In this episode we discuss several of Dr. Seuss’s books and a few fun ways to use them.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids.
This week is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. In fact, today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. And so I thought we would spend some time talking about his wonderful books. And, of course, I could just say, check them all out. They’re really good. But there’s certain ones of his books that I have used in my teaching. I’d like to share with you how I use them and what they’ve meant to me. First of all, the very first book I learned to read on my own was not a Dr. Seuss book, but one that was edited by Dr. Seuss. And that was Put Me in the Zoo by Robert Lopshire. Dr. Seuss edited that book. I remember driving my mom crazy because I would, I was gosh, four years old maybe, and I would read the words I knew. And then I’d run to my mom and say, “Okay, what’s this word?” And then I’d run back and read a little bit more, and then I’d come back. “What’s This word?” So she couldn’t even finish her conversation because I kept asking what different words were.
Let’s look at a few of Dr. Seuss’s books and a little bit about his life. First of all, Dr. Seuss, his real name was Theodore Seuss “Ted” (He went by Ted) Geisel, and he wrote over 60 books in his career. He didn’t start out writing young children’s books. He actually has some other books he wrote before then that have been published. He wrote mostly under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss, but then he also wrote under the name Theo Le Seig and one book as Rosetta Stone.
When you think of Dr. Seuss, almost always, the first thing that comes to mind is The Cat in the Hat. And that is like my least favorite of his books. I never enjoyed that one, I guess, because of being kind of a perfectionist, even as a child, the idea that they would totally mess up the house while the mom was gone and have to get it back in order and everything just stressed me out.
One of the great things about Dr. Seuss books, many of them are written so that children can become independent readers, learning to read the books on their own. So they have a fewer number of vocabulary words in each book, and he was challenged by the New York times to write a story that was interesting to children, but didn’t have too many vocabulary words for children. And so he had 220 vocabulary words in The Cat in the Hat, and that was a turning point in his career.
And then I heard that he was given the challenge to use 50 words or less and write a children’s book. They didn’t think he could do it. And that is when Green Eggs and Ham was born. And so children can learn to read them very quickly at a very young age. So that’s really exciting.
The other wonderful thing about his books is even as silly and rhymey as they are, the lyrical rhyming aspect of it makes it appealing to children. I think they love reading it because of that. And he has fun making up nonsensical words, but he also has a deeper meaning. And a lot of his stories, many of his stories are about being who you were created to be and not trying to fit in. So I think it really appeals to children and can also open up those conversations we want to have with our kids, because you can take the message behind the story and really encourage your child and speak into the heart of your child. So I love that about his books as well. And it’s always fun now and then just to be utterly silly when we’re reading books with our kids, and you can’t beat Dr. Seuss for that. One of my favorites to read for silliness is his ABC book. In it he makes up words just so he can make the letter sound he needs for each letter in the alphabet. And I think it’s brilliant that he can just play with the sounds, and kids can read it and learn the sounds of the letters really easily. And it’s just a lot of fun.
He has two books that I like that are tongue-twister books. One is Fox in Socks and the other is Oh Say Can You Say, and these are great. I use them, especially with my adult ESL students. I always feel like learning tongue twisters is a good way to practice your pronunciation. I try to do Chinese tongue twisters and then have them try to read parts of these two books to practice the tongue twisters. But especially if they’re struggling with a specific sound, then you can help them practice by giving them a section of the book that has that sound in it. That’s a lot of fun. You also have a lot of play with sounds in One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Each page will have a different sound that they’re focusing on. And these are more word ending sounds. So from a teaching perspective and an ESL perspective, these books are really great. Another one I love to use in my ESL classes is In a People House because the vocabulary is so great for household items and things that are in a house. Most of his books work really well for helping children practice rhyming, rhythm, and learning lessons about what it means to be a good friend and to keep your word–all of the qualities we’re trying to teach children can pretty much be found in one of Dr. Seuss’s books.
I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew is a really good book about recognizing that we all have troubles. Now, I don’t know how you feel about the ending when the boy picks up the bat, and he’s going to defend himself. But I like that it talks about how he’s trying to find this place that doesn’t have any troubles or at least only a few. And he goes through so many troubles trying to get there. And then he realizes he just needs to go back home.
Some of his books have become keepsake books and very special to people. One in particular that we’ve heard about people taking when a child is born and then throughout the child’s life, having friends and family members and teachers write in the book. And then they give the book to the child when they graduate high school is, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I wish I had known about that when my kids were born, that would have been such a great gift to give them. But by the time I found out about the idea my kids were practically grown, but I think that’s a really neat idea. Another book that is great for graduates is Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? And that’s a good one. And then there’s one that’s good to give. Well, there’s one Happy Birthday to You, which is a birthday book we could give to people, but then there’s one it’s called You’re Only Old Once: A Book for Obsolete Children. And this one is often given to people as they’re retiring or as they’re getting older as a fun gift. So there’s some books that are just really fun and special to give to people at certain times in their lives.
I personally started a library for each of my children of Dr. Seuss books when they were born. So each of them has their own little library of his books. My favorites of his books: I love Green Eggs and Ham. And I really like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s one of my favorites. And in our family, it’s not Christmas until I’ve at least watched the old cartoon from the 1960s or read the book. I don’t care for the new movie as much. I prefer the old cartoon. And so those are some of my favorites.
One book that he edited that he didn’t write, but he edited was, Are You My Mother? That’s another one we always liked. I love the sweetness of the Horton books, Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who, the perseverance of Horton and the integrity that he has–tremendously awesome books.
Of course, some of his books are actually satire, and they’re written to make commentaries on society and on politics of the day, racial prejudice and these kinds of things. The Lorax, The Sneetches, even Horton Hears a Who. Yertle the Turtle definitely has some undertones of pride, selfishness, and Kings or rulers that are selfish and standing on the backs of their people. The Butter Battle Book is political satire, probably Bartholomew and the Oobleck–if it’s not satire about politics, it’s definitely a satire on the desire for more things and never being happy with what God has given us. That one is a good one to talk about gratitude and appreciating how God has blessed us.
Then you have some fun books. Like if you’re talking about onomatopoeia and words, that that make the sound they’re describing, you can read Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? We have The Sleep Book for talking about going to sleep, and of all the books for talking about going to sleep, this is one of the best as everybody’s yawning and everybody’s going to sleep. And of course it ends with “How about you?” And then you have on the opposite of that, you have Great Day for Up where everybody is waking up, and that book is very vibrant and very exciting and gets you awake. Those are great books.
And one book I mentioned In a People House that I really like because of the vocabulary, but there’s one book I had not heard of before I started looking into making this podcast, and that is Come over to My House. And it’s one of the last books that he wrote that was published. It was published after his death. This one is illustrated by Katie Kath. And so if you see a Dr. Seuss book that is illustrated by someone other than Dr. Seuss, it was probably published after he died because he was illustrator and the writer. But this book Come over to My House is just a wonderful story. And it takes you around the world to different types of houses, different types of lifestyles. So this would be a great one if you’re doing the passports that I’ve talked about, that I provided for you on one of my podcasts that you could download for free. If you’re doing the passports with your kids or planning to do it next school year or whatever, this would be a great book to read at the beginning of the school year or somewhere in the process of talking about people around the world, in different countries and things like that, because it takes you from all the different types of houses, as well as some people are rich, and some people are poor and it talks about different kinds of food and what different people see where they live. But the thing that goes through the whole book, the theme that is constant is that we’re all the same. We’re all people. We all love to play. We all love to rest. We all love to have friends, and we all love to have people over to our house. It’s just a really great book. Let me just read a short portion of it to you. “Some Houses are bricks, and some houses are sticks. Some houses are square and some houses are round. There are all kinds of houses around to be found. Some are on stilts, high, up off of the ground. Some houses are wide. Some houses are thin. Some are so thin you can hardly get in, but wherever you go, you will hear someone say, ‘Come over to my house, come over and play.'” I love that. Then it goes through the different parts of the world and the different types of fun that the kids have, the different things they see. So that’s a great one.
Wacky Wednesday is a really fun book to read when a child is sitting with you, and you can look at the pages and talk about it together because in all the pictures, there’s something wacky, there’s something crazy going on. And so the kids can observe what’s wrong with this picture, what’s silly about it. And so it’s a fun book.
I love The Sneetches and Zaxes. And with The Sneetches, you have a book of several different stories, shorter stories. The Zaxes is definitely a book about pride, The Sneetches about prejudice and pride. And I forget the third story in there. I think Too Many Dave’s is one. And there may be some others in that book, but each of the stories in The Sneetches and Other Stories book has lessons. These are all stories with lessons that would be great to share with your kids.
One thing I’m going to put in the show notes for you is a website called Creative Bible Study that has taken some of the Dr. Seuss books and shared scriptures you can put with them and lessons you can then share with your kids with a biblical application. And so I’ll put that link in the show notes for you, because I think this is a great little article. It gives you the idea of how you could read the book and also then bring in scripture and talk about some important conversations, some important topics, with your kids based on the Bible and the Dr. Seuss books together. And that makes it a lot of fun.
The other book I want to share with you is called The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss by James W. Kemp. This book is really, really nice. I bought it for myself recently, and it’s longer than like a devotional book. It’s like each chapter is more than a short devotional, but yet each chapter is like a devotional, and it takes scripture. It takes one of the stories from Dr. Seuss. And it also brings in some other literary references and modern day references to discuss the theme of that day. And it’s just a really great book. It’s a very short little book. You can read it in a day or two, if you want to. But if you read each chapter kind of as an extended devotional for the day, I think it would be really nice. I’ve enjoyed each of them that I’ve read. They’re just really well done. There are 13 different lessons or chapters in this book. I’m going to read the last one to you as kind of our closing devotional for today. Let me read part of it. And we’ll see how we go from there.
It’s called “On Beyond Zebra.” “After these things, God tested Abraham. He said to him, Abraham, and he said, here I am. He said, take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you. So Abraham Rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey and took two of his young men with him and his son, Isaac. He cut the wood for the burnt offering and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day, Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men stay here with the donkey. The boy, and I will go over there. We will worship. And then we will come back to you. Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son, Isaac. And he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father, Abraham father. And he said, here I am my son. He said the fire in the winter here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? Abraham said, God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering. My son. So the two of them walked on together. The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said by myself, I have sworn says the Lord, because you have done this have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you. And I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven. And as the sand that is on the seashore and your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies. And by your offspring shall, the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves because you have obeyed my voice.” And that’s from Genesis 22:1-8,15-18.
“The Dr. Seuss story On Beyond Zebra prompts us to imagine life beyond the boundaries that others have placed on us or beyond boundaries that perhaps we have placed on ourselves. Most people confine the English alphabet to 26 letters with Z inevitably standing for zebra, but not the person who was teaching Conrad Odell to spell said, Conrad Cornelius O’Donald Odell, My very young friend who is learning to spell, ‘The a is for ape. And the 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 26 letters like that. And I said, you can stop if you want with the Z, because most people stop with the Z, but not me.’
“The teacher then goes on to introduce little Conrad to a whole new world that he’d never imagined before. He introduces letters, such as Glikk and Snee and Thnad and characters such as Sneedles and Nutches and Floob-Boober-Bab-Boober-Bubs. What happens when we go ‘on beyond Zebra’ either by our own choice or as a result of the circumstances we face in life? Going on beyond Zebra can mean discovering new insights, meeting new people, considering new ideas, finding renewed faith, venturing out beyond our comfort zones or summoning resources that we may not have known we had. Abraham was challenged by God. More than once to go on beyond Zebra. He was no doubt, a bright enough fellow, but he was also cautious. And he was pushed beyond the comfortable boundaries imposed by his cautious approach. When he was called to leave his Homeland and travel hundreds of miles across the desert, he had to abandon much in order to be the father of a great people, a reasonable person. He was pushed beyond reason when as a toothless old man, he and his aged wife, Sarah were told that they were to have a child to fulfill the promise of the Lord. Sarah laughed, but Abraham trusted and Isaac whose name means laughter was born. Now a family man, Abraham loved his wife dearly. And Isaac was his beloved promised child Abraham’s love for him was immense. But now he was being pushed. Again, pushed beyond even family bonds. It had been hard wandering across the desert, leaving everything behind. It had been hard waiting for a promise child while growing old and gray. But now this child, this beloved Isaac is required by God as a sacrifice appearing to make God’s previous promise null and void. Abraham’s heart was torn. What could be worse than to hear the voice of God asking you to kill your child? This was the same voice that Abraham had followed across desert wastelands. It was the same voice he had followed and trusted while waiting for the child to be born. Now he had to choose between sacrificing his son, Isaac, upon the mountain or denying his God. Abraham got up, took Isaac, the firewood, and the knife. He set out to do what he had heard God tell him to do. Isaac knew that something was amiss. He asked dad where’s the lamb for slaughter. Tears came to Abraham’s eyes. As he replied, surely the Lord will provide, he arranged the firewood. An alter place was prepared. The moment of truth had arrived, binding his own son, Abraham prepared for the very worst. And then suddenly he heard the voice of the Lord’s angel telling him that Isaac was not to be sacrificed after all. And then he spotted a Ram caught in the bushes. God provided. And the voice said that it was good, that Abraham was willing to relinquish even his precious one. It was good that Abraham held on to his trust in God, even when he was confused and torn between family and God. Isaac was the only heir of Abraham. And the only way that God’s promise of descendants as numerous as grains of sand by the sea could be fulfilled. Abraham showed that he was willing to go beyond zebra, beyond comfort, beyond reason beyond familiar bounds, trusting that the promise of God would never fail because his God, our God is faithful.”
He goes on to talk about several different stories of people in real life who have gone beyond Zebra. He ends this chapter with this one woman was at an event and they said, “What is the least requirement for being a Christian?” And this one woman got up and left and they said, “‘Excuse me, where are you going? Don’t you like our discussion?’ She replied, ‘No, not really. I’m not interested in what is the least requirement to be a Christian. I came here trying to find out what’s the most I can do for my Jesus.’ That is the call for us. It should not be a question of what we need to do to get by, but rather of how much we can do for our Lord, who has done so much for us. This is the faith of Abraham, the faith of Francis of Assisi, the faith of Millard Fuller, Jean Vanier, and Faye Pickel. It is ultimately the faith we have in Jesus Christ that allows God to take us on beyond the expected to something greater still–beyond comfort, beyond family, beyond wealth, beyond age, beyond disability, even beyond death. May this faith inspire us each day to stretch beyond our limits, to care for those within the flock and to reach out to others, to reach beyond the status quo, to exceed normal expectations–on beyond Zebra, as far as our faith, love, and imaginations will allow.
Thank you for joining us for books that spark a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. I hope these books will be used to spark some great, fun, and interesting, and deep conversations with the children in your life. And I hope that you will find a renewed joy in reading Dr. Seuss books, the month of March in celebration of his birthday and the great legacy of books he has left for us and our kids.
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.