Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stars upon thars

For me, one of the best things about being a parent is the time that Anna and I spend reading. It's kind of something that we've done since before she could even sit up. Back when all she could do was eat, poop, cry and sleep (occasionally), I still read to her. We've gone through a lot of books in our day, some of which she deems too "babyish" for her now. We've graduated to chapter books, blew through the entire Ramona series (Heidi was along for that ride) and now, nearly every night, she has a book about something that she brings home that she has to read to me (last night it was Mercury and The Moon.) Sometimes she doesn't want to read them, and sometimes she's hard to keep on task, but she does a good job. Really, she's a great reader and seems to enjoy the fact that she can read.

Reading her a book before bed is kind of my territory, and one of MY favorites is Dr. Seuss' "The Sneetches." We have this story in a book that has "The Zax", "Too Many Daves" and "What Was I Scared Of?" (home of the infamous pale green pants with no one inside them.) But of all the stories, "The Sneetches" is my favorite, mostly because it is so damn much fun to read aloud. Say what you will about Dr. Seuss (yes, he is probably a bit overrated) but those books are written to be read aloud. And the story of the star bellies vs. the plain bellies and their subsequent battle to be the best "sneetches on beaches" thanks to con man extraordinaire Sylvester McMonkey McBean is pretty much irresistible. The thing I love about it is how it is repetitive (but not too much so) and teaches a lesson (although it shies away from being terribly heavy handed.) And the lesson it teaches is that of non-discrimination. a lesson that in 1961 (when it was published) was very much relevant.

The best books to read to kids aren't the cutest ones or the shortest ones (although short books are frequently attractive options!) but rather the timeless ones. There's a lot we can learn from a story like "The Sneetches" today. We claim to be a more tolerant society, but we have a long way to go, I'm afraid. The last lines of the story sum it up best which takes place after McBean drives off with all the Sneetches' money and declares "You can't teach a Sneetch!"

But McBean was quite wrong. 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.

I'm not sure she entirely gets the lesson, but those are the best kind.

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