Serious with Seuss

Dr. Seuss books are fun, as little kids know. Between their covers, you find zany characters, enchanted worlds, and rhyming phrases that roll off the tongue—Stop telling such outlandish tales. Stop turning minnows into whales. And in the middle of the fun, phonics clicks away in the brain, and even reluctant readers turn another page.

But in a middle school classroom? For years only one Seuss book appeared in my room. I didn’t bring it. Parents did. Every spring they’d come sneaking in with it and without their kids.

“Could you please write in this?” they’d ask. “Every teacher since kindergarten has written a note to my kid. It’s for a graduation present.”

Oh, the places you’ll go, the book says. It promises great sights and high flying. But it also warns about bang-ups and hang-ups and lurches with bumps. Maybe it was the macabre in me, but I’d turn past those pages and find the sad blue page with the words: But on you will go though the weather be foul. On you will go though your enemies prowl. And on that page, I’d write my encouraging note.

This book got me to thinking about Dr. Seuss, and I came to see that he offered wisdom beyond kindergarten. Some of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s books address serious issues with a light touch. These books are a good way to introduce a unit, or a discussion about a conflict in class or a distressing topic in the news. Here’s a list of a few books I’ve used:

  • The Butter Battle Book—for conflict of any dimension: interpersonal, among groups, or national; Every Zook must be watched! He has kinks in his soul.
  • Horton Hears a Who!—for honoring the significance of every human life; A person’s a person, no matter how small.
  • Yertle the Turtle—for using, not abusing power; I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we, too, should have rights.

And to console myself in the great testing rage at the end of my career, I read a Dr. Seuss book to myself:  Hooray for Diffendooffer Day!

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