Friday, May 11, 2007

BOOKS: Just What the Doctor Ordered

I don't know about the toddler(s) in your life, but one thing I've learned about the one in mine is this: you're not going to get him all the way through the reading of a story unless you make a complete ass of yourself. As in, such an ass that you'll make Rich Little's gig at the White House Correspondants' Dinner look like the Gettysburg Address.

Oh, Sam likes books all right. He loves them. When we come home from the library with our half dozen or so new books, he insists on reading them compulsively, back to back, until we get all the way through the stack. I don't know where he gets this from.

Perhaps I'm to blame for Sam's need for theatresports-type performances during story time. Before he became an affable toddler, back when he was officially the Grouchiest Baby in the Universe (see here and here if you're new-ish to this site), I used to pull out all the thespian stops during our readings of Green Eggs and Ham, which was -- if the fact that it was the only book in our library capable of eliciting the ghost of a polite smile from him is anything to go on -- his favourite book in the whole world.

Sam got older and perked up a bit, but Dr. Seuss has continued to be a mainstay of our pre-naptime and -bedtime repertoire. These days, we're reading McElligot's Pool and If I Ran the Zoo twice a day, and with the umpteenth-gazillion reading under our belt, I'm now prepared to tell you why McElligot's Pool is possibly the best book in the world to read to toddlers:

1. The illustrations are awesome. This book was published in 1947, making it one of Seuss's earlier works, and what I like about the artwork is that it hasn't yet become the very simplified style Dr. Seuss is widely known for, in books such as Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. (Don't get me wrong: These books are great.) The art in McElligot's Pool is much softer and alternates between black-and-white and full-colour spreads and it's just lovely to look at.

2. The story, also, is awesome. It's about a boy named Marco who's fishing in a little pond that's filled with garbage. He's just minding his own business when he gets this unsolicited commentary from a passing yokel:

The nerve! But is Marco nonplussed? Is he chagrined? Does he reply rudely? No, no, and no. Our young hero, using a stream of logic right out of 12 Angry Men, sets out a scenario in which -- the universe being the random and almost infinite place that it is -- it's quite possible that, in fact, he could catch ANYTHING in McElligot's Pool. It's wonderful.

3. The words and rhymes lend themselves perfectly to reading aloud, especially with the aforementioned theatrics that my home life demands. As Marco theorizes about the increasingly fantastical creatures he could catch -- some whimsical, others dark and weird -- the reader gets to have fun with the entire range of human expression. Good times!

4. And as an addendum to 3) but worthy of note to anyone who knows they will be reading a book until the words and meter are permanently imprinted onto their brain, McElligot's Pool is eminently re-readable. Thank god. It's not just that the illustrations and story are so well done: it's that Dr. Seuss, in all his boundless mercy toward the parents of pre-schoolers, has given us so many ways of reading the words. You can play with emphasis and tone almost endlessly, meaning YOU CAN LOOK LIKE AN ASS IN AN ALMOST INFINITE NUMBER OF WAYS. It's wonderful.

I haven't talked about the other book in heavy rotation at our house: If I Ran the Zoo. Now, here's the thing about If I Ran the Zoo: Sam obviously loves this book, and I like most of it, too, but my goodness, the times sure have changed since 1950, when it was published. The people of Ma-Tant, with "their eyes all a-slant"? The rhyme scheme on the page about the Russian bird, where all the rhyming words end in "-ski"? It's not politically incorrect... exactly. Just kind of awkward in our post-PC times.

Apropos of nothing, though, did you know that Seuss was credited with inventing the word "nerd" in this book? Well, now you do. Don't say you never learned anything here.


Frédérique said...

Thank you SO much for the 'nerd' reference. (In all my nerd-iness) I am telling everyone I know. I mean - who knew we qualified as an exotic species?!?

Poodlerat said...

Oh, I loved Dr Seuss as a kid---still do, actually. Particularly One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Dennis Lee is great for children's verse, too; Lizzy's Lion was my favourite book as a toddler. And I was a big fan of Gunga Din (which I had in an attractively illustrated children's copy), a poem that goes past political incorrectness into outright racism...great verse, though.

Anonymous said...

McElligot's Pool is one of my top 5 Seuss books. Second is Bartholemew and the Oobleck (way better than 500 hats). Third--On Beyond Zebra, I loved the new letters. Fourth--Yertle the Turtle for the bizarro pictures. Fifth--probably any of the others. I dont think McElligot's Pool gets enough love from the general public.

Allstarme79 said...

When I was a kid, I loved for my dad to read McElligot's pool because he always used a really creepy voice for the page, "Deep in the mire and the muck and the murk..." Then he'd get all crazy on the "Whales!!" page. Definitely a great book to read to kids.