Dr. Seuss's On Beyond Zebra!
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Seuss's alphabet book...for a new alphabet!
I'm comfortable making the case that Dr. Seuss was the foremost advocate for imagination of the 20th century.
It was he who answered the call in 1957 (with The Cat in the Hat) when a nation worried that unimaginative Early Readers were turning kids off of books.
So many of his books are, rather than stories, exercises in pure invention. Think, for example, of
His first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street is a story all about a boy dreaming up a way to make his day sound interesting!
Imagination. It was Seuss's realm, and he was its greatest advocate. You don't have to look any further than the cover of On Beyond Zebra! to see it.
A zebra, used to being the last creature mentioned (when the subject is alphabets) can only watch forlornly as someone (or something) races by to points further and more interesting. Remember learning in math about imaginary numbers? Well, welcome to Seuss's imaginary alphabet, consisting of entirely new letters, and new creatures to associate them with.
Our On Beyond Zebra! narrator is an unnamed older boy offering guidance in the art of imagination to a younger boy (with the name Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell). Cornelius has just mastered the alphabet and seems blissfully unaware of its shortcomings. The narrator takes him on a journey to show him what he's missing by limiting himself to those meager 26 letters. For instance...
Beyond the letter Zee, you can meet the letter Quan, which stands for Quandary, a perfectly symmetrical undersea creature...
When you go beyond Zebra,
There's no telling
What wonderful things
You might find yourself spelling!
Like QUAN is for Quandary, who lives on a shelf
In a hole in the ocean alone by himself
And he worries, each day, from the dawn's early light
And he worries, just worries, far into the night.
He just stands there and worries. He simply can't stop...
Is his top-side-his bottom? Or bottom-side top?
Seuss alphabet courtesy of wikimedia
Like a jazz musician or comedian, Seuss riffs. A new letter leads to a newly named creature, leads to a new rhyme, leads to an illustrated vision of said creature and his environment.
The journey is an eye-opening one for young Conrad Cornelius.
The places I took him!
I tried hard to tell
Young Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell
A few brand-new wonderful words he might spell.
I led him around and I tried hard to show
There are things beyond Z that most people don't know.
I took him past Zebra. As far as I could.
And I think, perhaps, maybe I did him some good.
We hear the experts tell us that there's a new crisis of imagination, borne of TV and video games and texting. We're told it's reflected in grades and America's slipping stature in the world of commerce and outright invention.
Let us go back to Seuss. And On Beyond Zebra!
Looking for the Seuss alphabet book about the real alphabet? See our review of Dr. Seuss's ABC.
Complete Dr. Seuss book list.
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