Battling Bad Books: Aiding Dr Seuss

Aiding Dr Seuss in his posthumous hour of need by attempting a new children’s book in his inimitable style.

After an incredibly long run as America’s premier author of children’s books, Dr. Seuss is, if not washed up, definitely in trouble. Six of his once-beloved works are being relegated to the library shelves, due to their alleged racist imagery. Such is the edict handed down by the publishers who (it must be noted) did not forfeit any of the revenue earned from prior sales of Dr. Seuss’ books to support the causes of liberty and justice for all — or to rectify previous human rights violations and abuses of power, at home and abroad.

Aiding Dr SeussGranted, Seuss is still on the loose: so far, none of his books have been banned… yet. Condemned, yes; prohibited, no. The verdict is informal, rather than official, but as words go, it is discouraging, even in the name of promoting “diversity” and eliminating bigotry and intolerance. Seuss would be the first to uphold those ideals, both in print and in person. Hence there is a bitter irony in making him a scapegoat for the very prejudices he so deftly ridiculed for his entire life.

Until lately, Dr. Seuss (aka Theodore Geisel) was admired and renowned for his satirical genius, which put him on a par with the likes of Erasmus, Cervantes, Swift, Voltaire, Twain, Hašek, Orwell, Heller, and Atwood, to name a few. As a fabulist, his only peers were (and still are) Aesop, La Fontaine, and a handful of sages, East and West. My own library houses several of his best-known works. I love them all, albeit not equally—to paraphrase Animal Farm, some morality playschools are better than others.

For that reason, and since Seuss despised hypocrisy and pompous jeremiads as much as he prized hard truth, self-insight and self-deprecating humor, I thought it wiser aiding Dr Seuss in his posthumous hour of need by proving that the pun is writer than taking orders from the bored. Herewith is my modest opposal to the custodians of the literary realm — a new children’s book, in the spirit of an artist who showed us how to regain our innocence, in a world where growing up and growing old are rarely one and the same, at any age.

Wharton Hears Whom?

Way down in the land of the Few,
There was always an awful to-do.
The Few didn’t live there, you see.
They didn’t like folks like you or like me.
They lived way up high, high as the sky.
They looked down on the whole humble town,
which they shamed with the name Humble Pie.

One day a huge vulture appeared,
and he screeched and preached in their ears.
He told the Few, here is what you should do:
Get rid of those humble bumblers in the zoo!
But how? Fretted the forlorn Few.
Leave it to me, said the vile vulture.
I’ll cancel their whole rotten culture.
That’ll give ‘em something to chew.
Cancel it? Queried the quizzical Few.
Cancel it! It’s rancid — tastes like acid.
Stands in the way of moral advanced.
Then what? Worried the worried Few.
Then we’ll superimpose a superimposer.
That will be perfect, and so much cozier.

Make sure everything is correct,
leave no room for all that dreck.
Censor the books, censor the films,
Censor the censors, oh what a thrill!
No free speech, no free press: no more frills.
No independence, just make them all shills!
Bbbbbutttt… trembled the forgotten Few.
But what, my blue-nosed jacks and jills?
Won’t that make them red in the face?
Why, we’ll just give them a little chill!

And (he sighed, with a superimposed grin,
If that doesn’t work, we’ll give them a pill!
That’ll make them all sit still!
Sit still? Cried the craven Few.
Just long enough to write their last Will.
Will? Wondered the world-weary Few.
As a precaution… in case they fall ill,
and can’t pay all their medical bills.
The Fews were distressed, and worked up such a lather
Those Few that dared, did their best to hunt and gather
They ate humble pie, and dreamt of what they’d rather
But they had a job to do, and they were proud
So they joined their voices, and spoke out loud
One more question, if it be allowed…
Make it snappy, snapped the vulture
I haven’t got all day, just to strut around.

Be it ever so humble, and lacking in culture,
but this is our home: our hallowed ground.
We can’t superimpose, nor do as you propose.
We can’t let you step on everyone else’s toes.
To say it simply, that whole idea just blows!
WHHHHHHAAATTTTT? Screeched the vulture.
Why not? Piped one of their Few poets.
A rose by any other name is still a rose.
The big bird spread his wings as if to shriek,
but as he began to speak, he lost his beak.

Stunned silent, he stood there for a week.
Then he flapped his feathers, and took a leak.
He flew away, without uttering another word.
But as he left the town, many Few overheard.
To this day the Humbles tell the tale,
of the culture vulture that got away.
It would be so wonderful to be correct,
until some stubborn cuss chose to object.
Then super would swoop down to collect.
After the miscreant was deposed,
the super would recline in repose.
That seemed only fair, when all was laid bare.
It cut down on costs, and saved wear and tear.
It gave rise to a saying, that bands were playing.

They played as we prayed, so we began braying.
For as the Super imposes, the garbage disposes.
For as the garbage discloses, the Super imposes.
Wait! Which hymn is it? Pray can you tell?
All at once there arose a yell from the dell.
Every Humble heart began to race pell-mell.
Then came a stench from beneath a deep well.
The scent was fishy, like some malodorous gel.
Beware of the Many detecting that terrible smell!
Like baiting a hook to catch the next ground swell.
Even for the Few, devilish raw deals will never sell.
For if they bit that bait, they might not feel so well.
Soon after they fell ill, their will would be undone.
Many would disappear, till they amounted to none.
Who (if any) would ring out the brass liberty bell?
Or did it already sound our death knell?
O the world isn’t perfect, that’s for sure.
Nothing is as it should be, no one is pure.

The rich get richer, the poor remain poor.
Truth is muddled, big lies abound.
The town is corrupt, the righteous are drowned.
Despite greed and cruelty, the earth spins ‘round.
Amidst all the horror, love and laughter are found.
There’s no pie in the sky, not for you, not for me.
But in a democracy, every single one of us is free.
Now among the Many, as you may have heard,
The word has passed, about that hideous bird.
He thought it all over, ‘ere he fled the scene.
One thought in particular, reigned supreme.
As he flew out of town, he cackled with glee.
Then he crowed out loud, “let it be, let it be.”
And wouldn’t you know it, he took one last pee!

Now finish your homework, and go on to bed.
Remember this story, and the moral it held.
Be as free as a bird, never let yourself down.
Don’t pin back your feathers, or wear a sad frown.
Don’t let the Few or the Many run you out of town.
Pay no attention to those gigantic caps and gowns.
Be true to your calling, and respect all your peers.
Listen to reason, never turn a deaf ear.
Be kind to others, and shed a few tears.
Don’t let that stop you, from saying just what you think.
Cause there’s no one on earth, whose shit doesn’t stink.

Hope you enjoyed that, boys and girls and non-binaries. I love each reader, regardless of age, or lack of fineries. I am looking for someone to illustrate this little volume. Anyone who might be interested should contact me at Buzzardsong.ode, or send a sublime etching in the mail. Address it to Horton Plaza, Ancient Mariner, CA 66666. In the meantime, drop Dr. Seuss’ tired old ghost a line. Many say he was mean, but the Few who understand him are Swift to defend him—and won’t be tied down lightly, or penned up for very long.

1 Elinor Aspegren, “’Read Across America Day,’ once synonymous with Dr. Seuss, is diversifying. “Here’s why things have changed,” USA Today (March 1, 2021); Taylor Telford, “Some Dr. Seuss books with racist imagery will go out of print,” Washington Post (March 2, 2021); Nicole Lyn Pesce, “Dr. Seuss is not canceled—but six of his books are being shelved over racist images,” (March 2, 2021); Jenny Gross, “6 Dr. Seuss Books Will No Longer Be Published Over Offensive Images,” New York Times (March 2, 2021). Since Theodore Geisel illustrated his own works, his texts fuse word and image, not only for didactic but for artistic purposes. Since such verbal and visual symbols are inseparable, any criticism of one applies to the other. Therefore, either prohibit it entirely or else don’t prohibit it at all. There is no middle ground. Of course, publishers have a legal right to promote (or discourage) their own authors, as they see fit. So, censorship is not the right word to describe what is taking place. But the image is premonitory, as is the cathartic myth that underlies it. Conversely, the ribald reflections of Aldous J. Pennyfarthing, “Fox News Asks Jen Psaki about President Biden’s outrageous disregard for Dr. Seuss,” Daily Kos (March 2, 2021), smoke red herrings out of the turbid waters of the Potomac, but leave civic discourse in the vicious ad hominem state in which they stumbled upon it. When they go low, we cry.

2 Wharton is a MacGuffin. Go look for it in the text—if it’s not there, keep searching! However, reader discretion is not advised, since it is neither virtuous nor valorous.

3 Did you find the MacGuffin yet? Don’t give up now—not till the show is over!

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