Dr. Seuss's The Lorax
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A stunningly heartfelt children's book about the environment
Let me start by confessing I care about the environment and the physical world we're leaving to our children. I know that's at odds with some people's politics...
I feel sorry for them. I feel sorrier for their children. For the rest of you...
The Lorax is a small, human-like creature who lives in a Truffula tree. He is, essentially, the spokesperson for the wordless creatures of the Truffula forest.
When a lone industrialist happens upon that forest, those trees, he is struck by their gorgeous foliage, colorful, "softer than silk."
He realizes they'll make great Thneeds. What's a Thneed?
A Thneed's a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need!
It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat.
But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that.
This is the industrialist speaking, sounding like so many infomercials. Says the naive Lorax:
Sir! You are crazy with greed.
There is no one on earth
who would buy that fool Thneed!
Right about the greed. Wrong about the buying.
Thneeds become the hot item. A factory is built. The cutting down of Truffula trees is automated. Says the industrialist:
I meant no harm. I most truly did not.
But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads.
I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads.
I went right on biggering...selling more Thneeds.
And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
As the forest degrades, so does life for its creatures: the Bar-ba-loots (who ate the fruit), the Swomee-Swans (who can't sing in the "smogulous smoke"), and the Humming-Fish (their "gills are all gummed").
Who better to illustrate threatened, one-of-a-kind creatures than Dr. Seuss? I'm telling you: this is the book he was meant to write.
Now be assured that Seuss (Theodor Geisel) doesn't fill this picture book with death. The creatures leave what was once the forest for more survivable climes after the Lorax is unable to persuade the businessman to stop what he's doing.
Seven years after the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, Dr. Seuss makes some interesting choices. The book begins not with the beautiful Truffulas but with a little boy happening upon what is essentially the forest's gray carcass.
His curiosity is piqued. He comes upon a run-down home. In it lives The Once-ler, a hermit who turns out to be the once high-living industrialist himself. For payment (fifteen cents, a nail, "and the shell of a great-great-great grandfather snail"), he agrees to tell the story of the Lorax and the Truffula forest.
Never mind the fifteen cents, this is partially a children's book about conscience and remorse. The Once-ler feels bad about what he's done. And he's been tormented by a sign that the Lorax left behind. It reads,
The Once-ler has wondered all these years what unless means. But now that the boy has shown up, he realizes:
Now that you're here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
And so, with the sky starting to look just a little bluer, the Once-ler tosses the boy a Truffula seed, "the last one of all."
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.
So The Lorax, in the end, is a call to action. How effective?
Well, the timber industry was so threatened by it that they actually had a book written in response: The TRUAX. (You don't find that many children's books published by the Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association!)
Seuss writes with sympathy. The Once-ler isn't a bad person, just an unthinking one. The only crimes in the book are not thinking, not paying proper attention, and not acting.
So, how many copies of The Lorax are you going to buy? Hmm...
Some other environmental thoughts
Seuss's site, Seussville, has some great Lorax pages. Here are some discussion questions for The Lorax as well as some Lorax activities and tips for being kinder to the environment.
Finally, the Lorax has a Facebook page. You and your kids can become some of his thousands of fans!
Great Earth Day books reviewed on this site.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.