You have to love the cover of Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss: a large, friendly-looking bird flies through the sky, holding aloft a birthday cake with dripping candles. It’s a cover that promises fun, Dr. Seuss’s marvelous brand of fantasy, and deliciousness galore.
And the book delivers on all counts.
The story is a wonderfully colorful account of how they celebrate birthdays in the land of Katroo. As you’d expect from a book by Dr. Seuss, it’s a little different from what we do here. In Katroo, you are awakened in the morning by the Great Birthday Bird, who flies in through the window and greets you with the “Secret Katroo Birthday Hi-Sign and Shake/That only good people with birthdays may make.” From there, the bird leads you on all kinds of fantastic adventures. You climb to a high peak and shout, “I am I!” You eat hot dogs rolled on a spool. You wash off the mustard in the Mustard-Off Pools, which are fabulous terraced pools built on a hillside (as a kid, I wanted desperately to be the little boy in the picture, swan-diving joyfully from one pool to the next). You are serenaded by Drummers, Strummers, and Zummers, as well as by Dr. Derring’s Singing Herrings. And at the end of the happy, wonderful day, the bird flies you home on a very soft platter, putting you gently into your bed, where you dream about the day you’ve just had.
It’s quite the celebration.
This book is a part of our collection thanks to our good friend Trish, who gave it to us as a gift last year. In her family, they’ve made a tradition out of reading it aloud on each child’s birthday, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to end the day. More than any other kid’s book I know, this book teaches the importance of celebrating the people in your life … and that’s a message that you just can’t hear enough, at any age.
In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that these kinds of celebrations should be a priority for me. Life is short. Time passes. The people we care about won’t always be here. (As we edge closer to the anniverary of 9/11, that’s a message that hits home in a particularly sober way.)
Admittedly, it’s an effort to throw a party. It is often tough to get folks together, to clean the house and buy the drinks and hunt down the birthday candles, but there is no better investment, really, than a few hours in the company of the people we love. When you come right down to it, the best gifts we have in life are our friends and family. Sometimes, it’s easy for an introvert like me to forget that, or to default to time alone rather than in the company of others. But I like this book because it’s a glorious, exuberant, vibrant hymn to the joy of celebrations. It’s a reminder that the people we love deserve the hot dogs and the singing herrings and the mustard-off pools, or the closest approximation that we can give them outside of Katroo. At the very least, they deserve to know that they matter to us, that they are a unique splash of color on the canvas of our lives … and that the picture would be a lot less exciting without them.
What the Birthday Bird
Does in Katroo.
And I wish
I could do
All these great things for you!