Sunday, January 13, 2008

Oh The Thinks He Could Think! (Favorite essays, Part 2)

Oh the Thinks He Could Think!

I swung ‘round the corner

And dashed through the gate,

I ran up the steps

And I felt simply GREAT!



~Theodor Geisel

Theodor Geisel, otherwise known as the illustrious Dr. Seuss, is one of the most innovative and celebrated authors of children’s books. Fifteen years after his death his distinctive and exhilarating style continues to capture the imaginations of millions of children. His ability to do so has played a large part in turning these children into avid readers. His themes, which typically carry an unobtrusive message, expand children’s minds by introducing them to the concepts of morals and social responsibility. His technique has revolutionized the way children’s stories are written as well as the way children (and adults) receive them. For over sixty-nine years, his stories are still enthusiastically read and are circulated across the globe. They are treasured by people of all ages and status. Most people already realize these things about the legendary Dr. Seuss, so the real question is: how does the unassuming Mr. Geisel accomplish it?
One way in which he achieves his success is through his famous writing style. Dr. Seuss stories are exciting because of the unique way in which they are written. Geisel characteristically writes his stories in anapestic tetrameter, which employs a simple limerick-like cadence. Thomas Fensch, in Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss, describes it this way:
An anapest is a metric foot consisting of two short unstressed syllables followed by a stressed syllable. In The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, editor Chris Baldick writes that this form was originally a Greek marching beat. Tetrameter is four metric feet to a line.
A perfect example [comes] from McElligot’s Pool:
‘Cause you never can tell
What goes on below!
This pool might be bigger
Than you or I know!
Fensch goes on to describe it as:
. . . a rhythm that pulls readers through the text. (Critics have suggested this is one reason children love the Seuss books.) Even more importantly, with the stress toward the end of the lines, the rhythm gallops. Children repeat it- they chant it, they sing the words.
Another writer, Jonathon Cott, expresses the power of Geisel’s style by saying, “. . . the anapest line embodies movement and swiftness. . .” Herein lies Geisel’s genius, for it is this quick pace with its teasing rhythm and the satisfying rhyme sequences that enchant young readers. Renthal states, “They delight in his rollicking rhythms, his unexpected rhymes, in sounds they can feel and taste on their tongues, in hearing his whip crack over the galloping syllables.” In other words, readers become mesmerized, hypnotized, and even energized.
Geisel deliberately uses anapests in a way that compels the reader to turn the page. According to Nel:
It’s fun to be carried along by the rhythm of the language, a characteristic which Seuss exploits when he completes an end rhyme on the following page. Seuss introduced this page-turning strategy in Horton Hatches the Egg, at the moment when Mayzie confronts Horton, demanding the return of her egg: “Poor Horton backed down, / With a sad, heavy heart. . .” The page ends. Turn it, and the rhyme completes: “But at that very instant the egg burst apart!”
As well as using this little trick of anapest-as-page-turner, Geisel also lures children into reading by offering them the delightful challenge of the tongue-twister. Reading his stories aloud not only develops strong readers, it also helps readers to develop strong tongues! Consider this:
First, we’re greeted by Drummers who drum as they come.
And next come the Strummers who strum as they come.
And the Drummers who drum and Strummers who strum
Are followed by Zummers who come as they zum.
Just look at those Zummers! They’re sort of like Plumbers.
They come along humming, with heads in their plumbing
And that makes the music that Zummers call zumming!
And all of this beautiful zumming and humming
And plumbing and strumming and drumming and coming. . .
In this way, Geisel encourages children to read for fun. They become so wrapped up in the game that they forget they are actually learning. What is more, they seek out his stories again and again. Thus, they become enthusiastic readers and in the process learn some important life-lessons along the way.
These life-lessons are another important facet of Dr. Seuss’s success. His stories are a platform on which he tackles important human issues which include but are not limited to: morals, politics, ethnicity, religion, and environmental responsibility. His stories, which are playful and seem silly, tend to prove that the real silliness lies in the behaviors of closed-minded people.

This concept is reflected in The Butter Battle Book. This story is about two societies who despise each other simply because one, the Yooks, chooses to butter its bread on the top and the other, the Zooks, chooses to butter the bottom:
“It’s high time that you knew
of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do.
In every Zook house and in every Zook town
every Zook eats his bread
with the butter side down!
“But we Yooks, as you know,
when we breakfast or sup,
spread our bread,” Grandpa said,
“with the butter side up.
That’s the right, honest way!”
Their stubborn determination to prove each other wrong leads them into an escalating rivalry for the perfect weapon. Ultimately they each end up with one so perfect that it will not only end the war once and for all, it will also end civilization as well! This book was meant as an anthem against nuclear arms. In American Icon Nel states that Geisel “. . . knew that the arms race between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. was dangerous. As Coretta Scott King said of The Butter Battle Book, ‘May the wisdom of this book help parents double their efforts for world peace, and may its wit help children forgive us our foolish antagonisms’ (Butter Battle press release).”
Another story with a similar purpose is the well-renowned How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Though many people interpret this story as an anthem for the spirit of Christmas, it is actually a secular statement about the bitterness that is cultivated by exclusion:
The thing that [the Grinch] specifically likes least of all is the Who-Christmas-Sing. He hates the sense of community among the Whos- . . . More than a treatise against rampant consumerism, the book promotes inclusiveness- a common theme in Ted’s stories, which often taught children tolerance. The real message of the book involves the true spirit of community, which has been lost.
What makes the story work is not just the message that “. . . Christmas. . . doesn’t come from a store,” but the fact that despite the Grinch’s dastardly behavior he is embraced by the community and given the gift of social inclusion:
“And what happened then. . .?
Well. . . in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
And he. . .
. . .HE HIMSELF. . .!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!

Stories like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Butter Battle Book and many others by Geisel teach children a lesson about the folly of bigotry and stereotyping. They teach children to embrace diversity and to celebrate individuality.

Another of Geisel’s celebrated stories with a moral lesson is The Lorax. In this book, the Once-ler tells a little boy the story of the Lorax, and of how the world became so polluted. This story involves economics, environmental pollution, and material greed. “As an icon of environmental conservation, The Lorax’s activist message endures: Unless people act upon their concerns, nothing will get better.”

 In the end the Once-ler gives the boy the last Truffula Tree seed and confers on him the hope for a better future. “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot/ nothing is going to get better/it’s not.”
Just as the Once-ler hands the boy the Truffula Tree seed, Geisel hands the hope for the future to children through his books. The clever rhyming and comedy of his stories captures the attention of young and impressionable minds. Cott states, “It is interesting to note that a child’s favorite books are often consciously the models for, or the most important influence on, his or her later beliefs and ways of living.” According to Nel, “In granting children the license to think freely, Seuss shows them that the world is what they make it. Children and adults, Seuss suggests, should use this ability to think creatively, participating in the world, learning from it, and when necessary doing what they can to make it better.” West concurs with Nel when she states:
If students can learn how to examine their world critically, forming theories and testing theories and applying theories, they will be better equipped to respond to problems and issues that arise in their everyday lives. They will have an invaluable tool to organize and analyze their lives and to develop more effective solutions to difficulties they may encounter. After all, this is what defines a true education.
Through his writings Geisel educates young readers by endowing them with a sense of social consciousness and personal responsibility for the condition of the world. This awareness gives them the power to think independently and to make comprehensive decisions about the way in which they conduct their lives. Consequently, their choices influence the world in which they live.
Geisel’s writings are not just a vehicle for this philosophy; they are also an example of it. His stories are proof that he believed in practicing what he preached. In 1955 he wrote what was for him an unusually serious poem. Called “Prayer for a Child”, it pleads for peace while suggesting a sense of duty for both God and himself:
From here on earth,
From my small place
I ask of You
Way out in space:
Please tell all men
In every land
What You and I
Both understand. . .
Please tell all men
That Peace is Good.
That’s all
That need be understood.
In every world
In Your great sky.
(We understand,
Both You and I.)
In his own frolicsome fashion, Theodor Geisel will continue to spread this message of peace, as well as ideas about tolerance, inclusiveness, and civic duty. He has had as much, if not more, impact on society as many of the great leaders throughout history; and because his stories are timeless, he will continue to do so for generations of children to come.

. . . You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose. . .
. . . And when things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.


Annotated Bibliography
Cohen, Charles D. “The True Spirit of the Grinch”. Your Favorite Seuss. Comps. Schulman,
Janet and Goldsmith, Cathy. New York: Random House Inc., 2004.
This source is an introduction to the story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The author also wrote The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing but the Seuss which gives him the knowledge and expertise to write about Geisel. This introduction gives an excellent interpretation of the message in The Grinch and how the story continues to affect society.
Cott, Jonathon. Introduction. Pipers at the Gates of Dawn. New York: Random House Inc., 1983.
This source is a book about the importance of literature for children. It covers some of the most important children’s authors, including Theodor Geisel, and explains why and how the author’s works are important.
Fensch, Thomas. Introduction. Of Sneetches and Whos and the Good Dr. Seuss Essays on the
Writings and Life of Theodor Geisel. Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc., 1997. 3.
This source is an introduction to a collection of essays by various authors about Theodor Geisel and his stories. Fensch uses the introduction to explain the significance of Theodor Geisel’s works and how to interpret them; he also includes an explanation of Geisel’s rhyming style and why it is crucial.
Geisel, Theodor. “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”. Your Favorite Seuss. 22.
This source is a story by Theodor Geisel about the cultivation of a boy’s imagination. In this paper it is used to reflect Geisel’s own unique imagination in story-telling.
Geisel, Theodor. The Butter Battle Book. New York: Random House. 1984. 5-6.

Annotated Bibliography Continued
This source is a children’s book. It tells the story of two societies who are at war with each other over the manner in which they butter their bread. Under the surface, however, it is a commentary on stereotyping, bigotry, and the futility of war.
Geisel, Theodor. “Happy Birthday to You!” Your Favorite Seuss. 226.
This source is a fantastical story about a birthday wish. It is also a good example of Geisel’s tongue-twisting rhyming style.
Geisel, Theodor. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Your Favorite Seuss. 186-188.
This source is a story in which a bitter character, the Grinch, learns the true meaning of Christmas still exists. It is an effort by Geisel to emphasize the importance of social acceptance and belonging.
Geisel, Theodor. “The Lorax”. Your Favorite Seuss. 335.
This source is a story about the destruction of the environment. It chronicles the story of society’s greed and their disinclination to pay heed to the Lorax, a creature who represents a healthy ecology. Their unwillingness to listen to the Lorax results in the devastation of their
world. It emphasizes the importance of every citizen to do their part in being responsible for the world in which they live.
Geisel, Theodor. “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” Your Favorite Seuss. 341-345.
This source is an inspirational message from Geisel about the limitless potential of a person in their life. It chronicles the ups and downs in the journey of life and offers a promise of personal success. In this paper it is used to prophecy the potential of Geisel’s impact on future generations.

Annotated Bibliography Continued
Geisel, Theodor. “Prayer for a Child.” Dr. Seuss: American Icon. New York: The Continuum
International Publishing Group Inc., 2004. 196.
This source is an uncommonly serious poem by Geisel. It expresses his wish of peace for the world and an answer to human suffering. It reflects the purpose behind all his story-writing.
Nel, Philip. Dr. Seuss: American Icon.
This source is a book which concentrates not only on the biography of Theodor Geisel, but also on the meaning of his stories and his personal objectives in writing them. The book also encompasses how Geisel’s stories have affected American culture and why they continue to be successful and significant in contemporary society.
Renthal, Helen. “25 Years of Working Wonder with Words”. Of Sneetches and Whos and The
Good Dr. Seuss. 38.
This source is an essay that emphasizes how Theodor Geisel revolutionizes children’s books. It describes the unique qualities of Geisel’s writing style and why he is so well received by his readers.
West, Angela D. “Horton the Elephant is a Criminal: Using Dr. Seuss to Teach Social Process,
Conflict, and Labeling Theory.” Journal of Criminal Justice Education. 16.2 (October 2005): 355.
This source is a scholarly journal that is an instructional tool for educators. It outlines an exercise that teaches students how to analyze theories and their connected facets. It incorporates the use of Theodor Geisel’s history and writings, specifically Horton Hears a Who, to help students create and nurture the ability to think in an integrative manner.

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