Bookshelf: Dr. Suess and Election Night

Last month, I attended the famous (in our house) All4Kids Consignment Sale–my biannual “mom’s night out” to purchase Emerson’s entire wardrobe for that season, on the cheap.  I’ve been doing this sale for years now, and I have the whole routine down to a science: make a list of specific needs and legitimate wants and scout those out in the beginning (bathing suits, rain boots, roller skates, long silk gloves for Halloween costume, etc…), file through the clothes in Emerson’s size and the size above(can’t you hear the hangers clicking together as I quickly flip through each item of clothing?), speed-browse the game and puzzle section and see if there is anything that looks fun (this year’s finds were Operation, Tiddly-Winks, Kid’s Cranium, and Mancala…all for a dollar each), and then, then I head to the book section, set down my (very full) bag, sit down on the floor and peruse the bins.  Oh the beautiful, hard-back, mint condition, Caldecott Medal winners I have found there…beautiful, beautiful books, all for a dollar or two…

This fall (well, let’s face it, every fall…and spring) I came home with quite a few treasures.  One of them, was this Dr. Seuss book:

As Matty and I read this to the girls over the past month, we couldn’t help but notice how timely the stories were–the story of Yertle, for example, a big man (turtle) in a high place.  But Yertle–how did you get there?

“I’m ruler,” said Yertle, “of all that I see.
But I don’t see enough.  That’s the trouble with me…
…This throne that I sit on is too, too low down.
It ought to be higher!” he said with a frown.
So Yertle the Turtle King, lifted his hand
And Yertle, the Turtle King, gave a command.
He ordered nine turtles to swim to his stone
And, using these turtles, he built a new throne.
He made each turtle stand on another one’s back
And he piled them all up in a nine-turtle stack.
“All mine!” Yertle cried. “Oh, the things I now rule!
I’m king of a cow! And I’m king of a mule!
I’m king of a house! And, what’s more, beyond that,
I’m king of a blueberry bush and a cat!
I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all I can see!”
And all through that morning, he sat there up high
Saying over and over, “A great king am I!”
Until ‘long about noon.  Then he heard a faint sight.
“What’s that?” snapped the king
And he looked down the stack.
And he saw, at the bottom, a turtle named Mack.
Just a part of his throne.  And this plain little turtle
Looked up and he said, “Beg your pardon, King Yertle.
I’ve pains in my back and my shoulders and knees.
How long must we stand here, Your Majesty, please?”

“Your majesty, please…I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down at the bottom we, too, should have rights.
We turtles can’t stand it.  Our shells will all crack!
Besides, we need food.  We are starving!” groaned Mack.

As we read this at home, it started to remind of a little something…  The character of Yertle the Turtle, of course, is not based on American CEOs, but on someone far more insidious (Hitler, in fact), but the greed is there, and the selfishness, and the delusions of grandeur, and the disregard for the rights of others…(shall I go on?)  It’s hard to read such a politically charged author–who spent his life advocating progressive ideas and social change–and not take away something that has to do with the here-and-now.

We all know the end of Yertle the Turtle, a big man brought down by a tiny action from a “plain little turtle whose name was just Mack.”  As flawed as I think our two-party political system is, I am thankful to live in a country where all people still have a voice, a say in the outcome of where this country is headed.  There are some of us out there on this day-after-election who, I’m sure, think this country is going straight to hell.  But I happen to think that Theodor Geisel, that “Dr.” every kid longs to hear, that champion of human rights, that man who denounced racism, isolationism, and discrimination of any sort, would be smiling right now.

And today the great Yertle, that Marvelous he,
Is the King of the Mud. That is all he can see.
And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free,
As turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.


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