One of the best bits of parenting is introducing your kids to toys, books or games you loved when you were their age. And, obviously, when they start liking them too – it’s a bit rubbish when you share your treasured favourites and the little darlings just sneer in contempt, which does also happen.
But luckily, the Doctor Seuss rhyming stories which I loved when I was little have been a firm favourite with both my children. The ones we’ve particularly enjoyed are ‘The Cat in the Hat‘, ‘Horton Hatches the Egg‘, ‘The Sneetches‘, ‘Green Eggs and Ham‘ and ‘Fox in Socks’. They’re brilliant for reading aloud to children aged three and upwards: Green Eggs and Ham and Fox in Socks are good ones to start with as they’re very simple without much of a story line, whereas The Sneetches and Horton Hatches the Egg both have a bit more of a plot, and messages about not judging people who look different, and the importance of keeping your promises. Obviously it depends on the child, but my 4YO really gets these books now, in a way that she didn’t when I first read them to her a couple of years ago.
Written in post-war America, the vocabulary and sentence structure in all the books is modern and feels accessible to 21st century children – unlike some old classics where you know your child won’t understand a lot of the words. There are some more advanced words which your average four year old may not have come across before – for example “tame”, “stubborn” and “faithful” – but my children have only very rarely stopped me to ask what they mean. I think the rest of the language is clear enough, and the books are so well illustrated that you can absorb the overall meaning without having to stop and understand each individual word.
And the illustrations are just fantastic! Dr Seuss both wrote and illustrated the books himself and he created zany, cartoon style characters which bring his plots to life perfectly. Their facial expressions and posture illustrate the meaning of the stories perfectly – like this seasick Horton the Elephant or these Sneetches with their rigid class hierarchy:
The only thing I don’t like about the illustrations is that some of them are set on a very vivid background colour, which actually makes the text quite difficult to read, so if you’re reading them as a bedtime story, don’t turn the lights down too low before you start!
The best thing about these books, for me, is that they’re just so much fun to read out loud. I must admit that bedtime story reading is my opportunity to indulge in a bit of amateur dramatics – I don’t like to drone at my kids – and Dr Seuss gives me plenty to work with. He invents lots of silly words and names which will have your children in fits of giggles – you just try saying “Oliver Boliver Butt” with a bit of Mr Bean style over-emphasis. Lots of the stories also lend themselves to changes in pace – Fox in Socks, The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham in particular are very good for speeding up and reading at breakneck pace, then pausing for effect. And the dialogue is great for putting on accents. When I’m reading them out loud, the animals in Horton Hatches the Egg all have a Phoenix Nights style Lancashire accent, the Star-Belly Sneetches sound like the Queen, and the Plain-Belly Sneetches deliver their lines in thickest Scouse. I know Dr Seuss was American, so presumably this is not what he intended, but the words just seem to fit the pattern of those accents.
What’s your favourite children’s book, and why? I’m always glad to hear new recommendations.