Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Dr. Seuss once wrote a children's book since banned due to its references to suicide and violence.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]
Origins: Humor can sometimes be an elusive concept. What's funny to one person may not be funny to another, and what one person intends as humor may not be recognizable as such by someone else. Sometimes when the line between humor and seriousness isn't obvious, there's not much to do other
Over the years we're received a number of inquiries about a
The joke is that although the book described — Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? — is a real book once published by
Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? and other Beginner Books came about as a result of a 1954 Life Magazine article by John Hersey entitled "Why Do Children Bog Down on the First R?" in which Hersey discussed the difficulties experienced by educators in teaching young children to read using the standard primers of the era. Hersey felt that typical school readers were too "uniform, bland, idealized and terribly literal" to hold youngsters' attention in a world full of other entertainments; he called for books featuring illustrations that "widen rather than narrow the associative richness the children give to words," and suggested that works produced by artists such as Theodor Geisel and Walt Disney might be more effective educational fare for young readers.
Theodor Geisel, better known to the world as
Every year, just a moment before Christmas, millions of Americans named Uncle George race into a book store on their only trip of the year.The result of Geisel's efforts to write a book using no more than the few hundred words that comprise an average first grader's reading vocabulary was, as noted, The Cat in the Hat — an instant best-seller and one of the most enduringly popular children's books of all time (now with more than
"I want a book, they tell the salesman, "that my nephew Orlo can read. He's in the first grade. Wants to be a rhinosaurus hunter."
"Sorry," said the salesman. "We have nothing about rhinosauri that Orlo could possibly read."
"O.K.," say the millions of Uncle Georges. "Gimme something he can read about some other kind of animal."
And on Christmas morning, under millions of Christmas trees, millions of Orlos unwrap millions of
This causes the rhinosaurus hunters to snort, "Books stink!" And this, in turn, causes philosophers to get all het up, and to write essays entitled "Why Orlo Can't Read," in which they urge that we all rush out and burn down the nearest school house.
The reason Orlo says "Nuts to Books" is because practically every book that he is able to read is far beneath his intellectual capacity. Orlo, in the first grade, is a mighty hep
... I solved [this] problem by writing "The Cat in the Hat." How I did this is no trade secret. The method I used is the same method you use when you sit down to make apple stroodle without stroodles.
You forget all about time. You go to work with what you have! You take your limited, uninteresting ingredients (in my case
Geisel's success in this vein led to his creation in 1957 of Beginner Books (later a division of Random House), an early-reader imprint specializing in similar works: limited-vocabulary "I Can Read It All By Myself" books with appealing story lines and illustrations, aimed at encouraging children to read at as early an age as possible. Although the Beginner Books logo featured the familiar Cat in the Hat character, and many of the imprint's published entries (Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish) were written by Geisel himself (as
Four of the Beginner Books were written by Helen Palmer, Theodor Geisel's first wife. One of those books was a typical text-and-illustration tale about an overfed fish (A Fish Out of Water), but the other three were something different
Some of the prose in Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? does sound a little odd if read without the context provided by its accompanying photographs, a feature the creator of the "Banned Book" page has capitalized upon. For instance, at one point the child narrator declares:
Did you ever beatThis certainly could sound strange (and perhaps slightly disturbing) to a reader who didn't know that the word "beat" as used here refers to triumphing in an athletic competition, a meaning made clear by pictures depicting the boy taking on five other kids at a game of tennis and playing a match of beach volleyball against several grown men.
more than one kid at a time?
Well, I'm going to beat
five kids at a time.
And then I'm going to beat
their fathers, too.
Likewise, the following lines are a little difficult to fathom when considered in isolation:
I'll dump water on Sam.Again, the pictures tell the story: Two boys with sack lunches are hiking and playing in rural setting. During a dip in a pond, the narrator prankishly douses his swim trunk-clad friend, then teases him some more by leading him down a desert road (a stroll turned into a "hundred mile" walk through typical little boy competitiveness) before agreeing to stop and eat lunch.
I'll make him take a walk.
I'll make Sam walk
about a hundred miles.
Even the innocuous can sound ominous when taken out of context:
I'll run around and yell and yell.The word "horn" is a clue here — when the boy describes how he plans to "blow his head off," his words are set against a photograph showing him trying to muster enough air in his lungs to play a tuba.
Next Saturday I'll yell my head off.
I'll blow horns. I'll blow and blow.
Next Saturday I'll blow my head off.
No one is going to stop me next Saturday.
Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? was never "banned," and nothing about it was really the least bit unwholesome (although attitudes have changed over the last forty years, and some parents might now consider descriptions and pictures of a young boy shooting guns on a firing range and drilling with Marines to be inappropriate children's fare). Although none of the photograph-based Beginner Books by Helen Palmer (who died in 1967) proved as popular as her more traditional A Fish Out of Water story, Do You Know What I'm Going to Do Next Saturday? was well-regarded in its day and was selected by the New York Times as one of the best juvenile books of 1963.
Last updated: 12 July 2007
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