Dr. Seuss's And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Seuss's first: A story about telling a better story!
How appropriate that Dr. Seuss's first published work is about storytelling. He had a whole lot of that in front of him.
Published in 1937, Seuss's first book features a little boy whose dad likes him to be observant and objective.
When I leave home to walk to school
Dad always says to me,
"Marco, keep your eyelids up
And see what you can see.
Marco, though, is given to exaggeration. Says Dad:
Stop telling such outlandish tales.
Stop turning minnows into whales.
But Marco is who Marco is. Walking Mulberry Street on the way to and from school, the most exciting thing he sees is a horse and buggy.
Not too exciting. (In 1937!)
So Marco turns the horse into a zebra. The wagon into a chariot. Then the zebra into an elephant and the chariot into a big brass band. Which makes it like a float in a parade, which will require an audience, and a police escort, and...
You get the idea.
As a writer, this is one of my favorite Seuss works. On some level it IS a book about writing, about the process of making a story worth telling. Seuss is illustrating something I've been telling writing students (and grown writers) for years:
Play with the story elements, the variables. Never stop asking yourself, What if...?
Bigger. Better. Worth telling.
Marco gets that. Dad doesn't. Marco's thrill in invention can hardly be contained.
I swung 'round the corner
And dashed through the gate.
I ran up the steps
And I simply felt GREAT.
FOR I HAD A STORY THAT NO ONE COULD BEAT!
AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET!
Seuss captures the classic clash between the dreamer and the realist.
There was so much to tell, I JUST COULDN'T BEGIN
[But] Dad looked at me sharply and pulled at his chin.
"Was there nothing to look at...no people to greet?
Did nothing excite you or make your heart beat?"
"Nothing," I said, growing red as a beet,
"But a plain horse and wagon on Mulberry Street."
And so ends this story, but not the longer one. All the little Marcos eventually get to leave home and live their own lives and tell stories just the way they want.
And Dr. Seuss himself is proof of that!
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