Saturday, April 21, 2012

Please, butchers of Seuss

Dr. Seuss is pretty much my idol when it comes to writing picture books. No other author even compares to him. He absolutely transformed children's literature. I don't aspire to write rhyming books, but if I could ever manage to capture even one child's heart and mind the way Seuss stories captured mine, I would be content as an author.

So, it makes me feel like packing up and moving to Solla Sollew when people try to capitalize on Dr. Seuss in ways that seem contrary to the spirit of his work. There's the loud, obnoxious, potty-humor filled Dr. Seuss movies (I hold out a small hope for The Lorax, but I haven't seen it so I can't comment). There's cheesy wall decals that turn phrases from his works into sappy, pseudo-inspirational one-liners.

There's shoddy abridgment of his stories for the sake of making board books. For instance, before having Luke, it'd been quite a while since I'd read Dr. Seuss's ABC. We were given the board book version. I didn't even know that it had been abridged. For months and months, I read this book to Luke and I really didn't like it. I felt troubled that I so disliked a Dr. Seuss book. How could that be possible?! But I couldn't pretend that the grating, repetitive, "Big A, Little a, what begins with a? Blah blah blah blah, A A A. Big B, Little b, what begins with b? Blah blah blah blah, B B B," and so on for 26 letters was enjoyable to read. I couldn't hide my disappointment that for the letter K there was only the horrifically hackneyed  Kangeroo and Kite, nor that you're supposed to chant "K K K!" to your child. (That in particular seemed wrong to me. I kept thinking, "How could anyone who lived through the 60s, much less the author of The Sneetches, blithely include the phrase K K K in the text of their book?") And I thought it was lame every time I came to the letter X and saw nothing but X-ray and Xylophone.

But on a whim we got the full-sized and un-abridged version of Dr. Seuss's ABC. The rhythm changes with each letter and completely rolls off the tongue. The letter K page reads: "Big K, little k. Kitten. Kangeroo. Kick a kettle, kite, and a king's kerchoo!" The letter X page reads: "X is very useful if your name is Nixie Knox. It also comes in handy spelling axe and extra fox!" Plus, the whole book is just brilliant because he uses each letter in a variety of ways--at the beginning, middle, or end of verbs, adverbs, nouns, and adjectives. It's not just a stale, trite listing of animals or objects that start with each letter. Needless to say, the board book version of Dr. Seuss's ABC is banished from our household.

As much as these other things bug me, this week I finally saw the worst, most offensive, most un-Seussian appropriation of Seuss that I have ever seen in my life. There is a series of books (written and illustrated by two separate people who are not Dr. Seuss) called The Cat in the Hat Knows a lot about That! This is a non-fiction series on a variety of subjects, like bugs, or dinosaurs. The text rhymes, and the illustrations are of course imitation Seuss. It features The Cat in the Hat leading around Dick and Sally (the kids from the original books) and spouting off facts to them.

NO! NO NO NO!

Everything, absolutely everything about this series is just WRONG! Dr. Seuss is not about NON-FICTION. He is all about whimsy! He is all about education through cleverness and subtlety, not bludgeoning children with rhyming factoids! When he wanted to teach children about the Cold War, he didn't write a sugar-coated, dumbed down literal account of the Cold War--he wrote The Butter Battle. When he wanted to teach children about racism, he didn't write an overwrought, rhythmic treatise with a black kid and a white kid--he wrote The Sneetches. I won't go into details, but Dr. Seuss's approach to real life, sensitive subjects is absolutely my inspiration for how I write books about touchy things like predator culling or water use in arid areas.


And The Cat in the Hat as a jolly educational guide? NO! The Cat in the Hat is all about mischief and insanity! He's about children breaking free of all the stiffness and strictness that surrounds them. He would never, NEVER lead children around and prattle off informational tidbits. Doesn't everyone know that The Cat in the Hat books specifically mock the Dick and Jane franchise, the most uptight kid lit of all time? The Cat in the Hat is not about education for children, he's about revolution for children.

As surely as Dr. Seuss would not have penned K K K, there is no way he would ever have created this mind-numbing non-fiction. Why couldn't the authors have made up their own character franchise instead of appropriating a completely inappropriate mascot from the king of kooky? Because it's so much easier to buy the rights to someone else's creative genius than sit and think of something on your own.

2 comments:

  1. I love this post and I love Dr. Seuss! I read all of his works to and later with my children – and now my grandchildren - and was apparently influenced heavily myself since I am now writing my own rhyming books for children. I cannot claim to be Dr. Seuss (I wish) but I also wish you might take a look at my children’s books which are all about teaching consideration for others and good manners, disguised as fun stories. The first three, The Magic Word, Peter and the Whimper-Whineys, and Santa’s Birthday Gift are all award-winning books; and my newest, Gimme-Jimmy, I hope will become award-winning as well. Since you also mention Please and Thank-You on your blog, you should probably consider The Magic Word – since that’s what it’s about! Thanks for your consideration, Sherrill S Cannon

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  2. So true Linda! I just spent the past year teaching a Dr. Seuss based reading class to 1st and 2nd graders and as someone who did not get much exposure to Dr. Seuss as a child, I loved it!

    However, we did Seussical, Jr. at the school this year also. I thought it was a total butchering of Seuss! They made Yertle the Turtle the judge for pete's sake.

    Great post!

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