Dr. Seuss's I Wish that I Had Duck Feet
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A Seuss book with bullying in the background
I was thoroughly charmed by this deceptively deep, nearly forgotten Seuss Beginner Book which is, at its heart, a contemplation on the use of imagination for self-healing.
When we meet our narrator, he's contemplating the joyful prospect of being the proud owner of duck feet. Flat, yellow, web-toed...the whole shebang.
He's thoroughly delighted at the prospect of being different. He imagines himself the focus of much positive attention as a result of his unusual feet. The only negative?...
My mother would not like them.
She would say, "Get off my floor!"
She would say, "You take your duck feet
and you take them out that door!"
No biggie. He goes on to imagine himself with
Each time, his imagining plays out the same way. How useful and fun the appendage would be, how impressed his peers would be, how the outcome at home would be not so positive. But one other thing too...
In most of the fantasies, there's a peer - Big Bill Brown - who is left glum by all the warm feedback the narrator is getting for his appendage. The only time Big Bill is seen smiling is when he ties the narrator up in his own tail.
Yes, Big Bill is a bully. No, Seuss never states it outright. It exists as subtext throughout the story, and it's a powerful technique.
I Wish that I Had Duck Feet climaxes with the narrator imagining himself with all the different appendages, and the outcome of that is enough to stop the imaginings altogether and come to this conclusion:
there are some things
I do not wish to be.
And that is why
I think that I
just wish to be like ME.
I Wish that I Had Duck Feet
What a remarkable journey! We're used to stories in which our hero secures a better life for himself, but in this story it's the journey itself that does the healing, that allows the narrator to go back to square one but with a healthier attitude.
I tend to doubt that the phrase self-soothing even existed when Seuss published this book in 1965, but he clearly grasped the concept. We can intuit that this kid had a rough day with his peers, then heals himself with some fantasy time alone.
Before the story even begins, the inside cover features the boy lying on his back staring up at animal shapes in the clouds. What's he doing? Taking care of himself after a rough day in which Big Bill Brown featured much too prominently.
Seuss never says that, but it's there. Powerfully there.
Whether a child is being bullied, or - like any child - simply on occasion has a rough day, I Wish That I Had Duck Feet has some excellent responses to model.
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