Deduce the Politics of Dr. Seuss

I have been super busy these last few weeks, but I am still reading and using picture books everyday! The following is from a mini-lesson I completed in my Teaching History Methods class. Common Core State Standards: 

  • 5.SS.1.1.2 Discuss significant individuals who have been responsible for bringing about cultural and social changes in the United States.
  • RL.5.7 Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem). 
The idea of the lesson is to scaffold the ability of understanding political cartoons and how they inform or call others to action in response. First students will be introduced to political cartooning then use of Dr.Seuss books as examples. Book one & two will be given to students and books three & four will be discussed as a think/pair/share {time permitting}. In the end, students will create their own political cartoon based on the lesson, using their own thoughts of injustice in their world.

We have discussed using primary sources, pictures, art, statues, and sculptures are incredible ways to better understand history, making our textbooks come alive! In this lesson, we are going to see how cartoons and comics are used to help people share messages that are very important to them, through the art of political cartooning.

Modern American political cartoons have been around since the nineteenth century. The increase in newspaper and magazine circulation in the 1800’s provided a rich environment for the rise and use of political cartoons. People with minimal reading abilities can understand and relate to a format that communicates powerful ideas in a humorous,light-hearted manner. Through the use of analogy, irony, symbolism, and exaggeration the cartoonist expresses the themes and problems of their time. 

We know Dr. Seuss as a successful children's cartoonist and author, but he also was a successful political cartoonist, creating a parody of current events during World War II for a progressive newspaper. Theodor Geisel drew over 400 cartoons for this New York newspaper, while he was the chief editorial cartoonist (1941-1943). Many of these cartoons were directed towards the war, Adolf Hitler, and Japan.

What is your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

Horton Hears a Who! is said to have many political and social messages, focusing on the powerless. One of which, Dr. Seuss addresses the social issue of conformity. Conformity involves people changing their beliefs or behaviors in order to fit in with a group. Throughout the book, Horton stands out from the rest of the jungle animals. He is very different, and Horton refuses to conform. The key political struggle during Dr. Seuss's lifetime was the struggle against fascism, where strict conformity was a cultural and political requisite. Asking immigrants from other countries; as well as, Native Americans to be more American. Forming this melting pot and taking on the American Identity that we have spoken about in weeks before. 

The story of the Sneetches is about yellow bird-like creatures, some have green stars on their stomachs, and others without. The "in" crowd are those who have the stars and they look down on those who do not have it. One day, a man named McBean comes to town with a machine to give those without a star, a star, with a “star-on machine” for the cost of three dollars. The original Sneetches with the stars are angered because they no longer have a way to show that they are better than those without. McBean comes up with the solution in the form of a star-off machine that will take the stars off the stomach of the Sneetches for the cost of ten dollars. This way, they can differentiate themselves once again and regain their superiority. This gets out of hand with all the Sneetches changing back and forth from having a star and not having a star to the point that, "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." Both groups quickly run out of money and McBean leaves town. After he leaves, the Sneetches come to realize that neither the "plain-belly" or "star belly" is superior over the other. There are clear lessons of anti-discrimination (which is hostility or prejudice to those of the jewish faith) and anti -racism(hostility or prejudice of someone different than you) throughout the story, with even the star implying a political message. It was inspired by the yellow Star of David that the Jews were required to wear on the clothing to identify them to the Nazis.

The Cat in the Hat was written as a challenge in 1954 in response to an article in Life magazine that claimed that widespread illiteracy was caused by children being bored with books. Watch first 37 seconds of video.

Questions for open discussion for large group using Think/Pair/ Share strategy.

Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax in 1971.

Do not be fooled by its pictures, it's a serious one.
The Lorax is all about what we can do
to keep our trees green, our lakes and skies blue.

Let's meet the players: the Once-ler does shine

an inventor, he is, who messed up big time.
And so he confesses to a special young boy
about the Truffula forest, the one he destroyed.

It turns out it was his own careless fault,

His own greedy deeds caused this assault.
But don't worry, readers, someone rebelled,
The Lorax (the star!)—he protested and yelled.

This fuzzy guy said, "don't be so commercial!"

(You know what that means—it's a bit controversial.)
So the Lorax is now iconically green,
reminding us how to keep our earth clean.

Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax appeared in the 1970s at the start of the environmental movement, just before the first Earth Day, April 22nd of that year. 
In addition, the message implies we need to be taught about the environment and how to live in a sustainable way in order to preserve what we have. The children need to learn about how to live without degrading the environment, so that future generations have a clean place to live. This is shown in The Lorax by the Once-ler educating the small boy about the dangers of pollution, the wearing down of the environment, and by giving him the last Truffula seed so that new ones can be grown.

I end, with one of my favorite quotes and one of Dr. Seuss’ Call to Action. This is often a hope for political cartoonist, not only that one would be become aware of an issue, but one would also want to act in regards to his or her message.

Activity: Using information from lesson and class discussion. Students will choose an issue they are passionate about (no math, longer recess, no peas in the cafeteria) and then create a story or cartoon which illustrates their standing (call to action or informing others). Students will share with class in an art walk.

Reflection: My colleagues were intrigued by the use of Dr. Seuss in the classroom, I think it could be used from K-12 for students to understand new concepts. If reading is not the main goal of the lesson then we should be using materials that all students can understand in order to teach the new material. This eliminates barriers for English Language Learners and students with lower reading levels.

I read these books as a part of my #BookaDay Reading Challenge, inspired by Donalyn Miller. My goal is to read at least one children's literature book every weekday and share my thoughts here on my blog. Please feel free to subscribe or connect with me on social media to follow my journey through the books I read. Until next time ...

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Thank you for reading my post. Please comment with any questions, concerns, constructive criticisms, or information you would like to add to this subject. Docendo discimus, by teaching we learn.