Tuesday, March 1, 2016
#WeirdEd Week 97- Dr Seuss Part 2
We have only doubled up a few chat topics here on #WeirdEd, but if there's one that deserves to be covered on an annual basis it's the good Doctor himself, Ted Geisel. Way back in Week 46 we chatted about him and since it's his birthday today we should do it again. After all, he is the greatest author of all time.
Yes, the greatest.
I will fight you.
He managed to work deep meaning and heavy messages into children's books on the regular. Even his less deep books, To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street for example, still carry the weight of inspiration and message.
I always assumed everyone was a giant Seussiphile. I understand that I get nerdy on stuff (just you wait for the next two weeks I've got planned) but Seuss seemed like someone everyone should just know. Doesn't everyone read his books for fun and seek out the lesser-known titles because they are still gems? The stuff you don't know as well as you know The Sneetches or The Lorax like The Butter Battle Book or Yertle the Turtle are heavy with darkness and meaning.
Let's take The Butter Battle Book as an example, since I read it to my class yesterday and it's fresh in my mind-
TBBB takes place in a land of Yooks and Zooks. Yooks eat their bread butter-side up and the Zooks, with "kinks in their souls" eat bread with the butter-side down. He's completely open about how angry this difference makes the Yooks and already your adult brain is making connections. The Yooks are so insulted by the Zooks, in fact, that they've got a Wall built separating their two countries. Oh, a wall? Hmm, now this came out in 1980 so that's not the wall we're all thinking about in 2016, but it echoes just the same. Our main character, a Yook soldier, is sent to the wall to take out Van Itch, his Zook counterpart. Each time he returns to the wall with a bigger, more dangerous weapon and each time he's met by Van Itch with either an even bigger weapon or the same weapon and a promise that if you hit us I'll hit you. The capabilities of the weapons become less and less defined until even the Yooks in charge admit they don't know what they'll do. And it ends with our hero and Van Itch perched on the Wall, each holding a Big Boy Boom-a-roo, waiting for the other to give an excuse to drop it.
That's where it ends. A children's book. Ends without an ending. Right in the heart of the cold war, poised on the edge of mutually assured destruction. It's his darkest book and I love it.
There's a lot to unpack here. There's escalation, which you can keep on a global scale or shrink all the way down to a classroom interaction one. There's propaganda. There's patriotism and xenophobia and blind hate and fighting instead of talking (there are no reasonable voices in the story) and cause-and-effect. And there's more.
Here's the fun thing about this book- I only had to unpack the Cold War metaphor for my kids, they got the rest of that on their own. And once the Cold War stuff is clear the book takes on an entirely new meaning. If my class were just a little bit older I'd have used it as a metaphor for the election. As it was we explicitly talked about hating people for ridiculous differences like color, religion, sexual preference. Were those author intent? I don't care. I can use them.
Tonight let's take Dr Seuss into our classrooms in a better way than a fun rhyming read-aloud, though if you're gonna do that do Fox In Socks because it's the best read-aloud ever.