Volume 96, Issue 16
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

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Dr. Seuss: still the ultimate teacher

Take it down a notch
Shannon Proudfoot
Graphics Editor

Billy Madison was right about The Puppy Who Lost His Way – sometimes you have to get your ass out there and find that f***ing dog.

For all the profound truths to be found in the likes of The Catcher in the Rye and Wuthering Heights, there are at least as many gems from the writers of great children's books.

Almost everyone who has made it to some kind of significant graduation has received a copy of Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go! as a gift.

If the print was still legible after your mother wept on it as she signed a meaningful message to her baby, you may have noticed some amazing life advice contained within its pages.

Dr. Seuss's advice is: be excited about your future, don't be afraid to take risks and don't worry if you fall into a bizarre foreign land because you're strong enough to deal with it and come out better on the other side.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more wise and affirming message in any dusty leather-bound volume and I guarantee it wouldn't be so well illustrated.

The brilliance of children's literature extends to poetry as well, especially the witty and consummately Canadian verses of Dennis Lee. Alligator Pie paints an image of true yearning: "Give away my hockey stick, give away my hoop/ But don't give away my alligator soup."

Lesson learned: if you say you want something, you'd better mean it and be willing to give up everything to get it.

Slightly more sophisticated (because it was originally written in French and such things always are) is Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince.

The narrator is an adult who meets a mysterious young friend who reminds him of all the important things he used to know as a child and stopped understanding as he grew.

This is a crucial message for every mature and rational "grown up" that has forgotten the inherent value of imagination and nonsense.

There is a tendency toward seeing intelligence in what is complicated, but anyone who has ever written a short essay knows that it's harder to make a clear and concise point than an elaborate one.

That is the greatness of children's literature: the ability to express life lessons in simple and imaginative terms. Although you may outgrow talking animals and such (a lot of creepy adults never do), the lessons of those stories can only become more significant with age.

Any decent historian knows that the lessons of the past must never be forgotten, or the same mistakes will be made again. This applies to life stories as well as those of a society.

Go back to your roots. Call your parents today and ask them to dig out your old picture books and mail them to you – you'll both be happy that you did.

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