Dr. Seuss's Horton Hatches the Egg
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Devotion is what makes a parent a real parent
I remember when I read Horton Hatches the Egg to my foster daughter.
Somehow, I'd reached my 40s without ever having encountered the book. So as I was reading it, I started wondering whether it was a good idea.
You see, without saying so, Horton is very much about adoption. It's about fostering. It's about being a proper parent. It's about a birth mother who can't be troubled with responsible mothering. It's about surrogate parenting...before such a concept really even existed.
Word to the wise: with books intended as bibliotherapy, you'll want to give them a read-through before exposing your child, just to make sure it's appropriate for the situation and teaches a lesson you want to teach!
In the case of Horton Hatches the Egg, you'll want to know that the birth-mom, Mayzie, is not depicted in a positive light!
Well, it worked out fine. The book's deeper meaning sailed over my three year old's head. But it was everything I could do to keep from weeping openly!
Horton Hatches the Egg is a brilliant book, perfectly appropriate for children being raised by their birth parents, potent material for children not so situated (grown-ups: read first!) and a must read for adoptive and foster parents, because no one before or since has summed up so simply and beautifully what you do and why you do it!
Horton Hatches the Egg - summary
Mayzie is sitting on her egg and none too happy about it. She'd rather be on vacation, she's stiff, and she feels stuck. So when Horton the Elephant happens by, she asks him to sit on the egg in her place for a bit.
Ridiculous, right? But Mayzie is sociopathically persuasive. She wants this egg thing to be someone else's responsibility. (There's no sign of a birth father anywhere in the book.) Horton agrees to sit for a time.
"Very well," said the elephant, "since you insist....
You want a vacation. Go fly off and take it.
I'll sit on your egg and I'll try not to break it.
I'll stay and be faithful. I mean what I say.
"Toodle-oo!" sang out Mayzie and fluttered away.
Well, Mayzie may not be a meth-head, but she's not the kind to schedule a time for her return. Actually, she's not the kind to even bother to return...unless it'll somehow benefit her.
So Horton reinforces the tree in which the nest rests, then climbs aboard. He proceeds to endure rain, snow and the taunts of his animal friends.
They laughed and they laughed. Then they all ran away.
And Horton was lonely. He wanted to play.
But he sat on the egg and continued to say:
"I meant what I said
And I said what I meant....
An elephant's faithful
One hundred per cent!
Then things get serious. Three hunters happen upon the sitting duck elephant. They take aim, but Horton doesn't budge. When the men realize they have in front of them an elephant sitting in a tree, they decide he'd be more profitable to them as a circus act than as meat and tusks.
So Horton is carted off and sold to a circus in a strange land that isn't named, but I can offer a hint:
They took him to Boston, to Kalamazoo,
Chicago, Weehawken and Washington, too...
And everywhere thousands of folks flocked to see
And laugh at the elephant up in a tree.
Then Seuss gives us an ending for the ages. And I mean that. Are you ready?...
1) Mayzie happens upon the circus and recognizes Horton at the precise moment that
2) The egg starts hatching. Selfish Mayzie of course wants the egg back now that the hard work of sitting on it has been done.
3) Horton, for the first time in 51 weeks, descends from the tree. As any devoted foster parent knows, if birth Mom comes back and seems even minimally competent, she'll be getting her baby back.
4) The chick emerges and...it's an elephant-bird!
To heck with genetics (this is fiction!), Seuss knows who the offspring should look like...and he gives us that.
5) Some truths are self-evident. Not only Mayzie but the circus owners also recognize now what is right and true. Horton is the elephant-bird's father in every way that has meaning. He is released from the miserable circus and sent back home with his new offspring and welcomed by all the animals of the land.
Classic, early Dr. Seuss
Published in 1940, Horton Hatches the Egg was Seuss's 5th book but clearly the most enduring of those early ones. The illustrations are not nearly so otherworldly as his later work, though you see hints of his fancifulness emerging. It is probably a better book as a result of the artwork being less fantastical; the substance isn't overwhelmed by visual whimsy.
(I prefer to think of this Horton as different from the one who heard a Who. In my mind, this Horton is busy raising a whole flock of orphaned elephant-birds.)
Seuss (Theodor Geisel) wrote many great books, but a few stand out for their substance. Horton Hatches the Egg resides at or near the top of that list.
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