Ah, Dr. Suess. What a fantastic writer! Many know that his real name was Theodor Suess Geisel, and that he drew political cartoons and even produced several short films before the fame of The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. If not, I taught you something new.
Dr. Suess is the best poet for young children. Believe me: I have children and was once a child myself. Because of those two things, I have read some terribly crappy attempts at rhymes in books geared toward kids. Suess, on the other hand, wrote simple poetry with simple words and simple illustrations long before sight word/level reading stuff. And Suess didn’t suck.
As a parent, I say the true sign of excellence in youth material is whether I can watch or read it and not want to gnaw my own arm off just to get away. I can read Suess’ books repeatedly and enjoy them.
The Sneetches is no exception. The story follows a group of creatures who all look the same -except some have a star on their bellies. “…(B)ecause they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches/Would brag, ‘We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.'” Meanwhile, the Plain-Belly Sneetches are excluded, spending their time together feeling sad at being left out.
And that’s how they treated them year after year.
Why didn’t the Plain-Bellies just hold their own frankfurter roasts and ball games? Well, we get some clue as to the common sense of these yellow, birdlike animals when a stranger comes to their beaches and specifically addresses the left-out group:
“My name is Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
And I’ve heard of your troubles. I’ve heard you’re unhappy.
But I can fix that. I’m the Fix-it-Up Chappie.”
McBean builds a machine that can put stars on bellies, and charges $3 apiece. Then, when the original group is upset over the class-leveling, he builds another machine that removes stars (for $10 each!). Chaos ensues, expressed in my favorite stanza of the tale:
Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
Whether this one was that one . . . or that one was this one
Or which one was what one . . . or what one was who.
It pleasantly tickles a literary nerve, doesn’t it? Sigh.
The last literary element that makes Dr. Suess the best is teaching a moral. The Lorax and such are more heavy-handed than I like, but The Sneetches gives us a gentle tap of reprimand.
After McBean literally takes all their money, he leaves. “They never will learn,” he laughs. “No. You can’t teach a Sneetch.” Seuss, meanwhile, tells us a different message:
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day….
Read Suess, even for yourself. Share this story with others. Then, perhaps, the world will remember that “…Sneetches are Sneetches/And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”