by Bob Simmons, executive director, Council for Children’s Rights
Here at Council for Children’s Rights, we are big fans of Horton, Dr. Seuss’ lovable hero. We love him so much that last year we adopted him as our internal symbol of commitment and excellence in service. At our monthly staff meeting, we honor one of our colleagues with a Horton’s Hero Award: a simple plush toy elephant and an inscription in our agency copy of Horton Hears a Who. It’s our way of encouraging each other by recognizing and supporting the great work everyone is doing to advance our mission to serve children in our community.
For those unfamiliar with the story, while splashing in a small pond Horton hears a speck of dust calling for help and he correctly surmises that a tiny person lives on the speck. He discovers that the speck is actually a tiny world, home to the Whos. When the Mayor of Whoville asks Horton to protect them, Horton happily agrees, proclaiming throughout the book “a person’s a person no matter how small.”
Nobody else in the jungle can hear the voices of the Whos, so Horton is mocked and must defend the Whos from those who cannot hear and will not believe. Despite daunting challenges and enormous obstacles, Horton stands firm and speaks out to protect this community of small people who remain invisible and unheard to others.
Horton is our hero because of his compassion, his tenacity, and, most importantly, his ability in the end to make the voices of the Whos heard and to rally the larger community to recognize both the Whos’ humanity and the community’s obligation to protect those who are the smallest and most vulnerable among them.
Theodore Geisel, who wrote under the pen name Dr. Seuss, was inspired to write the book after a post-war trip to Japan. He’d been invited to assess the effects of the war and the postwar era on Japanese children. There he visited schools, and had over 100 teachers assign their students to draw pictures of what they hoped to be when they grew up. The book’s theme and underlying commitment to humanism were inspired by those pictures and experiences in Japan, where the importance of the individual was still considered a new concept.
The writer A. O. Scott has remarked “it is exactly that humanism – which is the central lesson of the Horton story, and this lesson – we shouldn’t have to be reminded, it’s worth teaching over and over and over again to both children and adults alike. The message of the worth of individuals… Was relevant when the book came out in 1954… And remains relevant today.”
In nominating a colleague for our award, one of our staff recently wrote, “Children are children, no matter how troubled. We cannot, and should not, expect perfection, but instead strive for progress. No child should be defined by the sum of their offenses or labeled by their negative behaviors because they are so much more than that.”
Children are human beings with human rights. Today, the rights, humanity, and needs of our children for protection are greater than ever. You, our family of advocates, work with us to spread this message of humanity every day for every child in our community – even when the trauma and stress of the child’s life produce behavior that might try even Horton’s famous patience.
A person’s a person no matter how small. That persistent hopefulness is why we all must put children first. They are counting on all of us to stand with them every day, especially on their bad days. They are counting on you.
You are heroes to the children we serve. You are heroes to each of us at the Council, protecting and supporting this vital work, believing in us and in the children when others have not. You have heard the voices of the small and vulnerable among us and you have responded faithfully and generously.
As 2018 approaches, may we all commit ourselves to be the hero each child needs. And may the New Year be a good one for you and yours.
Be a hero to children today. Now more than ever they need our protection and support.