Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why Dr. Seuss is not my idea of a great children's literary experience. . . (A post to inspire, not to judge!)

This is not a moral issue. This post is meant to inspire, NOT to judge. And I truly mean that. Please read and ponder, and know that you can read Dr. Seuss to my kids AND let me visit your house without hiding Dr. Seuss books from your shelves :-D. But here's why you won't find much Dr. Seuss around our house. . .


I grew up reading a number of Dr. Seuss books and loved them. And I can remember many fond memories of reading Dr. Seuss to young kids who I babysat. They're light years better than "Captain Underwear" and other similar wastes of paper that appear on library shelves and book stores everywhere :-P. Quite frankly, most of the kids' literature out there today is just trash. If it isn't obscene, it's just gross, or trite, or P.C., or dumb. So Dr. Seuss is better than a lot of options :-). And I speak of both early children's books and general elementary literature.

But leaping to the conclusion that Dr. Seuss is great literature (because it's better than Captain Underwear) is like saying that Subway is great food because it's better than McDonald's. (I could make similar potshots at modern art, but I won't.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with exposing kids to Dr. Seuss. We own a select few, and I have absolutely no problem with my kids getting read Dr. Seuss by others, just like (allergies notwithstanding) I don't mind if they have the occasional fast food french fries or chicken fingers (gag!) as a treat, but that would not be a regular standby in their diet. And just like there are zillions of movies I would let my kids see at someone else's house (and many, of course, that I wouldn't), but not many of them would I want us to own. Ken Myers, who wrote All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, has some fabulous things to say about the difference between "main diet," and occasional exposure/consumption. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the book on hand (a friend is borrowing it), so I can't give any exact quotes. But definitely read the book! It's fabulous.

But back to Dr. Seuss. He is not great literature. Seriously, folks. Stop trying to pretend he is the end-all, be-all of fine literary experience for kids! Agh. The drawings are medicore at best, most of the text is nonsensical (and not even in a witty nonsensical way, for the most part), and the plots are limited in scope. There is a reason, though. Dr. Seuss was written for early readers.

Let me say that again:
Dr. Seuss books were written as early readers. 

^That is what they should be used for. They are fabulously great and fun early readers, and when my son first finished phonics and we were looking for early readers, I reached for Dr. Seuss as a primary source. Dr. Seuss is fabulous for early readers! And so much better than 2/3 of the early readers in my local library. We read, we laughed, we enjoyed (for the first few readings, and then I was like "moving on," PLEASE, to a better plot), and then thankfully we returned them so I didn't have to have all my brain cells die slowly from Dr. Seuss overdose ;-).

My son would have been quite happy to remain reading Dr. Seuss books ad nauseum forever and ever, but he was also quite happy to move on to bigger and better things. I'm not talking Dickens and Tolstoy. I'm just talking about children's literature that is great stuff. And I do think his reading ability, his attention span, his reading comprehension skills, and his mother's sanity are the better for the short duration of our tryst with Seuss :-D.

Read The Cat in the Hat or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Laugh, enjoy. But there is nothing to keep thinking about.

But read a kid the original Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne (not the trivialized Disney adaptations). They are so accessible to young kids (once again, I'm not trying to force my kids to read Dickens novels at the age of 3 or 6). They are hilariously witty and complex, but simple for kids, all rolled up into one. I can read them again and again and they do not get old. There are layers of complexity and brilliance in there. The illustrations are fantastic but not over-the-top and distracting.

Next read Beatrix Potter. (Did you know she wrote many more stories than just Peter Rabbit??) Charming illustrations that are unmatched in children's literature. Beautiful tales for children and adults to enjoy. Try A Child's Garden of Verses next. And anything by Robert McCloskey. Move on to The Adventures of Reddy Fox, and then anything else by Burgess. My kids have spent hours and hours acting out their own imaginations from these books. There is so much "scope for the imagination" in them. I could go on and on with more recommendations, but those are some starters :-). Read Island Boy. Owl MoonPaddle-to-the-Sea.

Okay, fine. I really will stop with the recommendations :-). It's just so easy to go on and on!

But to sum up, try reading the books I mention above. Soak yourself and your kids in them for a few months. (To make this really work, spirit away Dr. Seuss so they're out of sight and out of mind. In the same way that to make a change in diet, you don't try to convince your kids to eat vegetables and fruit while a box of cookies is on the counter.)

After soaking in good books for a few months, go back to Dr. Seuss. Yes, really. Go back! And see if Dr. Seuss resonates with you in the same way. Is he still just as witty? Just as hilarious? Just as great? If so, please enjoy Dr. Seuss with my compliments. (And feel free to read him to my kids.) But if he seems hollow, trite, and "eh, okay," then that's okay too.

And I would be happy to smother you with more book recommendations if you need Dr. Seuss alternatives ;-).


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