Dr. Suess — By Guest Mom Katherine Center

October 26, 2007

After much struggle, here are my Top Five Dr. Seuss Books: Horton Hatches the Egg, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Sneetches and Other Stories—and, in particular the three-page story Too Many Daves (which cracks me up every time), There’s a Wocket in my Pocket, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Dr. Seuss is not news. Everybody knows him. Everybody loves him. The man wrote 44 books for children. He was a children’s book juggernaut.

But there’s a reason he wrote and illustrated all those books. He was really, really good at it. I could write about anything Seuss: His bold, charming, and totally unique illustrations. His distinctive and lovable characters. His plots, and the brilliant and accessible ways they instruct. His choice of words, both standard and made-up.

But I’m going to write about his rhymes. Man, could he rhyme. He was a genius, and that’s one of his many legacies: He’s the Shakespeare of the children’s book world.

There are a lot of children’s books that rhyme. Paying attention is a learned skill, and for little ones whose language is still developing, rhymes help keep them caught up in the story, in its sound, even if they don’t understand everything. Rhyming is a good thing. But not that many authors do it well.

Because rhyme is not just about sound: it’s about rhythm. More than anything, it’s about anticipation. It’s about setting up an expectation for the motion of the words.

Lesser writers lose the rhythm all the time. But Dr. Seuss never does. His stories are music. And I mean that literally. James Brown could bring his band to your house and back you up as you read. Reading those words out loud creates nothing short of a groove.

You remember The Sneetches? It’s just one of a hundred examples. The Star-Belly Sneetches think they are better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches—and then Sylvester McMonkey McBean comes along to profit from their snootiness. He brings machines that can remove and/or replace belly stars, and he starts a Sneetch frenzy. The story builds to this wild climax that is so fun to read:

All the rest of that day on those wild screaming beaches,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie kept fixing up Sneetches
Off again! On again!
In again! Out again!
Through the machines they raced round and about again,
Changing their stars every minute or two.
They kept paying money. They kept running through.
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.

The rhythm here is impeccable. He owns that rhythm.

All the REST of that DAY on those WILD screaming BEACHes
The FIX it up CHAPPie kept FIXing up SNEETCHes.

And then the rhythm shifts:

OFF again! ON again!
IN again! OUT again!

The accent shifts to the first word, and the exclamation points add a staccato undertone. Then a longer sentence :

THROUGH the maCHINES they raced ROUND and aBOUT again.

He shifts the accents and the rhythm without ever missing a beat—emphasizing different parts of the story, matching the sound to the meaning. It’s phenomenal. I’ve read The Sneetches a hundred times at least, and, like his others, I never get tired of it.

On the rare occasions my kids let me choose a book, I go for Seuss nine times out of ten.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 RoRo October 26, 2007 at 2:51 pm

What a great post, you said it perfectly, I love Dr. Suess too. My favorite is ‘I am not going to get up today’ I quote “my bed is warm, my pillow deep, today’s the day I’m going to sleep” I love all his books because his words just flow and you have adventure, my second favorite is ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ just uses your imagination too, and I’m sure like tons of other kids, I tried to make green eggs and ham!


2 Sandi October 26, 2007 at 3:34 pm

One of the best things about Seuss is that he provided an alternative to Dick & Jane books. Talk about snoozers. With Seuss, children actually enjoyed learning how to read.
Thanks for posting this!


3 Jann Webb October 26, 2007 at 3:49 pm

My kiddos loved the Sneetches book so much that when we got a kitten for thier first pet guess what they named him? You guessed it!! Sneetches!! We love Dr Seuss at our house!


4 Karol October 26, 2007 at 5:17 pm

I’m also a Dr. Seuss fan. I loved reading his books to both my kids when they were small. They were a challenge to read without getting all tongue twisted! One of my favorites was 1 fish 2 fish. My kids are 14 and almost 9 so thanks for taking me back to the simpler Dr. Seuss days!


5 Mom in Mendon October 26, 2007 at 11:32 pm

Thanks for your great guest posts.

Before Dr. S. wrote about his wonderful fantasy characters with his manufactured rhymes, he wrote To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry St. and The 500 (5000?) Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. I actually like them best.


6 Janika October 27, 2007 at 3:38 am

I’m loving these posts about your favorite books! These are some great ideas for Christmas gifts!
So, Design Mom, while you’re in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, you should also stop by the Dr.Seuss memorial (with great statues of his characters) in the Quadrangle in Springfield, MA (the hometown of Dr. Seuss). Oh, and the Eric Carle museum of children’s illustrations is also close by and very cool.


7 Cammie October 27, 2007 at 7:14 pm

I LOVE DR. Suess too! It is such a joy to read his books to my little boy. I grew up with “Horton Hears a Who” and others and really love the messages he shares. So fun and wise. He is a master at presenting his messages with such cleverness for all ages. I was just commenting on a political post where a friend of mine brought up the story he wrote about the battle over the bread and butter!


8 Liz October 27, 2007 at 8:04 pm

I love, love, love Too many daves, poor Mrs. McCave. I also love The Lorax!


9 DanaLee October 28, 2007 at 8:27 am

Hands down my favorite is My Many Colored Days. I always give it as a gift to pregnant friends.


10 april October 28, 2007 at 7:49 pm

my husband and i just dressed up as Sneetches for a Halloween party since one of my girls was Cindy Lou Who. i love this book too and i love how you explained why dr. suess is such a good read. my fave second story in the Sneetches book is the spooky pale green pants one. i just love the drama of it all!


11 Bubbles October 28, 2007 at 9:43 pm

What about Go Dog Go! I love that one!!


12 Scribbit October 28, 2007 at 11:59 pm

I could recite The Cat in the Hat in my sleep. Backwards.


13 Queen Scarlett October 29, 2007 at 12:29 am

Love these books. ps. My Borders is doing a buy 3 for the price of 2 on his books.


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