Posted: Apr 06, 2014 8:00 AM
Dr. Seuss filled his books with sight words, fantastical creatures and ridiculous rhymes, but life lessons lurk within the pages of his classic children's stories. These four Dr. Seuss titles set the foundation for conversations about important topics like equality and green living.

From page to practice

Branches, leaves and the sound of water drown out the sound of cars. Small feet are quieter on dirt paths, even when racing ahead to peer at a perfect pine cone. My preschooler stops and turns, eyes wide and still-chubby finger pointing off the path. "Oh no!" His voice is sad as my eyes follow his gaze to a tree stump. "Poor Lorax."

Protecting the environment

The Lorax

Chopping down a single tree brings forth warnings about deforestation in The Lorax. As more and more trees are cut down to make Thneeds — trendy, ridiculous garments — animals, water and air suffer. The illustrations are a key part of helping kids understand the environmental issues caused by using trees more quickly than they can be replanted. Colors are used to beautifully contrast the healthy, thriving land with the overtaxed, polluted version of the same space.

Gratitude trumps jealousy

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories cover

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories contains three lessons from Dr. Seuss. "Gertrude McFuzz" is the story of a young bird who desperately wants an impressive plumage, like another bird she knows. Gratitude is a tough lesson to drive home, especially for preschoolers who thrive on instant gratification. Gertrude faces disaster when she gets the extravagant tail she desires, and children can watch her learn to appreciate her original, small tail feathers.

Standing up for others

Horton Hears a Who coverIn Horton Hears a Who!, a kind elephant risks his own imprisonment in his attempts to protect Whoville — an entire world existing on a single speck of dust. A bully of a kangaroo is determined to destroy the clover because she can't see or hear the tiny town, and Horton must stand up to the kangaroo, her joey and an easily-led family of monkeys.

Though Whoville isn't easily recognized by anyone but Horton in the story, the town and its inhabitants are obviously real to readers. Children will understand why Horton wants to protect his new friends, which can lead to a dialogue about standing up to bullies and protecting friends who may not have the voice to protect themselves.

Everyone loses with discrimination

The Sneetches coverSylvester McMonkey McBean sidles into town in The Sneetches and profits from the town's discriminatory practices. Some of the Sneetches have stars on their bellies, and some of the Sneetches do not. The starred Sneetches feel quite superior to the unmarked yellow creatures, so Sylvester McMonkey McBean concocts a machine to add stars to the plain Sneetches. When the original starred Sneetches yearn for their supposed superior status, he concocts a machine that removes the stars.

By the end, the Sneetches are going back and forth between machines and paying McBean each time, until none of them remembers who had a star in the first place and McBean is waltzing out of town with all of their money. The satirical silliness is a perfect introduction to why treating someone differently because of outward traits will ultimately result in hurt feelings and loss, and it can show kids how quickly the tables can turn from being the ones on top to the ones on the bottom.

More about kids and reading

Help kids become lifelong readers
Books to read with your tween
Coping with divorce through books