"Teachers will have field day with this wordplay; this caper is clever, capricious, and cunning." Read the full review here.
The Great Dictionary Caper, illustrated by Eric Comstock. Paula Wiseman Books, Simon and Schuster, January 23, 2018.
When all of the words escape from the dictionary, it's up to Noah Webster to restore alphabetical order in this supremely wacky picture book that celebrates language.
Words have secret lives. On a quiet afternoon the words escape the dictionary (much to the consternation of Mr. Noah Webster) and flock to "Hollyword" for a huge annual event—Lexi-Con. Liberated from the pages, words get together with friends and relations in groups including an onomatopoeia marching band, the palindrome family reunion, and hide-and-seek antonyms. It's all great fun until the words disagree and begin to fall apart. Can Noah Webster step in to restore order before the dictionary is disorganized forever?
It’s a widely-reported fact* that Dr. Seuss selected the words in The Cat in the Hat from a list of 348 words given to him by William Spaulding, the director of the education division of the publishing company, Houghton Mifflin.
Number of words on the original list given to Dr. Seuss: 348
Number of unique words he was supposed to use: 225
Number of unique words he actually used: 236
Total number of words in the book: 1,629
Words used only once: 54
Words used just twice: 33
Number of one-syllable words: 221
Number of two-syllable words: 14
Number of three-syllable words: Only 1--another
For fun: here’s a link to an activity sheet that shows all 236 words in The Cat in the Hat. You c-o-u-l-d try to make a story from them, but I must warn you that it took the very talented Dr. Seuss at least nine months to do it, including (according to one of his tongue-in-cheek “true stories”) several months working in his Uncle George’s coal mine.
*But was there really a 348-word list? I have not been able to track it down, nor do the words in the book match popular word lists used at that time. I think there was a list, but that Dr. Seuss adapted it to include words that rhymed with words on it, along with compound words like plaything. The only person's name in the book—Sally—was the name of the little sister in the Dick and Jane readers.
After the publication of The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss divided his creative efforts between two sorts of books—beginning readers, and picture books, which he called his “big books.” My favorite big book by Dr. Seuss is Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, which was published in 1962.
Why do I love it so? Not because of the story (there isn’t much of one) or the important social message (the message is, “you must go to sleep”), or the main character (there are a slew of characters, no one more important than another). This book is my favorite because no matter how many times I read it aloud at bedtime, I never get tired of it.
Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book helped me during a difficult time in my life. I was a single mother of a kindergartner, and I had a hectic job at a busy library. Two nights a week, I didn’t get home until nine. I’d chat with the babysitter, then read a bedtime story to my son, often Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book. We’d laugh at a wacky world that somehow made more sense than ours.
In 2004, my editor at Knopf, Janet Schulman, co-edited Your Favorite Seuss, an anthology of thirteen Dr. Seuss books. I begged to be allowed to write the introduction to Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, but Lane Smith already had the assignment.
An excerpt from the website Who's Who and What's What in the World of Dr. Seuss
I love words and dictionaries, so this site is my very favorite. It's the official dictionary of places you'll go, creatures you'll meet, things you'll see, and weird words you can find in the books of Dr. Seuss, for example, under the letter "W" you encounter everything from waggy bears to wuzzled wheat. What a treat!
And I also recommend:
The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum
Yes, this museum is a real place. It's located in Dr. Seuss' home town of Springfield, Massachusetts. If you’re lucky enough to visit, you’ll find a replica of his studio, complete with original art materials, family photos, letters, and the stuffed dog, Theophrastus, that his mother gave him when he was a boy.
Like the great doctor, this site slyly teaches kids to read while they're having fun. There are animated games, activities, and information, all about Dr. Seuss and his books.
A friend with two boys, five and seven, told me she couldn't figure out how to read Dr. Seuss books aloud to them. I recommended listening to the amazing audio renditions in The Cat In the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites, in which Kelsey Grammer ("Frasier") gives a sly and hilarious performance of The Cat in the Hat, Ted Danson's Lorax is riveting, and John Cleese of Monte Python brings out the potential in a book I had never fully appreciated, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? I listened to these many times while I wrote Imagine That! How Dr. Seuss Wrote The Cat in the Hat, in order to get the Seuss rhythms etched in my brain. For my puzzled friend, the CD helped. There are many different ways to share a Seuss book, and reading them aloud to kids is so much fun.
The Cat in the Hat read by Kelsey Grammer
Horton Hears a Who read by Dustin Hoffman
How the Grinch Stole Christmas read by Walter Matthau
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? read by John Cleese
The Lorax read by Ted Danson
Yertle the Turtle, Gertrude McFuzz, and The Big Brag read by John Lithgow
Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose read by Mercedes McCambridge
Horton Hatches the Egg read by Billy Crystal
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back read by Kelsey Grammer
(A reader questioned how I could listen to these while writing. I DON"T. I listened to these to warm up. While writing, I listened to the Seussian rhythm in my head. According to Dr. Seuss, he composed his first picture book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, to the rhythm of the engine of an ocean liner as he crossed the Atlantic.)
Bob and I are thrilled to launch this new "best-of" multicultural folktale collection, Fifty Favorite Read-Aloud Folktales, as an ebook. Over the past thirty years, we have published over a hundred stories for young children, both as picture books and in anthologies. As some these books went out of print, we asked for reversion of rights, which publishers generously gave us. Now we've put our fifty favorites on Kindle (Kobo and other platforms coming soon).
Some of these folktales are old favorites, others are less well-known. Many are variants of classics like "Hansel and Gretel" or "Rumpelstiltskin." They work equally well as read-alouds and stories told without the book. They make great audience participation pieces—children just can't seem to keep themselves from joining in.
You can download three stories as a free preview on Kindle here.
Table of Contents
The Elephant's Wrestling Match (Cameroon)
Magical Mice (Japan)
The Beautiful Butterfly (Spain)
Johnny Cake (United States)
Roly-Poly Bug (Italy)
Mr. Bear Squash-You-All-Flat (Russia)
The Rooster and the Sun (Mexico)
The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean (Germany)
The Rat's Daughter (Japan)
The Toontoony Bird (Pakistan)
The Wonderful Pancake (Ireland)
One Good Turn (Mexico)
The Three Little Piggies and Old Mr. Fox (Scotland)
Henny Penny (England)
The Gunniwolf (United States)
The Three Billy Goats (Norway)
Uwungelema (South Africa)
The Three Bears (England)
Peace and Quiet (Yiddish)
The Singing Pumpkin (Iraq)
Juan Bobo (Argentina)
Tengu's Magic Nose Fan (Japan)
The Deer, the Fox and the Tiger (China)
The Monkey and the Crocodile (India)
The Coyote and the Lizard (Native American, Pueblo)
Soup from a Nail (Sweden)
The Three Wishes (England)
How Ijapa Tricked the Hippopotamus (Nigeria)
The Bremen Town Musicians (Germany)
A Bridge of Crocodiles (Indonesia)
Silly and Sillier (England)
Jabuti Tricks Mr. Jaguar (Brazil)
The Fearsome Beast (Kenya)
The Tortoise and the Iroko Man (Nigeria)
Too Many Fish (Borneo)
Taily-po (United States)
The Black Velvet Ribbon (United States)
The Sprightly Tailor (Scotland)
The Hairy Toe (United States)
The Nung Gwa Ma (China)
Tasty Baby Belly Buttons (Japan)
Clever Mandy (Bahamas)
Jean and Jeannette (France)
The Cake Tree (Sri Lanka)
Master Thumb (Myanmar)
Wiley and the Hairy Man (African American)
The Zim (South Africa)
Jack and the Beanstalk (England)
I first saw a sculpture of the Hindu goddess Saraswati in front of a high school in Bali, Indonesia. Saraswati is the four-armed Hindu goddess of learning, music, and art. In one of her hands, she holds a book. I was surprised that the statue showed her atop a spread-winged goose. In my mind’s eye there suddenly appeared a venerated figure from my own culture, Mother Goose. According to an old nursery rhyme (which may once have actually rhymed),
Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would fly through the air
On a very fine gander.
Was Saraswati a relative of Mother Goose, I wondered. After all, the Indonesian island of Bali is at the far southeast corner of the Indo-European culture area, England is at the northwest edge.
I remembered Saraswati last week, when a teacher shared a quote from Reading Magic by Mem Fox,
"Experts in literacy and child development have discovered that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they're four years old, they're usually among the best readers by the time they're eight."
In Bali, Saraswati is venerated for all her gifts. She even has her own Saraswati Day.
Mother Goose, meanwhile, has been banished to the nursery. But apparently she hasn’t lost her goddess power, and woe to any parent who neglects to pass along her rhymes.
This statue of Saraswati and her goose (looking more like a swan?), created by five Balinese sculptors led by I. Nyoman Sudarwa, was unveiled at the Indonesian Embassy in Washington DC in 2013. One of the three studious children sitting by Saraswati is a young Barack Obama, who lived in Indonesia as a boy.