The past few days I have noticed a lot of Facebook posts celebrating Dr. Seuss on what would have been his 109th birthday. Being an aficionado of the good doctor, I join in the commemorations. In the numerous Seuss references, one thing puzzled me; so many of the tributes I saw mentioned Horton Hears a Who as his seminal work.
I have nothing against the good elephant, but in the Seuss pantheon, I would think Horton probably sits at the far end of the banquet table, next to the kitchen door. His story did get made into a movie, but still.
I looked it up, and Horton is not even one of doc’s top ten sellers of all time on anybody’s list (Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.) always ranking behind…Fox in Sox. (Really? Fox in Sox? Hop on Pop I get. Fox in Sox? Not so much.)
We all know the Seuss stalwarts: The Grinch, The Cat in the Hat, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Sam I Am, et al – true legends, each, starring in classic stories of life. But for my money you can’t beat Yertle the Turtle.
Yertle rocks – or at least, the story does. The hero of Yertle is actually a ‘simple turtle named Mack’, who at the end of the story bests the overbearing, eponymous Yertle, a turtle king who abuses his pond subjects in order to further his own ways. Not content to benevolently rule his little pond, King Yertle gets bored and then gets dreams of turtle grandeur:
He ordered nine turtles to swim to his stone
And, using these turtles, he built a new throne.
He made each turtle stand on another one’s back
And he piled them all up in a nine-turtle stack.
Eventually, more turtles are summoned, and more, until Yertle can see well beyond his pond, and well…
“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!
I’m king of a cow! And I’m king of a mule!”
Mack, the turtle at the bottom of the stack, brings the whole escapade to a satisfying, muddy splat of an end by sneezing.
Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories (Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag were the other two entries in the tome) was one of my favorite books growing up, and my 1958 first edition sits in my living room bookshelf to this day. I read Yertle to grandson Felix when he visited in November, and will happily do so in the future. Great literature is always great literature.
If you don’t know the story of Yertle the Turtle, get a copy. You’ll love Mack.
Another Dr. Seuss classic that is close to my heart is Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, Seuss’ last book and certainly one of his most enduring. The book chronicles a future ahead where choices will have to be made and the opportunities that abound, while freely admitting that there will be challenges:
“Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind maker-upper to make up his mind.”
One of the many big payoffs comes toward the end of the book and this oft-quoted guarantee:
“Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed. (98¾% guaranteed.)”
The book has become a staple of gifting high school and college grads to the point where, in many years, the book is outsold only by the Bible as a go-to gift for a grad. My daughter received her copy when she graduated from high school, then she returned the favor a few years later when I finally completed my B.A. at age forty-six. That day I also received another copy of OTPYG, from my friend Kay, an employment counseling colleague of mine. We once read the book to a group of unemployed job seekers that we had been co-teaching for a couple of days. It made for a moving end to some at times intense training.
It’s a delightfully powerful book.
Then of course, there is Gerald McBoing-Boing. Gerald is a six-year old boy who speaks in noises instead of words, much to the chagrin of his exasperated parents.
They say it all started
when Gerald was two—
That’s the age kids start talking—least, most of them do.
Well, when he started talking,
you know what he said?
He didn’t talk words—
he went boing boing instead!
Gerald McBoing-Boing was one of Seuss’s first stories and it was made into a film that won an Oscar in 1950 for best animated short, which eventually led to a series of cartoons. The Gerald artwork is far removed from what we know as ‘classic Seuss’ but it is a brilliant piece of work. Check out the original:
You gotta love a kid who speaks like a springy door stopper – but of course, people don’t. Gerald is shunned by kids and other adults before finding out that being different has ts advantages. It is true genius, a wonderful lesson in empathy. Gerald alone is reason enough to tip the old striped top hat to Dr. Seuss.
If you haven’t known of some of these other Suessian delights, it’s time to get with it, still time to take flight. It isn’t just the animals in various apparel and stolen holidays and weird colored eggs.
He gave us so much more than Horton.
Now don’t write me about being a Horton hater – I most certainly am not. Horton is cool, I’m just not sure he is an ‘A’ list sort of guy. Horton Hears a Who is okay, but something always seemed like it was missing. I always thought Horton could be something more if he had been part of a trilogy, ala Lord of the Rings. Think about the cinematic potential of Horton Hears a Who, Horton Touches a Where? and, of course, Horton Tastes a WHAT?
Now…just try to get THAT mixed imagery out of your head.
At least I didn’t go for a cheap There’s a Wocket in My Pocket! laugh.
Happy birthday, doc!