Dr Seuss Week is Feb 25th to March 2nd (his birthday)
First and foremost, Happy Birthday Mr. Theodor Seuss Geisel! In his 87 years of life (1904-1991) he has encouraged and reawakened the imaginations of children around the world with his books. From And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street in 1937 to Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in 1991, there’s something for every reader to love and enjoy.
Growing up, I learned a love of reading from my mom. She would read to me and my siblings, making sure to give each character a voice and teach the musical cadence of reading rhymes. Soon I learned that she didn’t even need to look at some books when reading them. Three guesses which ones those were, and your first two don’t count. That’s right, they were Dr. Seuss books! Green Eggs and Ham was the most memorable. The repetition of “I will not eat them here, I will not eat them there…etc.” can get quite monotonous if you’re not careful. I later learned that that particular book was one of the first ones she herself remembered reading and therefore memorizing.
I soon found myself copying her example when I had my own kids, reading Dr. Seuss’s ABC, Hop on Pop, and The Foot Book from memory, just to name a few. One thing I love about these books is that even though they were written decades earlier, their messages still ring true (if a message exists in them, because some were just nonsensical fun!)
The Sneetches The title characters seems to be a type of bird, where some of them have a star on their bellies while others do not. The ones with stars think they’re better than the ones without and constantly exclude them from common activities. Cue in an entrepreneur who takes advantage of this situation by having a machine that can put a star on their bellies. Once they all have stars, the ones originally with are worried that they can’t tell one from another so they want their stars removed. There is a second machine introduced that’ll remove the stars. Next, the Sneetches run back and forth between the machines, spending all their money, and they end up so confused by the end of the day that they no longer remember which ones were who. Sneetches now can have anywhere from zero to three stars on their bellies and all get along famously. This story is a clear interpretation about racial inequality. Presented in cartoon form, it can be much easier to see the insanity of believing that one type of person is better than another just because of some physical aspect which they may or may not be born with or have any control.
Yertle the Turtle Yertle is the king of all turtles in his little pond. His throne consisted of a single stone and he ruled all he could see. He decided he wanted to see more so he ordered more turtles to stand underneath him so that he could see further and rule additional creatures. First it was nine turtles, then two hundred. At every stages he ignores those beneath him and their pleas for rest and food. There comes a breaking point for every turtle under the sun so it comes as no surprise that it gets reached by the turtle at the bottom of the pile as the king is ordering several thousand more turtles to raise him up. There is a burp that shakes up the turtle throne and they all come crashing down, the king having risen so high has the longest to fall. It’s not until the final page that the moral comes into play. I cannot summarize any better so allow me a quote.
“And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”
Once we learn that Yertle was a metaphor for the notorious Adolf Hitler it becomes quite clear what Mr. Geisel thought about Hitler and his authoritarian regime. We can do well to remember the failures of history to prevent it from being repeated.
As a parting note, here’s a short poem from Alexander Laing, a colleague of Mr. Geisel’s.
“You’re wrong as the deuce
And you shouldn’t rejoice
If you’re calling him Seuss.
He pronounces it Soice (or Zoice)”