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Rediscovering the Wisdom of Dr. Seuss
by Rick




 I recently read an essay about Theodore Geisel, the author better known as Dr. Seuss. The essayist quite accurately explained that, while Dr. Seuss’s books are often considered “children’s books,” he intended to write for all of us. I have rediscovered the wisdom of Dr. Seuss as my daughters learn to read, and I have used his work more than once in my adult English classes. Not only are his books excellent for teaching pronunciation and sentence structure as well as poetic devices like rhyme, rhythm, onomatopoeia or alliteration, but, more importantly, his works have messages we all need to take to heart including environmental stewardship, tolerance and hope.

My reintroduction to Seuss began with a book entitled “The Lorax.” It is the story of a man who generates enormous wealth and success for himself and others by exploiting the properties of the unique trufula tree. A creature, the Lorax, urges the entrepreneur to protect the trees because of their importance to another animal, the brown barbalute. In addition to the problem of overharvesting, the production of his product, a thneed, pollutes the air and water, making it unsuitable for every other living thing, including the Lorax. Does this sound familiar? After reading this book to my three year old, I reread it to my six-year-old, and then introduced it to my wife and my students. Another book entitled “McGelligot’s Pool” demonstrates the interconnected of our water resources and how our actions can potentially affect other creatures deep in the ocean. The messages are clear and simple, and they are presented in an entertaining way that appeals to children, but they are messages that, increasingly, everyone needs to hear.

After reading the Lorax for the first time—41 years after it was written—I discovered another tale, I remember vaguely from my childhood, “The Sneetches.” This modern fable tells the story of two races of animal called sneetches. One group feels superior to the other because they have a small star upon their bellies while the others do not. The star-bellied sneetches exclude the others from participation in social activities and sports simply because of this minor difference in outward appearance. It is a not-so-subtle spoof on American society, which not too long ago separated white and black Americans. In fact, Americans of African ancestry in many parts of the States were prevented from using the same water fountains, sitting on the same seats or playing on the same teams as whites. In “The Sneetches” an entrepreneur uses the insecurities and prejudices of both groups to make extraordinary amounts of money. Seuss amusingly demonstrates how a con artist can identify one’s insecurities and create demand for a product we don’t really need. Each time I read the story, I make new connections between the story and our modern society. 

The endings of the Lorax, McGelligot’s Pool and the Sneetches are messages of hope. If we collectively try to protect our environment and confront our insecurities we can have a better world for all. Perhaps the most important message Dr. Seuss successfully delivers is that we as individuals can make a huge difference in the world no matter how insignificant we may feel. In "Horton Hears a Who," an elephant rescues an entire civilization, and, at the same time, changes the attitudes of those around him. Another of Seuss’s works that stresses the power of individuals to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others is “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” This poetic piece is a popular gift for graduates of high school and college. Indeed, at my graduation I was reintroduced to Seuss’s world through this book.  Its fanciful illustrations and clever language remind us of our humble beginnings and the challenges and successes that all our futures will hold.

What is so impressive about Dr. Seuss’s work is its timelessness and the continued relevance of his messages. Admittedly, I am not an avid reader, and I personally prefer shorter books with lots of pictures, but, in my opinion, Dr. Seuss is worth reading and rereading no matter what your age may be or how educated you believe you are. We can all benefit from the good Doctor’s simple truths.


 

 


 (May 27, 2012)


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