Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

by Dr. Seuss, with some help from
Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!
Dr Seuss's partial manuscript completed by Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 5-100

Students save their unique school!

Imagine two unpublished manuscripts sitting in Dr. Seuss's desk after his death. Since you can hardly let the work of a genius go to waste, both are completed and released to the world.

One is narrated by no less than The Cat in the Hat and features artwork that looks almost just like that of Seuss himself.

The other, never even completed, requires a new writer to try to reproduce Seuss's unique voice and verse. Because the story changes so much in the new writer's hands, a new illustrator - whose style resembles Seuss's not at all - is chosen to put pictures to words.

Which book do you think turns out to be an artistic disaster? WRONG!

In Hollywood (where I used to work), we spoke of "breaking" a story. That's when a writer makes the magical jump from the nugget of an idea that inspired him in the first place to a fully fleshed out plot sings.

In Daisy Head Mayzie (which, actually, Hollywood got its hands on before publishing did), the story was never properly broken. There remain serious flaws in plot and character.

But here, in Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!, writer Jack Prelutsky took his job very seriously, not moving forward with Seuss's nuggets until he'd rearranged them (and enhanced them) into a satisfying whole.

Seuss's notes and sketches (and his secretary) made clear that he was writing a piece about a teacher, Miss Bonkers. But he never broke the story (just as he didn't with Mayzie, which explains why he published neither). What Prelutsky did was shift the focus from Miss Bonkers (who still appears) to the school itself, which is at risk.

An engaging story, after all, requires something to be at risk!

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

In the days before No Child Left Behind (the book was published in 1998), Prelutsky still manages to imagine a school - Diffendoofer School - at risk of being closed for underperforming on standardized tests.

Beloved Diffendoofer is a school that clearly celebrates imagination and uniqueness - what Seuss school wouldn't? - but if closed, the students will be shipped off to dreary Flobbertown.

"Not Flobbertown!" we shouted,
And we shuddered at the name,
For EVERYONE in Flobbertown
Does EVERYTHING the same.

That stanza is entirely Prelutsky's, and this reviewer gives it a highly respectable A- on the Seussian scale.

It's really a perfect stanza in every respect. But instead of Seuss's familiar anapestic tetrameter (two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one), Prelutsky's meter has three unstressed syllables). Just as perfectly rhythmic as Seuss's, just as sing-songy - only a little different.

(And, truth be told, Seuss's notes reveal that he himself was using the same unfamiliar meter as he worked on the manuscript. So Prelutsky is just being faithful.)

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

cropped images and words rearranged for clarity, Hurray for Diffendoofer Day

The edition of the book I have in front of me has a wonderful section entitled, "How This Book Came to Be," following the story. It features many of Seuss's colored sketches for the story and the verse he was working on.

It gives wonderful insight into his process. He hadn't even settled on a name for the school. Here are some of the names he was considering:

  • William Wilkins Woofer Junior El-e-menter-ee
  • Woodrow Watkins Woofer El-e-menter-ee
  • P.S. 22 thousand nine hundred and sixty-three
  • Zoofendorf Elementary
  • Zinzendorf School
  • Woodrow Waldo Woodruff Jr.
  • William Wadworth Wheeler, Jr.
  • Henry Hawkins Hoofer, Jr.

Isn't this fun? He'd also considered Diffendoof Elementary. Prelutsky turned this into Diffendoofer; it went better with the rhyme scheme he was developing), and he liked that it had diff in it (since the book was celebrating a different kind of school).

Illustrator Lane Smith's work looks nothing like Seuss's (think Stinky Cheese Man, but he uses collage to paste some familiar Seuss characters into the mix.

cropped image

At the same time that the book celebrates uniqueness in education, there's also a subtext of celebrating Seuss himself, which should put a smile on fans' faces. It doesn't figure overtly into the text, but the honoring of Seuss is obvious to all when Diffendoofer's bizarre librarian, Miss Loon, is depicted amidst a swirling jumble of classic Seuss book covers.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! is a triumphant collaboration which Seuss participated in unknowingly. I have to think, though, he would have felt quite properly honored.

Other Seuss books.

Read more of Steve's reviews.

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