What's wrong with Dr Seuss?

56

15

Our toddler is about the right age to start enjoying Dr Seuss books, and I don't see anything wrong with them (I had one as a child which I loved). But my own mother (despite this) hates them, and so does my partner's mother (who's a speech therapist).

So what's wrong with Dr Seuss? Is there a concern that these books inhibit speech or language development? Or are they just seen as too silly?

user293594

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 528

1Interesting that your mother-in-law, a speech therapist, is opposed to them. One of my aunts is a speech therapist, and she read Dr Seuss to her two biological children. (Her two step-children were adults when she married.) – Brian S – 2014-09-23T14:26:09.603

21You had a favorite Seuss book, but your mother hates them... perhaps you asked too often to have the same book read to you. Your mother obliged out of love, but grew to dislike that one, and possibly all other Seuss books by extension. I have children's books that I enjoy reading to my kids (even some that I have memorized) but others that I detest, often because of the frequency of reading when it was one I didn't care for to begin with. – techturtle – 2014-09-23T14:26:39.260

4The Cat in the Hat Came Back is not nearly as good as The Cat in the Hat. – Dave Clarke – 2014-09-23T15:27:09.897

10

It is possible that their objections may be political, rather than about anything to do with the developmental appropriateness. Or maybe they just had to read Oh, Say Can You Say? one too many times...

– None – 2014-09-23T16:43:30.690

1

@Beofett - Cuious! But I have a feeling some of that may be the "I am the walrus" effect. "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, in which the Cat may represent colonial or absolute dictatorial power" - that sounds too much of a stretch even to me, and I'm a life-long expert on progressive-subtext-reading.

– user3143 – 2014-09-23T16:47:23.803

@user3143 Yes, I agree some of them are so much of a stretch as to be absurd, but The Lorax was supposedly acknowledged as "propaganda" by Geisel, and some people do object to environmentalism in its current form, particularly if they perceive it as being "forced" upon a child. IMO, any political message in a children's book is inviting some strong feelings. You should have seen the rants about The Giving Tree. – None – 2014-09-23T16:49:47.127

13Have you asked the mothers why they hate him? – Robert – 2014-09-23T18:51:20.680

When I was a kid I didn't like Dr Seuss. I kept thinking "How can you expect me to learn new words when I can't tell which ones are made up?" – Jeff Bell – 2014-09-23T17:12:49.500

18This is total nonsense....Seuss is brilliant. Suggesting that made-up words will inhibit reading comprehension and language facilities is like believing that abstract painting will actively inhibit your ability to draw still-lifes. – Aerovistae – 2014-09-23T20:10:20.817

9Ehm... ask your mother?? – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2014-09-24T08:39:16.167

@DaveClarke I don't know, all that pink mess was mesmorizing as a kid. – coburne – 2014-09-25T13:41:14.097

@coburne: I agree, from a child's perspective. But as an adult, I prefer the first one. (Sequels are rarely better.) – Dave Clarke – 2014-09-25T19:22:28.560

This – user2813274 – 2014-09-28T20:33:56.263

Answers

168

What's wrong with Dr Seuss he asked?
To find an answer, I've been tasked.
His books on cats are widely read,
In libraries, schools, or just in bed.

Is it because he writes such blubber
that turns a child's tongue into rubber?
Nonsense words and silly rhymes
Confusing children at bedtimes.

Or maybe it's the politics
Of chicks on blocks and clocks on bricks?
Perhaps they're reading too much in
To books designed to make kids grin?

Maybe they didn't have enough
Of Seuss' funny childrens' stuff?
It gave them hurty-wurty brains
To read that book "again, again"!

Dr Seuss, the politician?
The silly rhymes? The repetition?
I've always thought these books were fun.
I don't know why; go ask your mum!

tobyink

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 1 652

47The simple rhymes and witticism, taught my son to read with rhythm. To emphasize the bolded words, so feelings aren't just read, they're heard. It's clear to me that it's not bad, to hear a child say to dad, "I do not like them, Sam I Am!" like an overacting ham. Some words he uses aren't so real, but that just adds to the appeal. There may be some that disagree, to them I say "Just let me be!" – Geobits – 2014-09-24T14:10:16.953

13+1 for the last line being the best way to answer the question. I'd +10 for the rhymes if I could! :) – techturtle – 2014-09-24T20:55:34.587

4I've seen some terrible would-be Dr. Seuss parodies and this one is... not so bad. – nekomatic – 2014-09-25T07:35:08.700

9Best answer ever – John Hunt – 2014-09-25T21:08:39.473

3Makes me wish we could favorite an answer! – Steven Magana-Zook – 2014-09-25T21:54:56.320

9I signed up just so I can upvote this. – David Grinberg – 2014-09-27T05:33:00.010

@nekomatic Worthy of it, we'll +1 ten times over together :D – Simply Beautiful Art – 2016-09-18T23:36:48.020

54

Personally, I always saw them as actually helping the development of speech and language, in the same way practicing tongue twisters helps you improve. I have never heard of them being disliked or hated, and in fact a google search for any papers calling their usefulness into question returns nothing!

That's just my opinion though.

Wikipedia has this interesting snippet:

In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children, which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. Accordingly, William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin who later became its chairman, compiled a list of 348 words he felt were important for first-graders to recognize and asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and write a book using only those words. Spaulding challenged Geisel to "bring back a book children can't put down." Nine months later, Geisel, using 236 of the words given to him, completed The Cat in the Hat. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of Geisel's earlier works, but because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today. In 2009, Green Eggs and Ham sold 540,366 copies, The Cat in the Hat sold 452,258 copies, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960) sold 409,068 copies—outselling the majority of newly published children's books.[47]

And some other numbers:

  • He has sold over 600 million books
  • He has been translated into more than 20 languages

Dr Seuss is pretty much a staple in the western world, and has been since the 1960s. I'd be pretty confident you're in a good place reading them with your kids.

Rory Alsop

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 22 118

1"Dr Seuss is pretty much a staple in the western world" Really? I've never heard of it outside of the USA context. But you're Scottish so presumably, unlike me, you've seen it as "a staple" in the UK. Is that right? – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2014-09-24T08:40:14.597

2Actually - his works have always sold most in the US. The UK got to them quite a bit later. – Rory Alsop – 2014-09-24T08:47:45.927

Literally never seen them here. Not that I'm disputing you. – Lightness Races in Orbit – 2014-09-24T08:50:38.997

5I'm Australian; Dr Seuss has been a big thing here too. – doppelgreener – 2014-09-24T09:58:04.957

1I don't think these books are very well known among non-English speakers, 'western' or not. – reinierpost – 2014-09-25T15:15:35.183

2They have been translated into over 20 languages and sell millions. That's better known than most books :-) – Rory Alsop – 2014-09-25T15:22:26.200

1They are a staple in the UK too. – dumbledad – 2014-09-29T13:12:31.753

1@LightnessRacesinOrbit I've seen Dr. Suess widely used in India too, I grew up reading Green Eggs and Ham. – Vedant Chandra – 2015-06-10T09:53:09.317

16

I'm not sure why the grandmothers would find them to be distasteful--You would probably be better off asking them directly for that.

I do, however, discourage my own child's grandmothers from reading Dr. Seuss to my child. The reason has nothing to do with speech development or mental acuity, but because I find a number of the Doctor's characters to be poor models:

The book 'The Cat in the Hat' runs through a rather detailed scenario in which the parent's rules are ignored, overridden, and pushed aside, only to have a magical "hide it from Mom" button pressed. I don't want my children behaving like that; If I have created a home rule, it was for a reason. If the child chooses to break that rule, I need them to be able to explain to me why they chose to break that rule, not to hide it. (They may have a very good reason to break it, I may need to change the rule, or perhaps the child needs to face consequence for his choices).

The book 'Green Eggs and Ham' (a book I've learned much from!) has a character who refuses to try new foods by essentially plugging his ears and screaming. Again, I don't want this behavior modeled. A second character refuses to respect the dissenting character's desire. And again, I don't want this behavior modeled. If I choose to read this book to my child (and I do!) I want to be able to explain to him why Sam-I-Am or... Mr. NO (whatever his name is) is behaving like this, and how to handle one's self and others in similar situations.

(There are MANY more Dr. Seuss books, some of which I leave on my son's shelf, others which I don't find the benefit in keeping, at least not at his current age, nor at mine.)

In short, I find the education in some of the Dr. Seuss books to be a negative education, rather than a positive one. And there are so many positive educational books out there (even silly and/or surreal ones!) that I we don't have time for The Cat in the Hat.

I wonder if the Grandmas aren't responding to that fact.

nathanaelps

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 185

I'm not sure if I agree with you, but this is definitely a nicely composed answer. Thank you for it, and welcome to the site! – Dariusz – 2014-09-24T09:09:35.687

25I understand your reasoning but I completely disagree with it. The closing line of The Cat in the Hat, "Well, what would you do if your mother asked you?", positively invites a discussion of the rights or wrongs of what happened and what the children should do or should have done. And the message of Green Eggs and Ham is surely that the narrator is foolish to have refused to try a new thing. I think both books give young children examples of wrong behaviour that they can appreciate are wrong, which is at least as effective as lecturing them on what's right. – nekomatic – 2014-09-24T09:44:01.810

@nekomatic While I did not grow up with Doctor Seuss (I only know him from his fictional rap battle with Shakespeare on Youtube), I think that for children at the lower end of the target audience, the real messages might be too subtle and could get lost in the general tone and message of the books, being "parental disobedience is fine if you don't get caught" and "If you don't want to try new things, whine about them". – Nzall – 2014-09-24T10:12:55.160

1It's been a while since I read the books, but didn't things fare badly for the children when they did all the things their mother told them not to? I assumed that was the point being made and the moral of the story. – IQAndreas – 2014-09-24T10:50:18.423

3Kids don't need books to figure out "parental disobedience is fine if you don't get caught" and "if you don't want to try new things, whine about them". Reading Seuss books may help them stop doing both. – jpatokal – 2014-09-24T11:33:33.387

13I'm not sure I'm getting the whole "parental disobedience" thing from Cat In the Hat. The only thing wrong the kids do is let the cat in the house. Then their participation becomes pretty passive until they realize that things are getting out of hand, at which point the boy puts a stop to it. The message of "do the right thing, even if it means putting a stop to fun" is much stronger than "ignoring your parents is okay". As for Green Eggs, I agree with nekomatic's interpretation. – None – 2014-09-24T13:15:08.173

4@nekomatic You're right. I read both books to my child, but I read through the last page and then we discuss it (as with any of the books we read together). A friend, when she tried to do the same, ended up emphasizing the role of the Cat (how much FUN is all THIS?!), and not the role of the children (or fish!). I want to make sure the right model is being praised. – nathanaelps – 2014-09-24T13:36:07.677

3I feel that Thing One and Thing Two are getting off a bit too lightly here. – nekomatic – 2014-09-24T14:25:51.317

1If you have trouble getting through a book like Green Eggs and Ham in one sitting, then it would be a terrible example. All you would see is a whiny brat not even considering a sample of a food based on a preconceived notion of how it tastes. I agree that's terrible. So if the story cuts off halfway through and you can't get to the moral of the story at the end (which my very young kids can't do, so this isn't for them yet) you would leave them with a negative education. If you invite a discussion after the story, though, you have a great learning opportunity and a bonding experience too =] – corsiKa – 2014-09-24T19:28:32.573

This answer most directly answers the question, and now that I've read it, I understand why these books were so hard for me to find as a child, and my parents were very concerned with the things mentioned in this answer. I had lots of exciting books, but only one or two of Dr. Seuss's. – Aaron Hall – 2014-09-25T15:59:57.173

1I can understand the problem with Cat in the Hat, although I agree with other commenters here who mentioned that it ends with a question "What would you say if your mother asked you?" which could be a great teaching moment. As for Green Eggs and Ham though, it ends with the character realising that they DO like Green Eggs and Ham. My daughter tries new foods because she wants to be like the character eating the Green Eggs and Ham and she exclaims afterwards "I do like ...(whatever she tries)...Thank you Thank you Sam I Am!" – Greg – 2014-09-26T06:44:29.493

1At the end of the Cat in the Hat they do "hide" their behaviour, but by tidying everything up and putting it right, not by sweeping it under the carpet. And Green eggs and ham is a story about a stupid person's regret at not being more open minded. Ironically... – AdamV – 2014-09-26T14:37:54.840

7

Without any further input from your mother or mother-in-law, it's most likely that this is a case of opinion, rather than fact.

There are certaily a few things to dislike about Doctor Seuss books - they are very silly, surreal, and disconformist. If your two critics are very by-the-book rule-sticklers, then it may simply be a matter of opposing philosophies.

I'd compare the Seuss books with books that they do recommend to confirm this theory - it's possible there's some other unknown factor by which they are opposed to Doctor Seuss, but it sounds to me like whatever factor it is, it's of an opinion-based preference, rather than any problems with the material itself.

Zibbobz

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 831

5silly, surreal, and disconformist - IMO This is a lot of the reason why they are so popular with kids (and the kids within us). – Digital Trauma – 2014-09-23T17:28:46.227

2@DigitalTrauma And at the same time, sadly, exactly why it is unpopular with certain adults that have abandoned their inner child. – Zibbobz – 2014-09-23T18:22:49.833

4

It seems to me that neither Seuss hater offered any reason why and you might just ask them to be specific, especially the therapist.

Seuss was my favorite, and I recall having the full set as a toddler. By the second grade I was at a measured 8th grade reading level. Not implying cause and effect, of course, I just would say that these books didn't ruin me. The made up words were funny, and the rhymes made the books easy to read.

With so much cartoon violence out there, I'm not too concerned about the bad lessons one might pull from these books.

In the end, the key thing, in my opinion, is to offer a variety of books, and read with your children.

JoeTaxpayer

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 465

4

There should be some clarification. Do these people hate the books that were written by Dr. Seuss, or books that were written by Dr. Seuss.

If they dislike the books as an extension of their dislike of Dr. Seuss, and/or some of the political views in the books, then the issue may be somewhat intractable.

There is also the general political view taken in almost all his books, that of inclusivity, equality, and environmentalism that make many modern-day republicans object to them with varying degrees of vociferousness.

At one point, he modified a copy of his Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! book replaing all instances of Marvin K. Mooney with Richard M. Nixon, which was then reprinted in a newspaper column.

Faux News actually ran a piece objecting to the recent movie rendition of The Lorax because it was "trying to indoctrinate our children".

The wikipedia article on Political messages of Dr. Seuss is fascinating, if nothing else. The section on political views of his biography page is also quite interesting.

It's nothing I personally find objective, after all, we're all human, but I'm certain the more... extreme end of religious fundamentalism would object quite vociferously, and that may potentially be the source of some of the dislike.

Personally, I loved the books when I was a kid.

Fake Name

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 141

2

A few of his later books showed more of his liberal leanings and that irked conservatives. I'm not saying it was bad, just that it shown through more in the end. "The Butter Battle Book" is probably the best known - and with an ambiguous 'ending'.

BTW - I was a well behaved kid as is my child and we both grew up on Dr. S. At that age, the words are more important than the characters' behavior.

abstract reindeer

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 21

1

This may seem like a detour but, firstly, let me start by saying that we taught our son to read using Dr. Seuss' books. We first learned the alphabet. Then we sat down for about half an hour each day with "The Cat in the Hat", incidentally, and started spelling out each letter of each word. I would then explain how each letter was pronounced using the phonetic rules (yes, the English language indeed has those!) I recalled from my English Grammar days; English is a second language to me so I had to memorize those when I was learning it which helped. The first few days it took us half an hour to go through a couple of lines. Within a week we could go through a whole verse with my son sounding out the words correctly and within a month, he was reading, slowly but surely. Within a couple of more months he had moved on from Dr. Seuss' books and only needed to ask how the really tough words that recognize no phonetic rules are pronounced.

So, honestly, I have no idea how anyone would fathom that Dr. Seuss' books could impede learning how to read. In fact, I would wager that the imaginative flourish they encourage far outweighs the perceived negative consequences that invented words may cause. Life is not an exact science. I don't see why literature should be different.

As to the original question, I'd like to remind the OP that YOU ARE THE PARENT. The grandparents are only accessories to the fact, if they so wish. YOU are the one who should make decisions about your child's upbringing. Grandparents may provide input that you are free to consider or discard at your own discretion. Make no mistake, unless you completely relinquish parenting to the grandparents, it is YOU who bears the responsibility in raising your child in the manner you see fit and it is YOU who has the latitude to make decisions about their well-being. It is YOU who will also likely carry the guilt or pride with the outcomes that are perceived to flow from that.

The point I am trying to make is to make an effort to divorce yourself from the grandparents viewpoints and really see them as input from the outside world, as welcome or unwelcome as you may consider them to be. In the end, YOU make the call on what your child should read.

On the other hand, do appreciate the fact that grandparents are to be viewed as volunteers in aiding the raising of your child. The do have a right to refuse to go along with your directions when the child is in their care. By the same token, however, you do have a right to refuse to leave the child in their care. Again, YOU ARE THE PARENT!

As for anyone who would somehow deduce that Dr. Seuss' books may be damaging to young children, I would wager there are many other influences from the real world which would cause much more harm that you have very little to no control over whatsoever.

If you are indeed scanning your child's environment that carefully for potential dangers, I would also suggest that you may be micromanaging their world and may be raising a "hothouse" child which would have a rough time adjusting to the realities of the outside world when the time comes for them to face it. That moment will most certainly come, sooner or later, whether you like it or not, barring any calamity that I would not wish on any parent.

In the end, the degree of control one has over their child's upbringing is often highly exaggerated. Recall families that have more than one child where the children turn out quite differently, regardless of the fact that they are raised by the same parents even if the parents are quite consistent with their parenting approach across siblings. The best you can do is try, to the best of your knowledge and abilities, not ignoring the fact that, at some point, children will start making their own choices in ways that may agree or, to your dismay, disagree with a lot of things you have taught them.

Don't get your panties in a knot and tell that to the grandparents, too! There is hardly any certainty in this world and parenting is by far no exception. Follow YOUR heart and don't let too many people muddy the water for you. Otherwise, you will be attempting to live someone else's life and that has rarely worked out well for anyone I know.

gopherIT

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 79

1+1 primarily for YOU ARE THE PARENT! Beyond your uses of the phrase, the single largest reason for it, IMO, is in discussions about what happens in the books. Discussion should take place while reading parts, as well as after finishing. Reading to the child from anything helps in bonding, but discussing what is read is critical in forming character. The books in themselves only teach about behaviors if there is no moderation from the parent who should provide social context. By adding discussion, the child learns about the wider social consequences. – user2338816 – 2014-09-29T05:10:29.460

1

First, I read Dr. Seuss as a kid. We have them now for our kids. But I generally try to avoid him in favor of other authors. My Mom didn't like Dr. Seuss and I'm not a big fan either.

Here's why. First, his books aren't representative of the real world - nor do they even closely approximate it. The very young children who his books are aimed at really need something more realistic. I won't try to prove that thesis here; you can find plenty of discussion online. Suffice it to say, children go through various developmental stages and when they really need to understand the real world more than anything, that's when adults tend to give them Dr. Seuss.

Next, it disfigures reality. When Dr. Seuss isn't making up pure nonsense, he misrepresents reality. More than one of my children actually thought bees stung with their noses thanks to his absurd drawings. While a little of his art is okay for me, after a while it makes me sick looking at it. Too weird, and just not very good art - as you might find in books by Robert McCloskey for example. MUCH better writing there too.

The made-up words just make things worse. Dr. Seuss seems to have resorted to fake words very often to make a rhyme, seemingly because he couldn't think of a rhyme with real words. When we want our children to expand their vocabulary, wasting their minds on fake words is unfortunate.

So I don't hate Dr. Seuss, but I find plenty to object to.

In response to another comment, I tend to lean rather conservative, and have never objected to Dr. Seuss politically or morally. However, others' interpretations of him may be objectionable. (I do agree with another poster, though, that some of the characters, such as the Cat in the Hat, are poor role models.) I really love Dr. Seuss' line "A person's a person, no matter how small." How beautiful, and right in line with loving and appreciating others!

While I tolerate some Dr. Seuss, I am much happier reading my children something like "Make Way for Ducklings" or "One Morning in Maine". (Yes, I realize "Make Way for Ducklings" anthropomorphizes ducks, but only somewhat, and the art is fantastic!)

I hope that answers your question regarding what someone might find "wrong" with Dr. Seuss!

TOPJOB7

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 27

0

As previously cited, a lot of people around the world enjoy the works of Dr. Seuss, including you.

But then there are those two outliers who have a different opinion.

Interestingly, when you asked, "What's wrong with Dr. Seuss?" you centered yourself with the outliers. You abandoned your own opinion of his work in favor of theirs.

The answer is: Nothing is wrong with Dr. Seuss.

However, I think your real question is, "What's wrong with my mother and my partner's mother for not liking the works of Dr. Seuss?"

Why do you suppose you sided with them and avoided centering the question around them? I'll leave that for you to ponder.

Getting in-laws to agree on anything is indeed a conundrum. That they both agree on something as (relatively) benign as Dr. Seuss is perplexing. After all, there is so much more in the world that directly causes permanent damage to young children.

Perhaps their issue has nothing at all to do with Dr. Seuss. He may just be convenient. Maybe they blame him for their unrealized dreams? If my younger daughter grows up to be a bookworm who never sees the light of day and spends her whole life casting spells, riding brooms and never brushing her teeth, J.K. Rowling will have earned her share of the blame.

You sound like a young parent, so I'll let you in on a little secret: parents lie. You might ask them - but keep in mind that the cat in the hat could just be a red herring.

As for teaching reading: use your laptop or a tablet, make a bunch of slides (PowerPoint, or images) - white slides, red letters, Arial Rounded font, LARGE type - as large as you can make it - fill the screen. One word per slide. Use common words - words the child hears every day (cat, dog, banana, whatever - no pictures, just words). Sit with the child and go through the slides, encouraging the child to say the word loudly, as loudly as the kid wants to. Point at the first letter and move your finger across the word, slowly enunciating it. Back and forth through the slides, then forward, back up one or two, forward again, etc. Then randomly. Add a word or two every day. Within a week or two, your child will be reading anything and everything. My girls could read at 3. By the time they got to kindergarten, they were reading at the 5th grade level. By the 5th grade they were untestable by the school system.

phaedrus

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 19

0

Just to take an example

The Lorax depicts a lot of publicly owned land, unwittingly incorporating the tragedy of the commons, to which it misses the mark and ultimately blames what is tacitly implied as a Bourgeois Sycophant of Capital; igniting a class struggle narrative between him and a proletarian Lorax, when the real issue came down to homesteading property rights which did not exist in that universe, and to which would have given land owners an economic incentive to maintain the value of their land instead of strip mining it before someone else was able to.

So unless you are keen on raising a child well versed in the epistemological folly that is dialectical materialism, instilling the fallacy of polylogism on your child, then I would say it is best to stick to a non-fiction work.

That is probably why your mother was against teaching your son Dr. Seuss.

Akiva

Posted 2014-09-23T11:02:12.513

Reputation: 117