On Dr. Seuss’ birthday, which is also Read Across America Day, I wanted to take a moment to honor one of my favorite books. And as the title of this post suggests, it isn’t one of his more well-known titles like The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Those are great books, but Hooper Humperdink is far more obscure than that. But I’m all right with that, and I think he would be, too.
Hooper Humperdink…? Not him! was written under the pen name of Theo. Lesieg (the last name was Geisel–Seuss’ real name–spelled backwards) and published in 1976. It was illustrated by Charles E. Martin, so the Seuss name isn’t anywhere to be seen in this work. But the message–and Seuss’ work always had a message underneath the funny names and whimsical drawings–is one that will always resonate with me.
The narrator of the story is going to have a party, and he or she wants lots of people to come. Unfortunately, Hooper Humperdink was most emphatically not among them. As the guest list begins with A and works its way through the alphabet, the party keeps getting bigger and more outlandish than it was before. And by the time Z is reached, the narrator has a change of heart. It’s as if the narrator gives up and says “OK, OK, I’ll invite him after all.”
Hooper is on the outside looking in through the whole book. He watches as the kids who are wanted at the party show up, but we never get to hear from him directly. Our only clue as to what he is thinking is his facial expressions and body language, but they don’t suggest that Hooper feels bad about being left out. The natural reaction to seeing a big party that you’re not invited to is a mix of shame, humiliation, and resentment, but Hooper never seems to be in any of those places.
Hooper is finally invited, not to a massive blowout complete with a marching band and multiple sets of quintuplets and a cast of thousands, but to a small little gathering with a picnic table in the backyard. The point is that he’s wanted there, and that makes it all right with him (and his little dog, too). Happiness is found in simplicity and sincerity, rather than the narrator’s opulence and excess.
There was a second version of this story, which was illustrated by Scott Nash and released (with the Dr. Seuss name on the cover) at a later date. But the kids I knew in the late 1970s are more represented in the Charles E. Martin version of the book, and I’m glad that I came across that version of it first. I see a lot of myself in Hooper Humperdink, and maybe that’s why I appreciate it the way that I do.
As a lover of books from as far back as I can remember, I owe Dr. Seuss and Theo. Leseig an awful lot. That’s why I’m happy to take a few minutes to try and explain why. May his words and thoughts and images be appreciated forever.