My daughter’s elementary school is in full swing Dr. Seuss celebration this week, so I thought it seemed appropriate to to throw in some Dr. Seuss love. I have been a long time fan of Dr. Seuss and even wrote a term paper on him in high school. My love for his stories has changed over the years, but there is no doubt in my mind that this man was a genius. Here are some of my personal favorites.
By now we all know the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees, but when I first heard this story in the early ’90s, I was absolutely captivated by it. I’ve never been a big environmentalist, but the story is so spot on about not only speaking up for the environment, but speaking up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves for whatever reasons. It also does highlight all of the atrocious things that we are doing to our environment. Dr. Seuss wrote in back in 1971. I only wonder what he would say if he saw the state of our environment now.
I have a soft spot for dear old Horton and Horton Hears a Who. Such a marvelous story about a kind-hearted elephant. When he hears voices from a speck of dust, pleading for help, to find a stable, quiet place for them to live, he promises to help them. What he doesn’t expect is that the other animals in the forest are going to make it difficult for him, especially the head kangaroo who doesn’t believe in the Whos and who convinces every other animal that Horton is crazy and that they need to get rid of the speck. I always saw this as a book about standing up for the little people, not allowing a bully to have his way and to stand up for what you believe. Horton has a number of marvelous lines that we know by heart – “I said what I meant and I meant what I said, an elephant’s faithful 100%.”
Another story that was always powerful to me was Yurtle the Turtle. According to Seuss, Yurtle was a representation of Hitler, of a man who let power go to his head and needed to be toppled. Yurtle wanted to be ruler of all he could see and made the other turtles in the pond pile up below him so that his range of vision could keep expanding. Of course, having a pile of turtles on your back is rather difficult and the turtle at the bottom asked for respite. Yurtle refused, but in the end he wound up toppling into the mud.
Similarly, Star Bellied Sneetches, is a very powerful book about anti-Semitism and racism in general. They story of the Sneetches is about yellow bird-like creatures, with some who have stars on their stomachs, and others without. The “in” crowd are those who have the stars, and they look down on those who do not have it. Then a man named McBean comes to town with a machine that will put stars on your belly. When the original “out” crowd has stars, the “in” crowd goes through the machine to have their stars removed. This way, they can differentiate themselves once again and gain their superiority. The birds keep going through the machine until they run out of money and no one can remember if they originally had a star or not. They finally come to realize that they are not so very different after all.
Dr. Seuss was a man of amazing imagination. His book, Oh the Thinks you can Think, is a fabulous example of encouraging children to be creative. To think outside of the box and even outside of normal vocabulary. These days we put so much pressure on our kids to know all of the right answers that sometimes it is a good reminder that it is vitally important for them to explore, be creative, make mistakes and just have fun.
Wacky Wednesday is a book that doesn’t get a lot of play, but it was a favorite of mine as a child and now my younger daughter just loves it. Not all of his books had to have deep symbolic, some were just plain fun.
Oh the Places You Go was one of Dr. Seuss’s last books written in 1990. It gained large popularity as a graduation gift throughout the 1990s which is exactly when I was graduating from high school and college. At the time, I simply couldn’t understand why people thought this was a good graduation gift. Fast forward a number of years and I reread the book and the giant lightbulb went off. Not only could I understand it as a graduation gift, but as a gift to anyone who had gone through some seriously hard times. Not only does the book touch on making those first important life decisions, but it is a story of success and failure, of facing challenging times and finding your way out.
Dr. Seuss’s final book, which actually was never finished and was completed by Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith, is a powerful book that resonates a ton with parents these days with all of the tests that our kids face – Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! At Diffendoofer School, the teachers don’t necessarily follow all the rules and teach the kids a variety of things, but mainly, they teach them how to think for themselves, how to laugh, how to create. The principal is concerned about whether they are learning certain things and then one day it gets put to a test – “All schools for miles and miles around must take a special test, to see who’s learning such and such – to see which school’s the best.” If the students don’t perform well, they will close Diffendoofer down and everyone will have to go to dreary Flobbertown. Of course, the kids at Diffendoofer out-perform the other schools and everyone is happy in the end. I have a hard time with all of the tests that kids are subjected to these days and wonder if a little creativity isn’t the answer.
I could go on and on, and I’m not even mentioning the Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss just encouraged children to read and explore and have fun with it all. As I said before, a genius.