born to German immigrants in Springfield, Massachusetts. He experienced quite the share of discrimination and hate as a child as Americans fought Germany in the era of The Great War, now known as World War I. He lived on Mulberry Street, and it’s been said that on walks with his older sister, other children would throw bricks at them, spout hateful threats and call them names due to their heritage. It’s said he was the final scout in line to receive a medal when Theodore Roosevelt came to town, but by the time it was his turn, he received no medal but a lecture from Roosevelt. Some historians theorize that anti-German people within the town tampered with the medal count that day and believe that incident teamed with the screaming lecture from TR may have led to the classic Horton Hears a Who Line “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Throughout many, if not all of his tales, Geisel seems to have a common theme that resonates no matter our age – fairness, justice for what’s right, doing the right thing, and celebrating the differences among all of us.
Whether it’s Horton in Horton Hears a Who, trying to save the Whos that are on the head of the flower despite the other creatures of the jungle making life downright miserable and tortuous for him, the Sneetches learning that just because some have stars on their bellies and some do not does not mean that they’re truly any different from each other and can get along, or the importance of opening our eyes to what is around us and seeking out knowledge to better understand people, places and our shared world in I Can Read with My Eyes Shut, it’s all about learning to better understand each other.
So many of these books that we read as children, we now read to our own kids. A well-preserved copy of One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish of mine now sits on my son’s bookshelf amid other classic Seuss outings as well as some newer editions by new authors influenced by his trademark style. Most notable of these newer entries is The Cat in the Hat Learning Library series, which our son adores, each book engaging young minds as the Cat and his rhymes teach about everything from bugs, to space, to money, or animals.
One of the running gags between my son and I are to suddenly take our conversations into rhyming territory, going back and forth, sometimes to a point where he ends up making up his own Seussian type words just to keep the rhyme going.
And while it’s all in good fun, it’s even better to know that some researchers say there’s more than just the silliness behind Dr. Seuss’ rhymes.
“The words that he made up are fun for children — they see the cleverness behind the word construct and the meaning of the word,” said Ann Neely, a professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee told Live Science in 2015.
It is true that some parents have concerns about the silly, made-up Seussian words, that it could lead to confusion in children, but Neely goes on to say that all that nonsensical jumble actually helps children on the path to reading, raising their awareness of the sounds that letters make.
“The words that he made up were often funny, and it helps children with their literacy skills later on as they’re learning to read if they’ve heard how language can be played with,” Neely also told Live Science.
She added that the predictable rhythm of the sentences also could play a large role in teaching children to read.
“That gave children confidence in their own reading ability,” Neely said. “In some ways, it’s like Mother Goose rhymes, in that when we say, ‘Oh, he’s like Humpty Dumpty,’ we know that it’s because ‘all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.'”
Theodore Geisel or Dr. Seuss leaves a legacy that still carries on generation after generation, and as I say, it’s hard to imagine a world without his imagination, his doodles, his rhyme, and his wonderful way to make us all think about the world we share.
“Shout loud, I am lucky to be what I am! Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham! Or a dusty old jar of gooseberry ham!”
What’s your favorite Seussian tale?
Some time back I publicly gushed about what I normally gush about to any parent who will listen – my love of the PBS Kids series Odd Squad.
For those uninitiated, Odd Squad is an organization run by kids that investigate anything odd. Be it people who drink lemonade that turns their head to lemons, being turned into puppets, or stopping blobs and flying books, the agents of Odd Squad are on the case. Using (and through the power of entertainment and television, teaching) math skills, they get the job done with a lot of fun along the way.
And come on. Their Rogues Gallery is made up of the likes of Odd Todd, Noisemaker, Fladam, Symettric Al, Shapeshifter and more, this is creative gimmick-villainy on par with baddies out of Gotham City or The Flash.
It’s the kind of show you love to watch with your kids because it’s just as entertaining for the adults as it is for the young ones. And I love it.
At the time I originally wrote, the show was setting up for a big transition trading in its two leading characters of 40 episodes for, at the time, new, unknown characters. And with so much love for (original agents) Olive and Otto’s adventures combating odd, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
But I had faith in the show’s creators to keep the laughs and lessons coming in the same way they had since the beginning, despite any new faces.
And new faces is what we got. Gone were straight-laced Olive (Delila Bela) and goofball Otto (Filip Geljo), off to be bosses of their own Odd Squad branch. I had hoped we would get to keep scientist Oscar (Sean Michael Kyer) around a bit longer, but while his exit seemed necessary following quite the growth spurt between seasons, he did stick around for a few extra episodes to train a protege and allow his change to create perhaps one of my favorite jokes of the show..
We even get some more Dr. O (Peyton Kennedy) for a few episodes, which is fine by me, as her constantly introducing herself as “a doctor” and reminding people how they know her “we work together” never stops being funny.
The biggest upside is that despite the exits of beloved regulars, we still get Millie Davis as Ms. O at the helm, sending agents on their missions, making them scatter with a yell, and best of all, getting to show some great new sides to her with an enlarged role out from behind the boss’ desk in many episodes. She not only helps create a common thread throughout the various cast changes, but is just an absolute delight to watch.
I’m still holding out hope for another 1980s-set episode with Ms. O…sorry…Oprah when she was an agent.
Even Odd Squad arch-nemesis Odd Todd pops by for an episode in this hilariously titled Mid Day in the Garden of Good and Odd where the now reformed-Todd-turned-gardener helps the new agents crack a case only a former villain’s POV could. And along the way, Joshua Kilimnik once again gets the chance to show off his acting abilities jumping between cackling-Todd, conflicted-Todd, and master gardener-Todd.
But wait. All I’ve done is talk about who stuck around, right? Did this show even have a cast change? What are you doing to us, man?!
Okay, okay. So I wanted to get the kudos to the returning champs up front. So what are the major changes we’ve seen. The biggest, of course is who would fill the shoes of Olive and Otto as the squad’s main agents. For that we get the overly-excitable Olympia (Anna Cathcart) and the straight-laced, no-nonsense Otis (Isaac Kragten) in a somewhat personality reversal to Olive and Otto.
I waited a few episodes before deciding what I thought of this new team and I have to say…I like them. I really, really do. I can’t use the term pleasantly surprised because I had faith in the show’s creators to keep delivering the same great casting choices, writing, humor, and production that has made the show so darn enjoyable already. And they didn’t let us down.
The thing is, change can be tough for television audiences, but with Odd Squad, the concept lends itself to periodic change. Grown-ups aren’t allowed to be agents (only bumbling, hapless victims in town and man do I want to play one some day. would several years experience on camera as a News Anchor and a few decades of theater get me a shot? Guys?! Hello? Is this thing on?) so with that in mind, as agents age, they move on and new ones come in.
It’s built right into the concept and so far, the first round of transition has worked pretty well. Carrying over cast members where they can (Oscar for a few episodes, Ms. O and Dr. O more regularly into the new season) help create a level of comfort and familiarity for the audience as new faces emerge. Eventually, those new faces become the regulars as even newer faces could move in. It’s created to be self-sustaining, and the fresh faces means new characters, new situations, and keeps the writers, I would think, on their toes. Kid or adult, this show has never made a bad casting decision yet, providing some of the best acting and comedic timing I’ve ever seen in young actors. It’s hard to come by at any age and Odd Squad does it in spades every time.
The fact of the matter with any type of show that revolves around kids is that kids grow up. We all do. Fortunately with a show like Odd Squad, no matter our age, we can be a kid again.
I hope they’re solving missions for a long time.
The little guy and I went for a short walk when out of his mouth he says to me:
“Memories lose their meaning…”
When I asked him what he meant he said he had no idea, but my head began swirling nonetheless. I couldn’t shake it as we walked along, internally laying out the case with myself like Sherlock Holmes trying to unravel a mystery.
Anything we possess, the places where we live, it all comes and goes.
In the larger scheme of life, we’re here for such a short period of time.
In the end, our memories are all we have. But there are memories that fade. Things we can’t quite recall in the vivid ways we once did. Which ones start to fade and what dictates that they do? Is it because we are filled with new memories, or were they not vivid enough to burn permanent places in our brains?
I thought of the memory videos I make for the kids around each birthday time, filled with photos and videos of the previous year. I’m always amazed to see how he recalls things that happen when he was a baby, or a year, etc…something I’ve often wondered if could be attributed to the videos (which he enjoys watching and asks to see rather frequently) reinforce those memories, making them less likely to fade as quickly.
Where was this all coming from? What did it mean? What memories were once of the utmost importance to me but have since faded and lost their meaning?
And how was he so astute to blurt out this mind-blowing revelation to me on our walk?!
It rattled my brain.
Later, while riding in the car, after all that contemplation at this profound statement, Meg reminded me that it’s actually a line from the Beatles song In My Life.
He’s been a fan of the Beatles for some time, the Sgt Pepper album especially. Much like cartoons, comics and pop culture, a lot seems to come, not from us pushing anything on him, but his mere exposure to it through us – what we’re reading, watching, listening to. Some things he honestly admits he doesn’t like, and others (like superheroes, or The Beatles, or The Monkees, or certain Christmas songs) he latches onto and weaves it into the fabric of his own mind and personality.
Recently he found himself overjoyed upon our discovering a Netflix Original Series called Beat Bugs, a CGI animated series about a group of friends who are various bugs and learn valuable childhood and life lessons often told in musical number renditions of Beatles songs.
Oh, and did I mention that he recently told us his favorite Christmas song was Wonderful Christmas Time by Paul McCartney? It’s one of quite a catalog of Christmas songs he spontaneously has burst into this time of year.
It makes me happy to see a whole new generation discovering the music, the meaning, and the spirit of timeless bands, whether it The Beatles, or other favorites of his such as Mamas and the Papas or The Monkees.
And even if dear old daddy can’t tell the difference between a song lyric or a moment of profound life guidance from a preschooler.
Of course later that same day, from the backseat I hear…
“You have to let things wash over your victims.”
“What, buddy?” I ask.
He laughs, followed by a chuckling “I have no idea what that means.”
Me neither. Except that, sometimes it may be profound, sometimes it’s just repeating (or partially repeating) what they pick up elsewhere, or just kids being goofy kids.
And whatever it is, it’s a-okay by me. I’m just enjoying the ride.
Our family was recently driving back from a little weekend getaway. The kids were in the back seat, asleep at the same time for possibly the only portion of the multi-hour ride home, when Meg looked over from her magazine to the radio and read the song title currently playing on40s Junction, the 1940s Station – “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town.”
She went back to reading her magazine when, a moment later the words that came out of my mouth were “I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Accustomed to her husband being a weirdo, she took what seemed like a random response in stride, and even humored me when I explained the flow of logic that got me there in a split second that, in my mind, seemed like much longer.
“In a Shanty in old Shanty Town.”
She had read the word shanty town. Which made me think of Hoovervilles (the shanty towns built by homeless people) in the Great Depression, which made me think of Little Orphan Annie, which made me think of FDR. Who has played FDR more than anyone else, including in Little Orphan Annie – Edward Hermann. Edward Hermann was on Gilmore Girls. I liked him on Gilmore Girls. Netflix is making new Gilmore Girls movies. I wonder what they would’ve been like if Edward Hermann were still around. That’s right, Edward Hermann isn’t around anymore. I really liked his work. That makes me said.
“I forgot Edward Hermann passed away.”
Our brains can work in pretty weird ways, don’t they?
Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually sat down to talk a little bit about life, and that’s just because life’s been so crazy it’s been hard to find the time! As I’ve said before, I commend those of you who can post every day or even close to every day. Where do you find the time? Kudos.
So, with so much that has gone on, I couldn’t think of where to even begin as I try to get back to some semblance of regular updates on life.
And as if in answer to my internal dilemma, this morning awoke our son, now four. Four!!! His little hands holding the sheets up to his chin, grinning ear to ear, excited to tell me about the dream he just woke up from.
I’ll leave it in his own, delightful words:
“Me…and Supergirl…and Superboy…and all the other superheroes…and the Mickey Mouse characters…and gramma…and even the characters from Sesame Street…we all teamed up!!!
“And there was this special type of kryptonite…and it only affected businessmen. But not business ladies.
“And it turned them all into bizarros.”
Man, I want to have this kid’s dreams.
And how about gramma getting in on the super hero action?
When something’s odd in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call?
Nope, not those guys.
Not the ladies currently carrying the torch either.
Nope. You’re going to call a group of kids who work for an organization run by kids to investigate the odd.
You call Odd Squad.
I make no bones about my love of the show, which the whole family watches on PBS Kids. Like many great programs, it’s produced out of Canada (which might also explain the appearances by several members of the Kids in the Hall).
Created by Tim McKeon and Adam Peltzman, it’s also co-produced by the Fred Rogers Company (you know, of Mr Rogers) and features a cast of incredibly charming young actors who work for the titular Odd Squad, solving odd incidents with the use of math.
What kind of odd incidents? Well, the kind that certainly appeal to the imagination of a child…and most parents with a good sense of humor – people whose heads turn into lemons upon drinking lemonade, giant cat-spider hybrids, voice-overs following you around. If it’s odd enough, you call these kids.
Though the series premise allows for various Odd Squad agents to get their day in the sun, the core team is made up of four primary team members, partners Olive and Otto, their boss, the usually yelling Miss O, and Oscar, providing the team with gadgets like a Door-inator, the Shrink-inator, the TV-get-out-inator, and, well, you get the idea.
You notice the O pattern in the characters yet? It keeps going. Octavia, Olaf, Oren, etc.
The kid characters themselves hover just around the pre-teen age or younger, leaving the goofy and often clueless supporting characters of the episode (someone in trouble, a villain, etc) to just as well-cast adult actors.
Together, Olive, Otto, and other members of the team find themselves stopping the plans of villains like Odd Todd (who wants the world as odd as he is), Fladam (who stepped on a cube building block as a child and now sets out to flatten all cubes into flat squares), The Shapeshifter (who can change her shape into anything from a tree to another person), among many many other great adult guest stars.
There’s even one episode, the Agatha Christie/Clue-inspired “The Crime at Shapely Manor” that features 3 out of the 5 members of The Kids in the Hall – Kevin McDonald as Lord Rectangle, Mark McKinney as General Pentagon, and Scott Thompson as Professor Square.
But to stop the dastardly villains, the keys to cracking their schemes usually lie in solving any number of math problems, be it what color will Oscar’s infected hand turn next when one sees blue, blue, yellow, blue, blue…you guessed it, yellow, using measurement to stop an on the loose blue blob, or learning how to use a calendar to send a time duplicate of one of their own back into the past. And these math problems are often woven into the storyline so seamlessly that even I don’t seem to notice I’m getting a lesson in the subject I needed the most help in back in school.
Yes, this show provides some valuable math lessons for little ones in a way so entertaining that they’re bound to remember. My son brings up patterns all the time and I’m convinced that he picked it up from the numerous problems agents have had to solve through the use of patterns in the course of the series. But he doesn’t realize that. From his perspective, he’s watching an action-packed adventure with kids stopping threats to the world. The lessons just happen to come along the way amid the derring-do.
Here, in the world of Odd Squad, kids rule. They’re the ones in charge. They’re the ones you call for help when something is incredibly strange. That sense of empowerment is irresistible to both a child and the child still alive in each of us.
In January 2015, Forbes reported that the show’s special Odd Squad Saves the World reported 3.7 million viewers watching the broadcast on PBS with 44 million others watching the episode online. It is no wonder that Odd Squad is such a hit for PBS across age ranges, making it no surprise that a second season is now set to get well underway on June 20, 2016.
However, that new season won’t come without changes.
On Memorial Day, the episode that PBS promos touted as the one where “everything changes” lived up to its hype – with cast members Dalila Bela and Filip Geljo (Olive and Otto, respectively) receiving promotions to become a new “Ms and Mr O” (though, no Otto, you don’t have to get married) to co-run a branch of Odd Squad elsewhere.
I had a feeling this would happen sooner or later, as a show whose entire premise revolved around an organization run by kids can only keep kids in those roles for so long before they age out of them. Though the premise also lends itself to its own self-sustainability. As some cast members grow up and out, the show revolves around the organization, meaning new casts, new agents, new kids can come and go as the series grows. That’s not to say that the fun and charming acting of Bela and Geljo won’t be missed. They are a core reason for the show’s appeal. Though I’m sure both would likely want to be moving toward other material elsewhere in the way of film and television eventually anyway, it would be nice to see them from time to time in a guest appearance if the stars align.
I should note as well, that this episode that changed it all also could lead one to believe it’s the end (at least for now) for recurring villain Odd Todd, played wonderfully and humorously wicked by young actor Joshua Kliminik. As Olive’s former partner turned bad guy out for revenge, and Olive no longer a regular, it seems unlikely Odd Todd has much reason to hang around so much anymore.
It remains to be seen who will take Olive and Otto’s place as the show’s new primary agents, but while the casting of the show thus far has never failed, those are some big blue suits and red ties to fill. It’s comforting to know that the entire cast is not getting an overhaul, with Sean Michael Kyer (Oscar) and Millie Davis (Ms. O) remaining in their roles, hopefully alongside other characters like the hilariously droll lunch lady Oksana or the incredibly serious Dr. O.
I felt like I was watching a finale to any long-running prime time series where viewers inevitably get attached to the characters. When Otto and Olive hugged Ms. O and resident techie Oscar got ready to send the duo on their way, the often humorous actor Sean Michael Kyer had a twinge of sadness in his voice that echoed the same feeling inside many of us watching at home.
Was I really getting this invested in a live action PBS Kids show?
I was. I completely was. And that is due, in no small part to these wonderful young performers, and the writers, directors, and crew that help them bring this goofy, fun world to life each day.
This is not a kids show slapped together and called a day. It’s a goofy, fun, educational, but always entertaining romp that spans age groups and demographics with evident care put into each and every episode.
This show is so entertaining, so amusing, so well written and well acted (and seriously…the odds of finding an entire cast of great kid actors…it doesn’t happen often), makes Odd Squad so darn charming that you don’t even need to be a parent to enjoy it.
Now how in the world can I play one of those goofy grown ups…
I played hopscotch today. And it was marvelous.
The little guy wanted to play outside and after a roller coaster winter and early spring, it was gorgeous out. Did he want to bring anything with him? Toys, a ball? Nope. Armed simply with a box of chalk he wanted nothing more than to be out amid the sunshine and the grass of our backyard. And he wanted to be with me.
How could I say no?
He had been asking a lot about hopscotch lately. I’m not sure if he saw it in a cartoon or tv show, but thought this would be the perfect opportunity to show it to him and let him experience it himself. A few scratches of chalk on the sidewalk and our game board was set to go. I fished a small rock from a bucket of green waste headed to the curb and off we went on a crash course in hopscotch.
He didn’t care for it.
Well I shouldn’t say that. He was interested…until he had to jump on one foot. He had little care or desire and quickly walked off to the grass to look for sticks.
“You can play it, though,” he told me as he carried on with his own private adventure.
It could have ended there. I could have moved on. For some reason, though, I didn’t. Instead, I tossed the stone and off I went. One foot, the other, the first, two feet, etc, etc.
Maybe it’s because for several years I’ve lacked real exercise, but I loved it. I could have done it all day.
It wasn’t long, however, before I was wanted elsewhere and soon I had to leave hopscotch behind for a game of ‘chase the leprechaun,’ something Meg made up for him while outside enjoying some of the unseasonably warm weather around St. Patrick’s Day. He chased me around the yard as I shouted in a little Irish accent and got myself so exhausted, I admit needing to take a few rests upon the grass before we picked things up again. Hey, at least I got some sort of exercise in.
That whole afternoon out there got me thinking a bit. I feel like there are so many times in today’s world where we always feel the need to have something, to be entertained by something. But here we were armed with nothing more than some chalk and the sticks and flowers we found out in the yard along with our imaginations. And we had a blast.
There was a time, not too long ago, before tablets, smartphones, etc, when that’s how we did entertain ourselves. We went outside and what was there was what we came across and used to the best way we could.
There’s something almost…primal, reminiscent, rejuvenating about just running around, sitting in grass, looking at stocks and stones, and just skipping across a hopscotch board of chalk.
It felt good to get back to that. I should do it more often.