Dr. Seuss in Congress: Why Rhymes Appeal to Children

Sen. Ted Cruz reads the Seuss classic, "Green Eggs and Ham," on the Senate floor. (Image credit: YouTube screengrab from Associated Press)

"I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-am."

Those immortal words, penned by Theodor Seuss Geisel — better known as Dr. Seuss — are now part of the official congressional record, courtesy of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Cruz read from the children's classic "Green Eggs and Ham" (Random House, 1960) during a marathon all-night speech, his ill-fated effort to cut funding for the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare."

For critics who believe these desperate legislative shenanigans are juvenile, research supports their claim: Rhymes are very compelling for young children, and their brains seem to process them even better than they process the meanings of other words. [11 Facts About Baby Brains]

"I will not eat them with a mouse. I will not eat them in a house. I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere."

In a 2004 study, researchers read lists of words to young children and then asked them to recall and recite the words they'd heard. The words on the list were all related: A child might hear "nap," "bed," "rest," "dream," "doze" and "snore," for example. Adults taking the test often add the word "sleep" into the list, though it appears nowhere on the original list — the other sleep-related words tricked their brain into assuming the word's presence, researchers surmised.

But young kids responded differently: Instead of adding new words based on meaning, 5-year-olds added new words that rhymed with the words on the list. A child who heard "nap," for example, might throw in "map" or "cap." In their brains, the rhyme overrode the meaning. As children grow older, they seem to grow out of this tendency, the researchers reported.

"I could not, would not, on a boat. I will not, will not, with a goat. I will not eat them in the rain. I will not eat them on a train."

And because rhyming helps children learn to read, Dr. Seuss is recognized as being ahead of the rhyming curve. "He nicely sets it up for them," Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski, an educational consultant, told LiveScience in an earlier interview. "He introduces it to them in a fun way before they ever have to make sense out of print."

It's worth noting that "Green Eggs and Ham" is a tale of hidebound resistance to change, which — when eventually overcome — results in a happy outcome for all.

"If you will let me be, I will try them. You will see. Say! I like green eggs and ham! I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!"

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Marc Lallanilla
Live Science Contributor
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at About.com and a producer with ABCNews.com. His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TheWeek.com. Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.