Dr. Seuss and Genius and Field Dominance


Conor P. Williams

Conor Williams on Twitter. More background here.

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151 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    One of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories:

    Bennett Serf, publisher at Random House, made a bet with Dr. Seuss: You cannot write a good children’s book using only a 50-word vocabulary.

    Green Eggs and Ham won the bet.

    My sweetie and I talk on that frequently. It helps use to remember that sometimes, the most constricting limitation frees creativity.

    And I agree. Peerless.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      On second, I’d nominate Sendak, Robert McClosky, Shel Silverstein, Arnold Lobel, and give Sendak the edge. While best known for Where the Wild Things Are, others are touching and gentle, crazy and dream like, and my children loved them very much. There was something there for every mood childhood threw at us.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I’m right there with you Zic. Sendak is the distant follower up and he’s a fine author and a beautiful soul.

        But Seuss remains the Master, unchallenged at the pinnacle of the genre.Report

  2. Avatar Glyph says:

    I was gonna say Shel Silverstein might come close, but he didn’t have quite the illustrative talent nor was he as prolific. Glad to see you thought of him too.

    Get Eric Carle outta there. Cannot stand the man’s stuff. Unappealing art, repetitive and recycled books. Ugh.Report

  3. Avatar NewDealer says:

    Maurice Sendak but he wrote for a slightly older audience and was much more different in his art. He was certainly darker.

    My other comment is that I am still somewhat amazed at tweeting and how it creates dialogues and that some younger writers/bloggers use tweeting to help with their brands/careers.

    Though I am probably the wrong person to ask about kid’s books because I don’t have kids. I do agree with your general assessment that it is impossible to parent ironically (even though I see plenty of people around San Francisco try very hard to accomplish this)* Plus I am skeptical on the all YA craze going on right now.**

    *As liberal as I am, perhaps urban parenting just exposes my inner-suburbanite or I am somewhat conservative when it comes to child-rearing. SF parents seem to like bringing their kids to major rock festivals where there is a ton of pot being smoked and I think that is not quite good for the kid. Also every now and then I see a bunch of adults at a popular outdoor beergarden hang out while their kids run around and I think that is not cool either. A beer garden is not a place for kids. Maybe I am just a bit square.

    **People tell me that Young Adult literature is where all the cool and experimental stuff is happening these days but I don’t buy it. Often when I ask for examples, I am just given tautology: YA is revolutionary because YA is revolutionary. YA is not revolutionary like Beckett and Joyce were revolutionary.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer says:

      Now I feel bad about the first asterisk sounding more judgmental than I intended it to be.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

        I remember going to an outdoor Christmas concert a few years ago, and there was a group smoking weed. In the middle of the circle was a young kid (6 or 7, probably). I thought that was very inappropriate.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer says:

          I suppose these are all personal taboos. My upbringing was pretty liberal but my parents never smoked pot around me. Much later in life, I found out they smoked pot at parties every now and then but very rarely.

          On the other hand, I know people whose parents were slightly more hippie and they grew up with their parents smoking pot around the house like mine might have a glass of wine on a weekend afternoon. Some of them even smoked up with their parents.

          I suppose there is nothing wrong with this but it is still something I still don’t want to do with my parents present.Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            I have a good friend who was raised in a pretty counterculture environment (pot growers/smugglers) when he was very young, and he *stopped* smoking weed at an age long before most people ever start (8 or 9).

            He learned to roll joints one-handed in the back seat and pass them up front to the driver, with prizes awarded (candy etc.) for particularly good instances of craftsmanship & speed.

            He turned out OK, but doesn’t really recommend this parenting approach.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Beer garden is fine for kids. My opinion, but guided by what I’ve seen in Sicily and know goes on in Germany. (in sicily, it is not uncommon to see kids running about at midnight, while their parents finish talking over coffee).
      Smoke, in general, is bad for kids.Report

  4. Avatar aaron david says:

    Slightly off topic, but nothing in 2009 made me happier than finding out that Dr. Seuss and Raymond Chandler were drinking buddies.Report

  5. Avatar Plinko says:

    I’m not a particularly big fan of Dr. Suesss, the Mrs. strongly dislikes his stuff so baby girl has yet to hear one. I imagine she would love them, though. She does love Eric Carle, though it might be that she just likes all the voices that come along with having them read to her.

    I personally prefer Margaret Wise Brown, but her stuff isn’t really for the kids,I suspect it appeals more to parents than the children themselves.Report

    • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

      Could you describe what it is you do not like about Dr. Seuss?Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        I think it’s that I personally, prefer to introduce small children to the world first – books for young children should be about real things until they get down the taxonomy of their world. Once that is in place, you start to work on imagination and creativity, by the time kids are ready for that, they’re probably ready for more advanced and story than a lot of Dr. Suess.Report

        • Avatar Ann says:

          I don’t believe it is ever too young to work on imagination and creativity. Children spend a lot of time in the land of make- believe.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Eric Carle?
    Leo Lionni?Report

  7. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Is it supposed to go without saying who the best playwright is?Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t do a ton of Dr. Seuss in my class. In part, a lot of the “meatier” texts are lost on younger children. “The Butter Battle Book”, “The Lorax”, “The Sneetches”, even “The Zax” don’t really get their messages across in meaningful ways to very young children. They’ll always enjoy the rhyme scheme and pacing and rhythm and all that (though I’ll cop to often butchering the reading because of my own struggles to read poetry) and the broader nonsense resonates… but the meaning is often lost. They’re great books with a lot of value, but I’m more likely to grab books by authors that have a message or meaning a bit more accessible to my students because of the way in which I use literature in my program. I often lament that his works are abandoned by many upper elementary teachers who view them as too non-sensical or childish for their students. Those students can most certainly do deeper studies of the texts in meaningful ways.

    By the way, did you know that Seuss is apparently supposed to be pronounced ‘ZOICE’, rhyming with “Joyce”?Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      I think the Cat and the Hat has a strong, and subversive, message. Couple few of them actually, and a fine example of literary ambivalence too.Report

    • Avatar Ann says:

      The 4 year olds in the class I teach who loves The Lorax – and get the message. One of the girls asks me to read The Sneetches over and over. She may miss a lot, but she definitely gets a lot out of it – and I love reading it to her.Report

  9. Avatar krogerfoot says:

    This is possibly the post I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

    Dr. Suess : children’s literature :: Mister Rogers : children’s television

    Incomparable giants. Hands-down, betting-window-is-closed geniuses. Kind of hard to get your mind around the idea that they weren’t actually the same person. Those two raised several generations of English-speaking N. American children, and I find it mind-warping to even attempt to imagine that anyone before or since could do what they did better.Report

    • Avatar DRS says:

      In Canada, we had Mr. Dress-Up and his puppets Casey and Finnigan:


      32 years on the air. Most impressive.

      Personally I always found Mr. Rogers kind of creepy.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot says:

        Mister Rogers started in Canada, actually. Give him another chance. He’d do it for you.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Mr. Rogers wasn’t creepy. We’ve gotten sorta callous. Men aren’t gentle and kindly any more, not many anyway. We’ve come to associate those attributes in men with creepiness, for good reason I suppose, for children will always respond to kindliness, not knowing there are bad people in the world. But children did love him and they knew he loved them. Maybe not in the way we’ve come to expect from men — but whose fault is it that we learned to associate those traits with creeps?

        Well, Fred Rogers has passed away and his kind will not soon come again. But I worked out of my house for years with babies on my back as I coded and my wife went to school. Mr. Rogers was a role model for me: my parents were Very Busy doing the Lord’s Work and their children came in a very distant second on their list of priorities. I was determined that wouldn’t happen to my kids. Fred Rogers was a wise man and a fine jazz pianist.

        Children don’t start out suspicious. They reach out to adults in search of love for they are defenceless: it’s a survival strategy, being lovable, from earliest infancy. It’s still a working strategy some adults still find useful. Kindness will accomplish what strength cannot.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Must be Mr. Rogers week around here; I just compared Sagan (favorably, on both sides) to him yesterday:


          These are some good reads about him (the second is long, but worth it):


        • Avatar M.A. says:

          Men aren’t gentle and kindly any more, not many anyway. We’ve come to associate those attributes in men with creepiness, for good reason I suppose

          I don’t think it’s for good reason at all.

          Mostly I blame Ben Spock for this phenomenon. Raise a few generations of men telling them that “real men” don’t cry, don’t express feelings, and under no circumstances should hold or hug their kids and you get so many of the parenting and male anger issues we see in modern American society.Report

          • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

            I was going to say the same. Definitely not for good reason. However, I think it has less to do with Spock and more to do with “every man is out to molest my little child” mentality.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            This. For all the entirely justifiable hue and cry about empowering women in society, what about men’s roles? Maybe it was Ben Spock, maybe it was larger than his influence — but somewhere along the line this society truncated men’s options and roles. And look at the concomitant damage it’s done to women: an assertive woman is called a bitch behind her back but that’s how anyone gets ahead in the corporate world.

            When did kindness become weakness? Anima was pushed to the back of the bus and Animus has driven it off the cliff.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        I might add in passing, Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who had the good sense to keep religion out of his show. Would that more people of faith had the good sense to do the same.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Ernie Coombs, he of Mr. Dressup, started out with Fred Rogers.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    There is a gallery in downtown Minneapolis of Seuss art. Prints of his original works in portrait size or larger. They’re absolutely gorgeous, I will one day own one even though they’re prohibitively expensive. Perhaps someday when I have a salon to hang it in.

    My point is not only is Seuss a genius in rhyme, tone and content but his art itself is also amazing. Particularly in the twisty endless manner he does buildings and machines, a twisting chaotic mass of beauty utterly bizarre yet also utterly captivating. I remember being a youth myself and actually tracing my fingers over those strange exotic alien buildings. This was my room, this was where I’d put my brother, this is where I’d want to eat dinner, this is where I’d want to be able to play.Report

    • Avatar boegiboe says:

      This, this thiiiiiis!!

      I was still picking up Seuss books at 11 years old that were supposedly my youngest brother’s and reading them over and over again.Report

  11. Avatar Dhex says:

    I sort of agree though Seuss was both a true original and extremelydderivative of his own works after a while. Kinda unavoidable, though, and obviously forgivable.Report

  12. Avatar M.A. says:

    You forgot Gordon Korman. Unless you are putting him at “tween lit” instead.Report

  13. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    There are two sorts of children’s literature: the books you read with the kids looking at the pictures and the books you read to them, sitting in a chair when they’re in bed. In the first category, Dr. Seuss is far and away the best but he’s hardly alone. H.A. Rey’s Curious George, Hergé’s Tintin stories, Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Margaret Wise Brown Goodnight Moon, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach all fit into the first category.

    Kazzy observes Dr. Seuss isn’t a particularly good starting point for reading. It is a good place for teaching children the possibilities of drawing, I think, right at that stage where they’re using crayons to draw stick figures. Gets them out into drawing lines. I got my kids the Lee J Ames books. For some reason, elementary school fails to teach children to draw effectively, which ought to precede or at least accompany some aspects of writing, for children are natural illustrators.

    Dr. Seuss’ drawings encourage children to think beyond what they see into the world of their imaginations, the world of the second category, where there might be fewer pictures in the books themselves, but where the words produce far more interesting visions in their heads.Report

    • Avatar Ann says:

      I believe that Dr Seuss can be a very good starting point for reading because it is fun, children love it, relate to it, much is repetitive, and they want to read it. How anyone actually learns to read is a mystery, but repetition is one component!!Report

  14. I love Seuss at his best. But “Where the Wild Things Are” and “In the Night Kitchen” are easily as good.

    And I love Mo Willems. And Kevin Henkes.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Willems is a lot of fun as well. The Gerald and Piggy books are great because young children will laugh at the general absurdity, while older children will laugh at the sarcasm and subtle, nuanced humor.

      Knuffle Bunny is a classic (though I like but don’t love the sequels). I routinely have 2nd and 3rd graders come in to my room and beg me to read that story again. It is the one ‘babyish’ thing they won’t let go of.

      I love Kevin Henkes ability to deal with difficult emotions in a nuanced, accessible way for children. What made “Where the Wild Things Are” so revolutionary was its exploration and representation of anger and a child misbehaving. But that representation is highly complex and speaks to children on a more visceral level. There is a lot of symbolism that seems to resonate subconsciously with children but which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a discussion of the theme with young children. Compare that to Hankes’s “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” (where a young student who adores her teachers draws a nasty picture of him after he disciplines her and then frets over what she has done when he sees it)… children can more immediately identify with Lilly’s action and there is always a fruitful discussion about the choices we make when we feel what I call “big feelings”. This isn’t meant as a slight to WTWTA, only to recognize how Henkes approached a similar topic in a different way.

      Eric Carle is pure genius, both with his writing and (perhaps more so) his art.

      Robert Munsch writes some of the most entertaining stories out there. There isn’t always a big lesson or morale to the story, but he really gets what kids enjoy and writes to that, making him a fan favorite. His partner-in-crime Michael Martchenko does fabulous accompanying illustrations.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        This sums up half my feelings on Eric Carle (it doesn’t go all the way, since it allows for the art, which I ALSO hate – he had the good fortune to strike at a time when macrame owls were considered the height of “good art”):


        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Meh. First off, Bill Martin, Jr. wrote most (if not all) of the “…What Do You See/Hear?” books; Carle simply served as his illustrator. Second, I think this guy just misses what makes books meaningful to children. Which is understandable. But doesn’t make him right.

          Regarding the author/illustrator relationship, when I studied children’s literature in grad school, I was surprised to learn that most publishers view the roles as equally weighted and often times do not give the author creative control over the illustrator. I always assumed the writing took precedent and the author led the illustrator, but this is not always the case. A lot of publishing houses will take an author’s words and send them to an illustrator he/she has no relationship with and will allow him/her to interpret the writing.Report

          • Avatar Glyph says:

            The author of the piece does allow for the child’s needs, he just thinks (as I do) that the Carle books are simple and formulaic and repetitive in a way that speaks to the cynical side of successful book franchising, and that leaves no mystery or strangeness or inventiveness for either the child, or the adult reading to them.

            I know I hold a minority position, and so does the author of the piece, and like his, my wife also disagrees.

            (But she also like macrame owls).

            But when I read that piece, I was like “YES! This is what I have been trying to tell people! Don’t you all SEE? I feel like I am taking crazy pills!”Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              But formulaic and repetitive is of great value to children! One of the reasons “Blues Clues” was so successful was that it showed the same episode every day for a week (I read this, I didn’t actually watch the show). Parents grew bored and frustrated that they were subjected to literally the exact same episode 5 days in a row, but the children were not, and actually learned more through repeated viewings in a short time period.

              Carle’s formula allows for an early introduction to author studies. Young children can compare and contrast his books in a way they can’t with most other authors. We did that with “Rooster’s Off to See the World” and “A House for Hermit Crab” earlier this year. The children were able to connect that both stories were about animals traversing their environment and interacting with different creatures they met along the way, but that their motivations and outcomes were vastly different.Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                I was always curious why they found it necessary to continue making new seasons of that show (or others like it). The target audience is only going to stick around for a few years before outgrowing it. It seems they could just continue to cycle a few seasons, and the new tots would have no idea they were watching an old show.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                How are peeps gonna get paid if they stop making the show?Report

              • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

                They go on to be rock musicians and hang out with The Flaming Lips, and the network continues making money from advertisers without paying for new content.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Sex, Drugs, and Fraggle Rock.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Hmmm. I will trust your opinion, and keep mine to myself in polite company. 😉

                But I will just say that even something like “Goodnight Moon”, though repetitive, has a pleasing rhythm to the “goodnights”, and even a surprise or two along the way (“Goodnight nobody”). There are things to look for in the pictures (“where’s the mouse now?”).

                It has a mystery, and a poetry, to it.

                Carle’s books just..I don’t know…THUD.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I am not a literary genius, by any means. It is quite possible that his prose falls flat. I will say that some books have sections where I think, “Man… he was one syllable off from a really nice flow there. How’d he miss that?” or “He totally could have said that better.” I’m really only speaking to the broader structuring of his books. He was a genius at making books for children. That does not require he be a genius writer.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:


                I hate the idea that successfully writing books beloved by children is not indicative of genius. I don’t think fighting about this will get us anywhere, but I believe deeply that you’re wrong, wrong, wrong. So, I justed wanted to get that out my system.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I called Carle a genius. I think he was a genius when it came to writing books for children. That does not necessarily mean that he was a genius at writing prose more generally. And this does not mean he was a lesser form of genius. Just a genius in one area but not necessarily others. Does that make more sense?Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Ehhh, I like you saying “not a lesser form of genius” and “a genius one are but not necessarily others” but I still find myself disagreeing. I believe Seuss figured out a way to write for a particular audience that continues to love his work years after he stopped publishing. His prose appeals to that audience, which, and I know this is what will get me into trouble, is an audience no lesser than any other audience.

                I’m not saying you’re arguing otherwise. I just wanted to lay this out; maybe I should try writing this up again. I don’t know.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Heh, your beef may be with me, not Kazzy. But in no other area do we really assume that sales=genius, do we?

                I think Carle was largely a case of “right time”. His art was in style at the time; there was not as much product in competition for children’s books, particularly ones with “hip” art. Plus, everybody was really, really high. Basically, the books are popular for the same reason the leisure suit was for a time.

                The difference is, because it was a book for children, the children to whom it was read have positive childhood associations to it, and as parents bought it out of a misguided belief that those positive associations = quality. And so the cycle sadly continues.


                Friends don’t let friends buy Eric Carle books.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I’m not arguing that Seuss’s sales are what make him genius; I’m arguing that the quality of his books and the fact that they continue be beloved amongst a certain demographic are evidence of his genius.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Dude, are you talking Seuss or Carle?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Sam, Carle and Seuss are two different people.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                Seuss. Which is why I wrote Seuss.Report

              • Avatar Glyph says:

                Huh. I thought we were discussing Carle all this time.

                Seuss is a genius.

                Carle is a hack.


              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                I actually think we agree wholeheartedly. I don’t really believe in ranking art forms. I don’t think it is any harder or easier, more or less, to be a child’s author genius than to be an adult’s author genius. What Seuss and Carle did WAS genius and no less so than what Dickens did. But just because Carle was able to write genius children’s books, it does not necessarily follow that he could write genius adult’s books. Nor the inverse: I’d avoid a Dickens’s children’s book like the plague if you told me one existed.

                I do think that what made Seuss a genius is slightly different than what made Carle a genius. And if I were ranking geniuses, I’d put Seuss ahead of Carle, but not because of *what* he did but because of how he did it.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:

                I was responding to Kazzy’s point about the differentiation between being a genius at making books for children and about being a genius writer. I think there are probably lots of people who will say, even about someone like Seuss, that he may have been good but he wasn’t a genius writer. I’m not comfortable with that claim at all.

                I have less experience with Carle, although my son and I have enjoyed some of his books.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:


                If anything, I was being sloppy in my language there. When I said Seuss/Carle might not be “genius writers”, what I meant was that they might not excel at a specific form of prose writing aimed at adults that we tend to think of as “writing”. Carle might not be a wordsmith, but that makes him no less a genius writer.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Sam, I think everyone here, including Kazzy, agrees with you.Report

              • Avatar Plinko says:

                Maybe what you’re looking to say, Kazzy, is that they had a genius for creating childrens books.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                Yes. And that children’s books are no less an art form than adult books. Nor is the genius required for the former any less than that for the latter.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                And I would know… in my graduate level children’s lit class, we were tasked with writing a children’s book. I like to think that I’m a pretty good writer. Not great, but I’m no schlub. And I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the hardest creative task I’ve ever undertaken. And my book sucked.Report

              • Avatar Sam says:


                Then my work here is done. Enjoy the weekend.Report

      • Avatar Plinko says:

        We have a signed copy of ‘Lilly’s PPP’ – something about that story appeals greatly to baby girl, even though she’s only 3 and certainly has minimal appreciation of what is going on in the story. We have a bunch of other Hankes’ books that are much more in line with her age and cognition – I’m particularly fond of ‘My Garden’ and ‘Old Bear’ both for the art and the treatment of imagination.

        I think a lot of the dislike of Eric Carle out there is based on the books he illustrated but didn’t write – like Baby Bear, Baby Bear that get pretty repetitive. I’ve read The Grouchy Ladybug hundreds of times to my daughter and there are others I really like.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          LPPP, much like WTWTA, let kids know that the dark feelings they have sometimes are wholly normal and do not define them. Not surprising that that resonates with a 3-year-old, even if on a visceral level.

          I do an activity in my class where I print out a bunch of pictures of people showing different emotions. First, we sort based on which are the types we want to feel, the ones that feel good. We get the expected results… happy, excited, proud on one side, mad, sad, angry on the other. Then, we sort again, but instead based on which feelings are okay to have. The split is pretty similar. I tell them I like a lot of what they did but ask if I can make a few changes. One by one, I move all of the emotions to the “okay” side. The lesson is that all emotions are okay and healthy to have; what matters is what you do when you’re having them. It boils my blood when early childhood educators insist that their classroom be full of happy children who smile all the time. Life is not happy all the time. And it is normal and healthy to be mad, angry, sad, or upset.Report

      • I love all three “Knuffle Bunny” books, and it took me several readings before I could make it to the end of “Knuffle Bunny Free” without choking up.

        Parenting. Man, it’ll get to ya.Report

  15. Avatar Les Cargill says:

    Around our home, PD Eastman got more requests. Obviously a flawed measurement, but there you are. I may have preferred Eastman’s sense of rhythm, which I still do. This probably biased things..Report

  16. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I agree Seuss is the best. Even if young children don’t always get he real point of the story, nobody else introduces them to sound, tone, and rhythm the way Seuss does. His books are not meant for just reading, but for reading out loud. My daughters used to make us sing books like Fox in Sox.

    There’s also a political side to Seuss that’s maybe not well known.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Oh, and I meant to add, the fact that children might not get Seuss’s meaning until later isart of his excellence. It means there’s a depth that not all other children’s books have, so it grows with the children. Sort of like the classic Warner Brother’s cartoons, which were pitched to kids but always included things that were well over their head, to be caught by adults.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I wrote a high school paper on the political implications of “The Butter Battle Book”. It was a fun piece to write and demonstrated the real depth there.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Kids still love the older Warner Brothers cartoons and all the kids I knew roundly despised what they became over time.

        The best children’s books never talk down to them. It’s just awful, the way people condescend to little kids. And it’s fascinating to watch how children respond to adults who don’t condescend to them.

        One of my favourite people around here is Kazzy. I just know he’s a great teacher and I’ll bet my socks he never talks down to children. Every good teacher, for that matter, every good adult, is constantly pulling children up, giving them a view of a wider world. Kids are hard-wired to learn. The trick is to keep that spirit alive, to convince them of the possibilities. Being told to sit at the Kid’s Table of Life infuriates them — and we wonder why they turn into these sullen, uncommunicative monsters later on.Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Not just Warner Brothers – but the old Tom & Jerry (I may get pilloried for this, I know they are unpopular now, due to the perception of “violent” content) have aged well IMO. My boy thinks they are hilarious, and if he hears the music he will run into the room.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            they are violent. and probably something that requires a bit of adult guidance. “it’s make believe. if we do that, you get punished. don’t do that in real life.”
            (if the kid can be trusted to understand that it’s makebelieve…)Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Thanks, Blaise. I think people tend to forget that children are indeed human and are deserving of the same level of respect and valuation of any other human. They’re neither babies nor little adults, but are fully human.

          Sometimes I’ll refer to my students as “Sir” or “Ma’am” or even “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones”. They think it is crazy at first (“I’m not Mr. Smith!” one always shouts laughingly), but only because someone, somewhere communicated that such displays are reserved for Very Important Adults. Hogwash.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Robertson Davies once said:

            To instruct calls for energy, and to remain almost silent, but watchful and helpful, while students instruct themselves, calls for even greater energy. To see someone fall (which will teach him not to fall again) when a word from you would keep him on his feet but ignorant of an important danger, is one of the tasks of the teacher that calls for special energy, because holding in is more demanding than crying out.Report

    • Avatar M.A. says:

      political side

      Yes because teaching kids to be responsible and clean up after themselves (locally and in community and world), treat others with respect even if they have physical differences, not strip the environment and leave a barren wasteland for the next generation…

      Those shouldn’t be “political” at all. And it’s a sad statement on our society that they are.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

        Some of the books were definitely political. Yertle the Turtle was based on Hitler, The Butter Battle Book is about an arms race.Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Yurtle was a book about the dangers of fascism, Lorax was an environmentalist tome in that movement’s early years, Horton Hatches an Egg was made to address the (then) controversial issue of adopted parents rights vs natural parents rights. The Sneetches dealt with racial integration. And The Green Pants With Nobody Inside Them made a heroic plea for the social acceptance of disembodied men’s wear.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Ah, I screwed up my tags so my meaning wasn’t clear. This is what I meant by political.

        But jumping Jesus on a pogo stick, M.A., is there anything that doesn’t evoke bitterness in you?Report

        • Avatar M.A. says:

          You made a comment about Seuss being “political.”

          Having watched a raving “conservative” rant about how his kid was getting “brainwashed into socialism” by a kindergarten teacher reading Seuss books to his class, and that being the norm when people talk about Seuss being “political” around here, that is what your comment came across as being.

          Your followup clarifies it considerably.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            “I once heard someone say X, then you said Y, which is the letter in the alphabet next to X, so you must be just like the guy who said X” is never a good way to look at the world.Report

    • Avatar aaron david says:

      In case no has come across it, I would suggest picking up Dr Seuss goes to war, about his editorial cartoons previous to WWII.


  17. Avatar Chris says:

    I remember the day Dr. Seuss died. Outside of my family, there are probably 3 other people of whom I can say that. I think that means something.

    Also, for about a year, the only books my son would let me read to him when I put him to bed were Dr. Seuss books.Report

  18. Avatar RTod says:

    On an interesting personal note, my wife and I found that even though we were huge fans of Seuss, his books got very little replay requests from either of our boys. And a lot of the books I most remembered as being universally beloved lost them way before the end. (The Lorax in particular turned out to be a much longer story than I remembered.)

    Sendak was always hugely popular (both the over the top stuff like Wld Things and the sweeter fare such as the Littel Bear books), and the Frog and Toad books got constant requests.

    And If I had a nickel for every time I was asked to read Walter the Farting Dog…

    Anyway, I wonder how much of Dr. Suess is his appeal to parents as opposed to kids these days.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      YES, Frog and Toad. I remembered loving them myself (in particular, I think I could still recite “Cookies” word for word as an adult) and was really happy that my kid loves them too. They are really gentle, and Frog & Toad are a classic comedy duo setup (there’s one where Toad gets melted ice cream stuck all over him that just makes the boy cackle).

      And he actually likes The Lorax, which I find a little strange – it’s definitely darker and deeper than you’d think would appeal to a 3-4 yr old. Seuss (aka “LeSieg”) in general he likes/requests (except Fox in Socks, he doesn’t like that one), so it’s not just adults I don’t think.

      Also, I have a comment in moderation – too many links.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I was just explaining F&T’s “Cookies” to my wife last night! Their notion of will power is hilarious.

        Some of those stories are really absurdist. They don’t always make sense, even to adults. I don’t know much about Lobel. The kids enjoy them and reading all the stories in succession sets a wonderful tone for conversations about friendship.

        But, yea, some of them are very strange indeed. The one where Toad has a dream that he’s on stage and Frog is slowly shrinking… what the F is up with that?Report

        • Avatar Glyph says:

          Yeah, that one is totally, totally surreal. But I assume it is intended to talk to kids about bizarre dreams. My boy has reached the age where he does wake with nightmares with some frequency, and we have had several discussions about what dreams are and what they mean (nothing, generally, it’s not real, go back to sleep).Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            That makes sense. I’m curious what Lobel was thinking when he wrote that, though. Was it something so simple as “Dreams are weird, go back to sleep”? Was it a dream he himself had? Is there something deeper going on?

            I personally love “The List”, not only because my own fondness of checklists, but because of the slight commentary on being overly rigid and dogmatic about routines and procedures.


          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            I always told my kids their dreams were the brain tidying up. Fear is good for us, it keeps us alive. So nightmares are how we process all that fear, putting the useful bits away for later use and throwing away the rest. If we didn’t have nightmares, all that fear would just stack up and then we’d be in trouble, like things would get if we didn’t tidy up from time to time, that’s no fun and sometimes you find old mouldy sandwiches (a real incident) where we forgot them in the lunch bag we didn’t take to school. It’s hard to be a little kid, you’re not very strong, lots of things to fear.

            Of course, Dad was having his own issues with PTSD, so they knew I had nightmares.

            I got them over their fear of the dark by teaching them to put the left forearm up in front of their body, the forearm is the width of your body — then back and forth with the right hand to feel their way through a room. It’s the same room, the same closet, lit or dark. Then I’d turn out the lights and have them do the same exercise.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        When mine were little, we went through bedtime-story books as fast as we could find them. Frag and Toad were favorites, as were Nate the Great and Junie B. Jones. They’re inn college now, and we still occasionally make jokes about “Is it a meatball?”Report

  19. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Ah, jeez. I’m trying to remember the bedtime stories that *I* loved and I’m just coming up with Muncus Agruncus, A Bad Little Mouse. I don’t think that the Dr. Seuss books got much play past the early “I Can Read” level stuff.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      VALUETALES!!! That’s what they were. The little stories by the “Who Moved My Cheese?” guy from the 70’s. My mom wasn’t crazy about them because everybody had invisible friends (I brought this up to her when we recent bought a set for the nephews… she had no recollection of telling me that she didn’t like them).

      That was the first time I read a Helen Keller story which inspired my dad to tell me my first Helen Keller joke.

      So many memories.Report

  20. Avatar Sam says:

    Oh, so we’re just gonna pretend like kids everywhere don’t love James Joyce? Whatever man.Report

  21. Avatar Plinko says:

    I think the name forgotten that probably belongs in the conversation is Beatrix Potter.

    On the political side of things, Margaret Wise Brown’s books are incredibly conservative. I’ve tried to think of a way to discuss my favorites, Mister Dog and The Little Fur Family – of course part of my love of them is tied up in Garth Williams’ illustrations.Report

  22. Avatar Glyph says:

    Russell Hoban is pretty good too.Report

  23. Re: Sendak – Don’t forget Little Bear! Although Sendak was principally the illustrator, he did have some story input and was a driving force behind the Little Bear stories written for television. That being said, I’d nominate Else Holmelund Minarik for second as well. The Little Bear series is really the only thing that compares to Seuss for that age.

    We’ve (I’ve) been reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales at my house recently before bed, and my oldest daughter (3.5) seems to do fine with it. After we’re done with the Brothers Grimm, we’re planing on moving on to the Wind in the Willows or the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Christopher – keep us posted on how WITW or HHGTG go – I feel like my boy (4) is just about ready to “level up” but I am not sure if those would be too big a jump for him? I also bought “Bone” but someone told me I may need to hold off a while, it could be scary.Report

      • Actually, with GFT, even though it’s definitely too difficult, it’s just enough that my oldest daughter can understand the basic story arc (plus she’s familiar with some of the stories already), so she doesn’t want to get up and do something else. But the stories are so short and at sort of ranging degrees of difficulty, so one fairly easy story might be followed by a very difficult one, in which case she’s bored and falls asleep immediately: a win-win scenario!

        I’ll definitely keep you posted on how the other books go!Report

  24. Avatar James K says:

    On a post mentioning both Shakespeare and Dr Seuss, I would feel like a failure if I didn’t link to this.Report

  25. Avatar Maribou says:

    So many memories, reading this thread. What I love is knowing what people remember of their childhood reading, and what meanings those books hold for them, or stories of people reading to their own kids…

    For me, it’s hard to rank Dr. Seuss above Sendak, or Lobel, or Mercer Mayer. They were doing different things, equally well. And right after them I would put Russell Hoban, and Robert McCloskey, and Charlotte Zolotow, and Crockett Johnson.

    But my very most favorite book in early childhood was Leo the Late Bloomer. Now, why a kid who was reading chapter books before the age of 4 should be so attracted to a story about a late bloomer was a puzzlement to some of the adults in my life. But adult me gets it. The story affirms the dignity and individuality of kids in a rare way, for one thing. Arguello’s brilliant kid-friendly art probably has something to do with it too.

    But my most favorite of favorite books as a small child wasReport

  26. The Four and a Half Year Old is most upset that this thread is 127 comments long without a single mention of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books.Report

    • Avatar MikeSchilling says:

      Bemelmans was a close friend of George Lucas.

      In a faraway galaxy, ripe for disaster
      Lived two Sith lords, apprentice and master
      They were not afraid of Jedi
      To kill them, they were always ready
      They made their plans come rain or shine.
      And the evilest one was Palpatine.

  27. Avatar George Turner says:

    Contrary to the consensus, I think Dr. Seuss marked the beginning of the fall of Western civilization, getting kids obsessed with racial hangups (Sneeches), creating the groundwork for an out-of-control environmental movement (Cat in the Hat), a swelling welfare state where people demand free stuff (the Grinch Stole Christmas), an obsession with whispered trivia (Horton Hears a Who), an obesity epidemic (Green Eggs and Ham), gas guzzling SUVs (most of his characters loved huge vehicles), and of course a culture that values rhymes more than melody, leading directly to rap music and social rot.

    Yes, all of America’s current ills can be traced directly to Dr. Seuss, except for a few that come from Sesame Street (cookies and other junk food, overflowing landdfills, live-in male roommates, vampires, high-fat diets rich in pork, and amphibian mutations).

    We’re doing all this to ourselves.Report

  28. I really wish that I’d included my thoughts on Raffi.

    Short version: He’s not quantum-leap-better than his competition, à la Seuss, and his talent isn’t nearly as congenial to both adults and kids (“Joshua Giraffe” on repeat is rough sledding)…but he might be top dog for children’s music.Report