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Archive for the ‘Dr. Seuss’ Category

On Beyond Zebra cover by Dr. SeussThe children’s books of Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as “Dr. Seuss”) are divided between the didactic and the anarchic.

Didactic books, often with a solidly liberal agenda, predominate. These include The Lorax (a warning against environmental destruction), The Sneetches (a satire of mindless consumerism and status-seeking), and The Butter Battle Book (a Cold War cautionary tale).

Some of Dr. Seuss’ most famous books combine the didactic and the anarchic. The Cat in the Hat is one of the great agents of anarchy in children’s literature, his inspired chaos opposed by Sally and her brother, and finally contained only by the re-appearance of their mother.

Dr. Seuss’ teaching books show the same dynamic. For example, Dr. Seuss’s ABC makes learning the alphabet fun through a wild collection of assonance- and alliteration-heavy nonsense rhymes (and one highly inappropriate image for children).

What I like about Geisel’s On Beyond Zebra (1955) is that it is the mirror-opposite of the ABC book and many others. On Beyond Zebra opens with this quote:

Said Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell,
My very young friend who is learning to spell:
‘The A is for Ape. And B is for Bear.
‘The C is for Camel. The H is for Hare
‘The M is for Mouse. And the R is for Rat.
‘I know all the twenty-six letters like that…
‘… Through to Z is for Zebra. I know them all well.’
Said Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell.
‘So now I know everything anyone knows.
‘From beginning to end. From the start to the close.
‘Because Z is as far as the alphabet goes.’

Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell from On Beyond ZebraConrad is a young boy with neatly parted hair wearing a sweater and tie. He is speaking to a wonderfully beatnik-looking boy. This boy picks up a piece chalk, draws a new letter, one which Conrad had “never dreamed of before,” and announces “…most people stop with the Z / “But not me!”

And with this, On Beyond Zebra is off to the races, devising fantastical creatures in fantastical lands based on fantastical letters.

Along the way, On Beyond Zebra argues for the supremacy, the freedom, the possibilities, the joy, and the exuberance of the world of imagination over the world of knowledge and fact. The anarchic soundly trounces the didactic, for once.

And yet, at the end, somehow the didactic gets the last word.

Conrad Cornelius is so impressed with what he’s seen that he exclaims,“This is really great stuff! / And I guess the old alphabet / ISN’T enough!”

Oh well, if Dr. Seuss had to deliver a lesson, at least it was, “Don’t be afraid of curiosity. Don’t be afraid of the new. The world is always bigger than you think!” Those are good points. I’m writing them down. Will they be on the test?

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The Seven Lady Godivas by Dr. SeussWhile doing research for a future review of On Beyond ZebraI made this delightful discovery: Theodor Seuss Geisel (better known as “Dr. Seuss”) wrote and Bennett Cerf of Random House published The Seven Lady Godivas: The True Facts Concerning History’s Barest Family — a nudie novelty book aimed at adults.

Jack St. Rebor at Seussblog has done a good job describing the book, so I recommend you click the link and read the post.

Maria Popova of The Atlantic posted a nice collection of illustrations. My favorite Lady Godiva is “Dorcas”. You may not want to know that.

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I love Dr. Seuss’s ABC and read it to my kids all the time. But after several years, I realized I had to skip “Letter R”.  It all seemed innocuous at first.

“Letter R” wasn’t my favorite rhyme but I kinda dug
Rosy Robin Ross’  jodhpurs and riding crop.

I wondered what Rosy found so interesting
about the red rhinoceros.  He seemed like
a nice fellow, but nothing special.

Then one day it struck me. I took a real close look
at that nose of his and thought, “Uh oh.”

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