Tag Archives: Dr. Seuss

Horton Hears a Who and the Pro-Life Message

 Here’s a Seuss-related question I’m pondering: should educators use Horton Hears a Who to promote the pro-life message?

As a junior high and high school religion teacher and catechist in Catholic schools and parishes, I often used picture books to illustrate theological points. My favorite is The Yellow Star: the Legend of King Christian X of Denmark. Naturally, when I discovered the pro-life message in Horton, I wondered if it would be an appropriate teaching tool.

Having never read the book, my introduction to Horton Hears a Who came from a Christian Youth Theater production of Seussical: The Musical. When Horton first uttered the line, “A person’s a person no matter how small,” I had a new definition of irony.

I soon became aware of the intriguing debate that swirls around Horton’s recurring phrase. Others have articulated the situation better than I can. For example, this article comes from LifeSiteNews.com, “a portal of news stories about pro-life issues in Canada, the United States and the UK.” The article explains that, over the objections of Dr. Seuss himself and his widow, Mrs. Audrey Geisel, Horton has been used to support the pro-life movement.

According to Geisel biographer Philip Nel, Geisel threatened to sue a pro-life group for using his words on their stationery. In an ABC Booktalk interview, Nel does not address the pro-life message at all, suggesting instead that “you can read Horton Hears a Who in many ways, but one of the ways of reading Horton Hears a Who is a parable about democracy – that everyone needs to get involved for democracy to work.”

Mrs. Geisel has been vocal in her dislike for the co-opting of the phrase by pro-lifers, insisting according to this article  that Geisel “never wanted Dr. Seuss characters used to advance any political purpose.”

Yet, prior to writing children’s books, Geisel had a lucrative career as a political cartoonist. This work, Nel feels, “had tremendous impact on the political children’s books, on the message books that he wrote after the Second World War – Horton Hears a Who, Yertle the Turtle, The Sneeches. I think it’s safe to say that he wouldn’t have written these books unless he had, during the war, written these political cartoons.”

To return to my question: Should the Geisels’ feelings regarding Horton matter?

Arundhati Roy, an Indian activist and writer, said in an interview, “For me, books are gifts. When I read a book, I accept it as a gift from an author. When I wrote [The God of Small Things], I presented it as a gift. The reader will do with it what they want.”

Moreover, Junipero Russo Tarascio, regarding Horton specifically, writes, “We may never know exactly what, if anything, Seuss had intended to communicate using Horton’s character (some have even suggested that the Whos are a symbol of racism, war, or children’s rights). This leaves the elephant’s story open to all forms of analysis and interpretation, depending on the specific moral values of the person reading it.” (Click here for the full article.) 

So, to use or not to use? What discussion questions, if any, would work with the text? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

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Seussical: The Musical

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Dr. Seuss
Music by Stephen Flaherty

“Take a tip from the Cat / And hold onto your hat / ‘Cause this ain’t Mother Goose!” ~ from Seussical: The Musical

Though there are the well-loved cartoons as well as some great movies adapting Seuss books, nothing breathes life into Seuss the way Seussical: The Musical does.  Mrs. Audrey Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s widow, admits she “couldn’t tell where [Seuss] left off and [Seussical] began,” so well does the show illuminate the “fantastical nature” and “contemporary themes” of Seuss’s work (Aherns & Flaherty, “A Note from the Authors”).

For young Seuss fans, Seussical makes an excellent introduction to live theater.  I sifted through the many Seussicals on YouTube and compiled a sampling of the music and a glimpse of what’s possible when bringing Seuss to the stage.  My daughter loves to watch these videos:

The opening song, “Oh the Thinks You Can Think!” from a high school production that features good choreography and a great Cat.  A clip from the Broadway cast performing “Biggest Blame Fool” at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade–Kevin Chamberlin’s expressions are fantastic.  And an outstanding Gertrude performing the hilarious “One Feather Tail of Gertrude McFuzz.” As you can see, Seussical is pure fun!

I found information for a few current and upcoming productions of Seussical in Santa Barbara, CASan Carlos, CASummit, NJ, and San Diego, CA.  If you know of other productions, please share details in a comment.

By the way, it may seem a stretch to find a discussion of a Broadway musical in a reading blog, even if the musical is based on the collected works of a renowned writer.  But if you’ve seen my Tevana menu post, you know I read all manner of material.  In this case it’s…wait for it…the liner notes from the soundtrack.  Click here for a link to lyrics from the show.

Little Lit Lover says:  I like how the Cat in the Hat pops up all over the place.  I can’t wait to see it on stage again!

Me too!

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Celebrate Seuss!

I’ve complied a number of “Seuss-gestions” for celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday and Read Across America.  Click on the Lorax for my favorite of all the activities.

Learn:  Who was the man behind the books?  There are innumerable bios of Theodor Geisel, but for brevity and quality, this site is great and also contains information about the sculpture garden which serves as a national memorial to Seuss in the town of his birth.

Discover:  Geisel,  the artist.  Though Dr. Seuss is generally thought of as a writer and illustrator of children’s books, Geisel’s art offers something for all ages.  For those interested in art beyond the books, explore this site.  History buffs will enjoy this splendid catalog of political cartoons.

Play:   For kids, this official site has fun Seuss games featuring favorite characters.  Not all games require reading.  Parents and professional educators can find activity ideas here.

Plan:  As an alternative to Disney, wouldn’t it be fun to plan a family trip to Seuss Landing in Orlando?  (where the Harry Potter theme park will soon be open…but don’t let me get distracted.)

Read (of course!): Make time this week to read your favorite Dr. Seuss book  (and share your selection here).


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