In celebration of Dr. Seuss birthday on March 2 some library classes have been reading his books or watching some of the older animated films. I love Dr. Seuss for many reason, probably the same reasons as most of you. Dr. Seuss made children’s books fun and whimsical. The rhyming and nonsense force you to pay attention to the story to understand the meaning. His illustrations come from the imagination. All these things are great, wonderful, to be celebrated but I think the biggest reason I love Dr. Seuss is because, as a child, he asked me to think.
Some people like to argue that a great many Dr. Seuss books aren’t actually intended for children. They say the books are in reality too complex forcing the reader to deal with issues that are perhaps a bit more adult than child like. I remember reading The Lorax as a child and thinking about the environment or contemplating life after reading Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Sometimes, Dr. Seuss was more simplistic when he asked me to think as in Horton Hears a Who. Most children understand the main theme, “a person’s a person no matter how small”. Other times the complexity of Dr. Seuss is not quite understood by younger audiences. The Butter Battle Book for example is one of his more political books dealing with war, the race to arms, and prejudices or even racism. Yet, I remember reading the book as a child and kinda getting it. Even those silly books ask you to think, to use your imagination and wonder about your world.
While contemplating how I was going to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday in the library this year I kept going back to the idea that Dr. Seuss asks you to think. I decided to read The Butter Battle Book to kindergarteners. While reading I asked them many questions including, what do you think is going to happen next? Most of the answers I got where the Zooks or Yooks are going to make a bigger weapon or they are going to fight each other. A few of the children thought the Zooks and Yooks were silly. Just about everyone hated the ended. The fact that there is no ending, that Dr. Seuss leaves us with “we will see” did not sit well with the Kindergarteners. They are not used to unhappy endings or rather, no endings.
In 4th grade I showed them the animated 1989 version of The Butter Battle Book. This time there were some shouts of these guys are crazy or its not going to work. One particularly observant student yelled “It’s an atomic bomb” when the final and smallest weapon of the book was presented. Once more, when the ending came no one was happy. Most of the children felt cheated and wanted to know what I thought happened. I of course asked them what they thought happened. The 4th graders thought that the Yooks dropped the bomb faster but wondered about the grandson and his safety. I heard shouts of “just drop it”, “the other side was mean they deserve it”, and “no that won’t stop anything”.
Thank you Dr. Seuss for asking us to think. I am now going to read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and think about all the lovely, crazy, cool and wacky animals that can be found in this world.