While often remembered for his clever rhyme schemes and imaginative vocabulary, Dr. Seuss has also left quite a remarkable legacy in his “message books” which address the universal and oftentimes controversial issues of our time. These are the books that will be the main focus of this unit, specifically:
The Sneetches, The Lorax, The Butter Battle Book, Horton Hears A Who,
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.
When reading these books, there’s more than meets the eye. The themes vary from the obvious to the elusive, tempting the reader to take another look and find another meaning within the lines of the child-like wisdom which has come to characterize Dr. Seuss.
Many essays have explored the so-called “adult content” of these books. Scholars and book-lovers alike have found that a closer look at the works of Dr. Seuss reveal lessons in prejudice, ecology, nuclear war, civil rights, and individual freedoms. Geisel’s own stepdaughter and creator of the sculpture garden in the Dr. Seuss National Memorial commented on the many layers of her stepfather’s work. “I want people to leave taking Dr. Seuss’s work a little more seriously… I think a lot of people take Dr. Seuss’s work lightly -- itt’s fluff, it’s cute. If you sit down and read his books carefully, they have so much more to them.”9
More to them indeed. A glance at a few memorable lines from these stories is enough to see the far-reaching implications of his books.
“Sneetches are Sneetches, And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”
“UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
“Who’s going to drop it? Will you…? Or will he…? Wait and see…”
“A person’s a person. No matter how small.”
“I don’t know [why], but it’s one of the rules.”
Even Geisel himself has addressed the moralistic issues that seem to play a large part in his later books. In a
magazine interview, he stated, “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off and they gag at it. But there’s an inherent moral in any story.”10 In another interview almost thirty years later, Geisel told
U.S. News and World Report
, “I seldom start with [a moral], but when you write a kid’s book, somebody’s got to win. You find yourself preaching in spite of yourself.”11