In which I bypass Mulberry Street for roads less traveled
In honor of World Poetry Day, and in light of recent news, some thoughts on an arguably perfect poet/notoriously imperfect human:
A few of Theodor Geisel’s more unscrupulous renderings are officially cancelled as of this year (and rightly so). Contrary to what some would have us believe, we need not chuck the entire catalogue. There’s no shortage of material with which to replace the less tasteful stuff. Here are six recommendations off the top of my daisy-head.
The Butter Battle Book
This isn’t one of my favorite Dr. Seuss stories; it’s one of my favorite stories, full stop. For starters, it’s the most effective anti-war treatise I’ve ever read, depicting a trivial lifestyle preference (which, unlike a physical characteristic, is a choice, though no less arbitrary) as grounds for violence. All English teachers should use it in their lesson plans on allegory. Plus it’s a poignant portrait of generational conflict, and who among us cannot relate to that?
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
This one is prose, actually, but I don’t care. I will fight for it until you chop my head off. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it, I’m not sure how many people even remember it—nonetheless it figured prominently among my formative reading experiences. Besides, a truly great poet knows how to cross forms.
The Doc might have got a bit carried away with the whole Mayzie business, but anyway: here we have another character so named (this one human, as opposed to the more famous bird) who finds a daisy sprouting out of her head one morning. Like Bartholomew Cubbins, it toys with the magical-realism genre. It also taught me the phrase “goodness to Betsy,” wherever that came from.
Yertle the Turtle
Alarmingly, somehow only getting more relevant. Actually, an excellent example of holding someone accountable—as everyone should be held from time to time—without bluntly cancelling them. Though Yertle’s exploits probably merit cancellation, maybe in the form of expulsion from the island. He should be grateful to have been merely removed from his post.
Um, obviously??? If nothing else, this pandemic has had us all living like Once-lers. Get into your Thneed and leave me alone.
Cattus Petasatus (The Cat in the Hat in Latin)
Yes, it still rhymes. To paraphrase Parks & Recreation: treat yo’self to a dead-language education!
As the Cat himself articulates, “It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.” Let’s have some good responsible fun by giving our Seuss library a refresher.
Happy day of the world poets! We all owe something to this one.
Image: The Butter Battle Book, published 12 January 1984 (wow that year is a little too on the nose if you ask me)