Dr. Seuss: Gentle Morality In Childrens Books

“You make ’em, I amuse ’em.” And who among us hasn’t been absolutely amused by the whimsical tales spun by Dr. Seuss? Theodor Seuss Geisel did more than just make children smile to stories told in verse, though. He also taught morals, gentle morals that any sensible person could agree with. Some of those morals were pretty “adult” in weight. How do you explain in childrens books the importance of sustainable farming and conserving resources, and how do you do it without sounding preachy or condescending?

The Lorax does precisely that, with a good measure of sociopolitical issues, corporate over-reaching, extinction, and unsustainable economics added to the mix. It does so in a way that engages children without insulting their intelligence (and children are brighter than they let on, I tell you!), and in such a way as to not offend any person of sensible conscience.

Yertle the Turtle might seem like a path parents want to avoid. After all, the message seems to be about questioning authority. Kids will do enough of that as the teenage years loom ever closer on the horizon. But a deeper theme rests with the dangers of being bossy and putting your own wants ahead of someone else’s needs.

Horton Hatches the Egg examines the nature of “family”. Though Mayzie is the bird who laid the egg, she chose not to be the egg’s mother and abandoned it. Horton took up the mantle of parenthood for a hatchling not even of his own species, let alone his own blood. Comparing biological parents to non-biological parents who raise another person’s child as their own is a hefty theme, but is executed in a manner that any child could understand.

Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! should be a primer for anyone who has to sit through a meeting where the boss continually drones on about “thinking outside of the box”. Children have imaginations that run wild by instinct. They may hardly need such encourage at the moment, but it is important to keep the creative juices flowing at all stages of life, and the good doctor spells it out so playfully that we can’t help but start stretching our own “elastic aptitudes” as we read along.

Probably the most socially relevant book out of his entire body of work, no book broached the subject of prejudice and racism so delicately and yet so matter-of-factly as The Sneetches. In the title piece of “The Sneetches and Other Stories”, the ridiculousness of judging others solely on their looks, whether by birth or by fashion trends, is brought out full-bore, though in such a way that the reader, whether child or adult, is left snickering at the foolishness of it all rather than feeling some social-conscience-inflicted guilt trip.

Dr. Seuss passed away in 1990, but his legacy to children everywhere surrounds us. The gentle way he addressed very grown-up issues offers us opportunities to gently guide our own children, to teach them to make the right choices as they navigate the world we have created for them, for better or for worse.

Whether or not you align politically with Mr. Geisel who was what would euphemistically called a “progressive” by today’s commentators, you can’t deny that he found very interesting and compelling ways to argue for the causes he believes in.