Recent discoveries in the publishing world have created much excitement. An earlier novel by Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was found and released causing considerable controversy. Now, a previously unpublished book by Dr. Seuss has been discovered and published, in this instance bringing much pleasure. “To Kill a Mockingbird” had become a classic, found on many school required reading lists and therefore encountered by many young people. Dr. Seuss is in himself a different kind of classic having brought pleasure to many children and their parents.
“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr.Seuss played a significant role in the way children learned to read. The content of beginning books for readers – “see Jane run” – did little to motivate children to learn to read. Dr. Seuss, on the other hand, with his rhyming and fantasy drawings produced books to which children could relate and parents could enjoy reading aloud. His books were so successful that they led to a special division at Random House called Beginner Books that specialized in books aimed at beginning readers.
Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss’s real name, died in 1991but “What Pet Should I get?” was found among his work projects somewhat more than a year ago. A note from the publisher in the book describes his style of preparing new books which enabled them to see how far along he was with this book and what still had to be completed for publication. That in itself is most interesting – to see the detailed way in which he set up his rhymes and drawings, and made color decisions.
Some detective work led to the conclusion that “What Pet Should I Get?” was written in the same general time period as “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue.” The children in the two books look the same, and the thought is that the unfinished book was the precursor to “One Fish.” As with Harper Lee’s discovered book, there is much speculation about why these books were put aside by their authors and not brought to publication.
Dr. Seuss’s writing speaks to children’s imagination and dilemmas. For whatever reason he put it aside, “What Pet Should I Get?” evokes a classic dilemma of childhood with which both children and parents can identify. The children in the story have been told they can get one pet but when they visit the pet shop they see so many wonderful choices – including those of the author’s imagination – that they can’t make up their minds.
Which flavor ice-cream should I choose, which toy do I want, which shirt do I want to wear? Parents lose their minds waiting for their children to make up theirs in these everyday scenarios. The boy in the story says, “We could only pick one. That is what my dad said. But how could I make up that mind in my head?” And later he says, “Oh, boy! It is something to make a mind up.”
The pressure the children are feeling to decide is expressed in the voices of their parents they hear in their heads. They would like to pick several but “dad would be mad.” Dad might not pay for some choices, mom might like one that fits in a small space, and mom warned them to be home by noon. In the end they accept, “We can only have one. If we do not choose we will end up with NONE.” That sounds like something a parent might threaten.
Why is it so hard for children to make up their minds? Making up your mind means making a choice, and choosing means giving something up. What you are giving up seems as desirable as what you are getting. You have to decide what you want most. Children are still learning to accept that and they don’t yet understand why they can’t have it all.
“Having it all.” That sounds familiar. It is not only children who have a hard time making a choice. Most of us can relate to how hard it is at times to choose – to accept that getting something also means giving up something. This should help us have empathy for our children when they can’t decide, and we feel like saying – or screaming – MAKE UP YOUR MIND!
It is not surprising that Dr. Seuss speaks to parents as well as children.