Earlier this week, my toddler came home from school with a copy of Horton Hears a Who. She had borrowed it from her class lending library, which the students stock with their favorite books twice a year.
My first thought when I saw the bright orange cover and grinning elephant was, “Oh, she’s not going to like that.” For even though my younger brother was a Dr. Seuss fanatic … and even though I have marvelous childhood memories of Go, Dog, Go! … and even though The Lorax holds a place of honor in this house … I don’t remember liking Horton very much as a child. Perhaps the kangaroo and her minions were just too cruel. Perhaps the thought of boiling an entire civilization in oil was too disturbing.
Or perhaps I disliked Horton simply because it wasn’t the “fun” side Dr. Seuss. There was no dog party, no hopping on pop, no goo-goo goggles, and not one single hat-donning cat. It was serious. It was Shakespeare’s Othello for someone expecting A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And I wasn’t old enough to make the wider world connections at that point.
But as I read it to my daughter over a breakfast of eggs and gluten-free pancakes, something unexpected happened. After a week of anger and fear and depression over yet another school shooting, I felt my spirit begin to rise. After a flurry of futile cries for change over social media, a dozen conversations with other anxious moms, and several moments of frustration doubting I could ever make a difference, I began to have some hope. Here was a book written almost 64 years ago, telling me that EVERY voice counts … telling me that you don’t have to be the mouthpiece to make a difference. You don’t have to be the mayor or the marching band beating kettles and pans.
In this case, all Who-vile needed to finally make itself heard, to convince the headstrong kangaroo and her toadies that they were real, was a tiny boy with a yo-yo … who at the last moment added a “Yopp!” to the other Who’s cries.
And that Yopp…
That one, small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover.
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean,
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?…
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”
It’s the sort of message I think we all need to hear right now. Right now … and the next time an issue grabs us by the heartstrings and won’t let go. Because, you know, there’s always something. Even if we somehow eradicate these current storm clouds, there are always more.
My little girl liked the story too. She really seemed to care about the people on the dust speck. I could see the concern in her eyes when the vulture carried it away, and her dismay at everyone else’s cruelty. It’s probably a good thing that she, like me at that age, didn’t truly understand the larger meaning. But I’ll continue reading it to her over the years. Maybe someday her spirit will need lifting too, and this story will help.
I’ve learned a lot about parenthood over the past almost-four years. One is that children understand a heck of a lot more than we give them credit for at even the youngest age. Another is that while there are thousands of books out there that teach our kids about letters, numbers, colors, etc., there are very few that teach them how to be good people — at least not in a way that engages them.
(I’ve been working on a future post about the children’s books that have stood out for me and my girls. You can check back for that later or follow this blog for upload alerts. There are also some great recommendations at Filling Baby’s Bookshelf, run by a fabulous friend and mother of two.)
Little Jo-Jo’s “Yopp!” is just one of the countless wonderful, engaging messages in Dr. Seuss’s books — maybe not Hop on Pop and Mr. Brown Can Moo, but can you think of a better way to prime children to care for our planet than by reading The Lorax?
So today, on what would have been Theodor Seuss Geisel’s 114th birthday, I want to thank Dr. Seuss for teaching us how to laugh, how to imagine, and how to stand up for what really matters in this world.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
~ The Lorax
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
“I’ve got to protect them. I’m bigger than they.”
“So, open your mouth, lad. For every voice counts!”
~ Horton Hears a Who
“I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
~ Yertle the Turtle
“If things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew, just go right along and you’ll start happening too.”
“Step with care and great tact, and remember that life’s a great balancing act.”
“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
~ Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
~ I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the things you can think up if only you try!”
~ Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!
“I know it is wet and the sun is not sunny, but we can have lots of good fun that is funny.”
~ The Cat in the Hat
(a lesson I’d love my kids to learn)
Photo copyright: http://www.123rf.com/profile_evgenyatamanenko