Dr. Seuss's The Sneetches and Other Stories
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Seuss stories with lessons
The book contains four stories, starting with
Since you may not be up on your Seussian zoology, I'll tell you....
Sneetches live on beaches. You've got your Star-Bellied Sneetches, and you've got your Plain-Bellied Sneetches. Not only that...
But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches
Would brag, "We're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches."
With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they'd snort
"We'll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!"
And whenever they met some, when they were out walking,
They'd hike right on past them without even talking.
Now you might think this is an allegory about race and discrimination, and you could find many people who agree. (And teacher lesson plans that teach it as such.)
I can't prove that it's not. But I do believe that a better case can be made that it's about fashion, about materialism, about having and having not.
You see, the Plain-Bellied Sneetches are pretty sad about their lack of inclusion. Discrimination, right? But then, along comes Sylvester McMonkey McBean, a man with a "very peculiar machine."
His machine puts stars on Plain-Bellies.
When the Plain-Belly Sneetches popped out,
They had stars!
They actually did.
They had stars upon thars.
(Thars = "their bellies")
Hmm. Con man McBean is no humanitarian though, charging three dollars a star. Still, the Plain-Bellies are thrilled with their new tattoos.
(Seuss doesn't call them tattoos, but to make the story extra relevant for modern readers, let's think of them that way!)
The Star-Bellies aren't thrilled. But McBean has a machine for them, too. For ten bucks, they can have their stars removed. Because, don't you know, Black is the new White. I mean, Plain is the new Star.
(I mean, No Tattoos is the new Tattoo.)
McBean keeps running paying Sneetches through machines until he's robbed the whole race of their wealth, as well as any sense of their previous identities. Like those Whos down in Whoville though, the Sneetches are richer for all they've lost.
I'm quite happy to say
That the Sneetches got really quite smart on that day,
The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.
That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars
And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.
A story about the right genes...or the right jeans? I'll let you decide. Frankly, The Sneetches works brilliantly either way.
The Zax - A story about stubbornness
One of the two shorter stories in the book, The Zax is again about two subspecies of the same breed.
One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax
These two creatures, with nothing but open space around them, each insists that the other gets out of his path, but neither is willing to budge - or walk around the other. The looks on their faces are as nasty and hateful as the Grinch on his worst day.
They both resolve to stand there until the other moves.
"I'll stay here, not budging!
I can and I will
If it makes you and me
and the whole world stand still!"
Seuss's simple and wonderful message is the whole world doesn't stand still waiting for you to stop acting like a baby. A civilization (of humanity, not Zaxes) sprouts up around the two stubborn creatures, who reveal themselves as dinosaurs - able to survive, perhaps, but not thrive - victims of their own hatefulness.
Too Many Daves
A short little ditty about a woman who named all of her 23 sons "Dave."
Now she regrets it. And really, it doesn't go much deeper than that. The piece's charm is in all the names she would have given them if she'd been thinking more clearly.
Another one Putt-Putt.
Another one Moon Face.
Another one Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face.
What Was I Scared of?
This weird little number, with a ghost story feel, would feel right at home on Halloween. And a good case could be made that this is the story with the message that so many attribute to The Sneetches.
A young creature out alone at night (always at night) encounters a pair of pale green pants. Review continues.
Empty. Standing upright. Hovering above the ground.
And then they moved! Those empty pants!
They kind of started jumping.
And then my heart, I must admit,
It kind of started thumping.
So I got out. I got out fast
As fast as I could go, sir.
I wasn't scared. But pants like that
I did not care for. No, sir.
The little guy has a number of other encounters with the pants, and each time grows more terrified. Until, during the final encounter, the pants reveal themselves as just as scared as the kid himself. (No, they don't wet themselves. Get your mind out of the gutter!)
And so, the little guy and the empty pants become friends.
And, now, we meet quite often,
Those empty pants and I,
And we never shake or tremble
We both smile
And we say
And so we have a sweet little allegory about being scared of that which is different from us. We learn about perspective, about keeping in mind that the other being might just find us as alien and scary.
And only wonderfully weird Dr. Seuss would think to make that other being not someone of a different race, not someone of a different species, but a pair of sentient, talking pants.
The Sneetches and Other Stories gives us three wonderfully weird stories that we and our kids can ponder the deeper meaning of - and one simply silly one that we can simply enjoy.
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