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Absorbing the Rhythm in Your Bones: Lesléa Newman's First Book Love

Today in our First Book Loves series, we hear from Lesléa Newman, author of over 70 books for adults and children, including A Letter to Harvey Milk and Sparkle Boy.

From Lesléa:

My first book love was The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. Reading that book, or rather having my dad read it to me was simply magical. The rhythm! The rhyme! The naughtiness! The cat! I was just transfixed and enthralled as I listened to a story of a bored brother and sister (my brother and I were frequently bored) and how an unexpected visitor changed everything.

I loved The Cat In The Hat and all his silly tricks, I loved The Fish who protested so strongly, I loved Thing One and Thing Two who popped out of the big red box, but most of all, I fell in love with language when I heard what Dr. Seuss could do with words. The bounciness of the prose was instrumental in carrying me through the story and I absorbed the rhythm into my very bones.

Many years later, I wrote children’s books in verse, such as Cats, Cats, Cats and Dogs, Dogs, Dogs which made use of rhythm and rhyme in similar ways. I was and still am amazed at how Dr. Seuss could make me laugh out loud with his words and illustrations. Perhaps this is why I became a cat person! I also love One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and Hop On Pop (I think my dad regretted reading that one to us because we took it literally and hopped on him quite frequently after that). I guess you could say that Dr. Seuss was and will always be my first love.

I am so lucky to live in western Massachusetts very close to the recently opened Dr. Seuss Museum. The museum, which contains Dr. Seuss’ actual chair, drawing board and famous red telephone is like a religious shrine to me. It doesn’t surprise me that Dr. Seuss’ books are still on the bestseller lists. Nobody writes the way he does.

I think the book of mine that comes closest to emulating his style is The Boy Who Cried Fabulous. Told in rhyme, it’s about a boy named Roger who is always late because he is distracted by all the fabulous things he sees. His parents banish the word “fabulous” form his vocabulary, but that doesn’t stop Roger, who finds other ways to express his exuberance. And The Cat In the Hat is nothing if not exuberant.

Reading the book now, as an adult, puts me in touch with the playful child I once was, and that child is who I need to be in touch with in order to write for kids. So I thank Dr. Seuss and The Cat In The Hat for keeping that joyful child alive in me.

More about Lesléa:

Lesléa Newman is the award-winning author of over 70 books including Heather Has Two Mommies, A Letter To Harvey Milk, Writing From The Heart, In Every Laugh a Tear, The Femme Mystique, Still Life with Buddy, Fat Chance and Out of the Closet and Nothing to Wear.

She is the author of many books for adults that deal with lesbian identity, Jewish identity and the intersection and collision between the two. Other topics Ms. Newman explores include AIDS, eating disorders, butch/femme relationships and sexual abuse. Her award-winning short story, A Letter To Harvey Milk has been made into a film and adapted for the stage.

In addition to being an author, Ms. Newman is a popular guest lecturer, and has spoken on college campuses across the country including Harvard University, Yale University, the University of Oregon, Bryn Mawr College, Smith College and the University of Judaism. From 2005-2009, Lesléa was a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine.

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