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Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Lorax

children's books reciew book list the Lorax dr.seuss
The Lorax,
by Dr.Seuss.

The author, Theodor Seuss Geisel, needs no introduction. A master of his craft, his unique style has entertained and educated many of us since childhood. Some books are silly and fun, some are just ridiculous rhymes, but every once in a while, when he does get serious, Dr.Seuss blows us away with his inimitable work, leaving a lasting and indelible impression on our souls with his powerful message.

The Lorax did that to me.

Published in 1971, when people's awareness of our planet's potential plight was just awakening, this book rings ominously and lamentably true in today's world of apathy and lack of accountability regarding the ecology of our Earth, our home.

What was the Lorax, why was it there?
Why was it lifted and taken somewhere
...
wonders a little boy at the start of the book, when he is directed to the far end of town where the grickle-grass grows to ask the old Once-ler, as he knows.

A careless and simple Once-ler, many years ago, comes upon the gorgeous land with Truffula Trees, Humming-Fish, Swomee-Swans and Brown bar-ba-loots, all co-exiting and thriving gleefully.

Captivated by the softness of the Truffula Tree tufts, he chops down just one tree at first, to make a beautiful Thneed (It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat. A Thneed is a fine something that everyone needs).

That's when the Once-ler is first confronted by The Lorax.

I am the Lorax, I speak for the Trees, I speak for the trees as the trees have no tongues, he says.

When the Lorax admonishes the Once-ler for chopping the tree to make the fool thneed that nobody needs, right then, a chap comes along and buys the said thneed.

Encouraged by this single sale, the Once-ler soon establishes a factory, inventing the super-axe-hacker to chop down four truffula trees in one smacker, and calling his brothers and uncles and aunts to come help mass produce the thneed.

Soon, the water is polluted by his factory, the air thick with toxins. The Swomee Swans and the Humming Fish are forced to leave to find a better habitat that will let them survive. The brown bar-ba-loots who ate the truffula fruits have nothing to eat and nowhere to rest...

The Lorax confronts the Once-ler, pleading on behalf of the brown Bar-ba-loots who have crummies in their tummies as they don't get to eat much. But, the Once-ler shoos the Lorax away saying business is business and business must grow, regardless of crummies in tummies you know...

Well, rather than tell it myself, as the master so perfectly blends the magic of rhyming verses and brilliant illustrations to prod the senses, I'll leave the details of the story and skip to the end.

The now remorseful Once-ler unfolds the tale of the destruction he wreaked. Just when the reader's heart is about to break, the book ends with the beacon of hope when the Once-ler drops a Truffula seed and says,

"Unless".

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot..."

This would be a perfect book for early introduction to environmental education and am sure my 7-year old niece would certainly appreciate the theme and the presentation, even if she cannot relate to the ever-popular corporate approach of profits at the cost of our ecosystem.

Ana (my 2¼ year old) loves this book, although I am sure she doesn't quite get the pithy subject of caring for your environment and doing the right thing that the book deals with.

To me, the brilliance of the book lies in the ending where Dr.Seuss leaves us with the message that our chances of survival now lie in the hands of a caring child - and that child could be you, my dear Ana!

And, that child could be each and every one of the little (and not-so-little) ones we read this book to...

In my naive mind, here is an imaginary conversation I have with Ana 4-5 years from now, thanks to The Lorax:
Me: Look at all the birds in the backyard. Where do you think they sleep at night?
Ana: On our tree over there? Maybe in their little nests?
Me: Yes, possibly. And look at the humming birds sucking on the flowers in the tree. What happens when the flowers are gone and there is nothing to drink from?
Ana: Oh they will drink from our humming-bird feeder, I am sure.
Me: What happens to all these birds and squirrels if we chop down our tree?
Ana: Oh, I don't know... maybe they will go to our neighbor's tree.
Me: What if our neighbor decides to chop their tree as well.
Ana: Why would we all want to chop our trees?
Me: Maybe we want some firewood in winter, maybe we want to make paper out of the tree
Ana: Oh, can't we do that with other trees in the forest? Why our tree?
Me: So, you think the trees in the forest don't have any birds living on them?
Ana: Hmm. Maybe there are birds living there too... but, there will be lots more trees there than our one tree here...
Me: What if all our neighbors in our street decide to chop down all their trees?
Ana: Maybe the birds will go to the next street...
Me: What if there are only pine trees in the next street and no flowering trees - what will humming birds do?
...

I know, I am carrying it too far, but, thanks to The Lorax, I have a jump off point for her to think about things like snowball effect and butterfly effect without being bogged down by worldly woes. (Well, OK, not butterfly effect yet...)

After having read many, many children's books and finding many of them disappointing in some way or another, I cannot help but be impressed with Dr.Seuss's body of work. I freely admit that not every book has to have a lesson or a moral but they should at least have some appeal to children.

I agree Ana might not be a universal barometer, but, as that is the only barometer I get to work with for now, I believe Dr.Seuss's books are going to stay with her (and possibly zillions of children around the world) for life.

The two usual complaints I have heard about Dr.Seuss are: 1) he just throws things together that is wacky and frivolous-sounding, not necessarily easy for children to know; and, 2) he just makes up words to make up his meter and have his verses rhyme.

In my little mommy-brain, I believe 1) is easy dispelled if one just picks up the wide array of children's books and tries to make sense of them - Dr.Seuss is a class apart. Children love wackiness, as to them, it is not quite wacky; it is the jaded and warped adult mind that perceives it as so. And, as to 2). well, Shakespeare made up words to fit into his meter, and many of those words are part of our vernacular today. Nothing wrong with that.

And, Ana's favorite piece from Fox on Socks happens to be the last section about Tweetle Beetles, and when I read to her :
When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle's on a poodle and the poodle's eating noodles...
... they call this
and pause, she gleefully chimes in
a muddle puddle tweetle poodle

Yep! exactly those words, which are the correct words that follow, which even I can't quite remember sometimes... and so, I do believe in the merits of rhymes, meter and phonics. (And, of course, reading the darn thing about 20 times a day!)

More children's books review at Saffron Tree!

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