Happy Birthday Theodor Seuss Geisel! Also known fondly as Dr. Seuss. To celebrate what would have been his 112th birthday, we have compiled a list of our 10 favourite books and stories at Thanda – including our choice Seuss stories.
We love using Dr. Seuss stories as teaching tools as they are excellent for teaching lessons and themes in an accessible and child friendly way. He presents a problem, and then presents the fact that the problem is solvable through effort, resilience and commitment to doing the right thing. That someone like you can make a difference.
His stories are a great way to look at the harsh realities of the world without being overwhelmed. We also have a very limited time with these kids – just a couple hours every day – so Dr. Seuss stories allow us to deliver big messages in few words that take little time to read.
Stories as a whole are a large part of our curriculum. As people, we are often uncomfortable with analyzing themselves, but in stories we see realities through someone else’s eyes and become familiar with what is really happening in a much more accessible, less threatening and fun way.
You can say or do something in a classroom to try and teach a lesson, but when you take the child on the journey with you, it is much more effective and enjoyable. Stories are the accessible and safe way to do that – to venture into the theoretical.
While we utilize a wide array of stories and books, the ten below are the most widely used at Thanda, from staff and mentor training to our after-school programmes. With the exception of one, all the stories are at least 40 years old. This was not intentional, but it is interesting to see that the ones that stood the test of time are the ones we are sticking with. And we have a hunch that our one exception, will still be popular 50 years from now.
- Spiderman by Stan Lee (1962)
“With great power, comes great responsibility”
Spiderman has fast become the favourite story (and hand gesture) among Thanda learners. They read the story, watch the movie, make masks and discuss the concept of with great power comes great responsibility. They discuss how Spiderman is not perfect. He has flaws, but that being a hero does not mean being perfect, it means doing the right thing, even when it is not easy.
2. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971)
One of the best Seuss stories, the Lorax teaches us about the environment and the importance of conservation. Our learners learn about the environment around them and make flowers out of paper as their project.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”
They learn that nothing is going to change unless people change it. As part of this theme, learners will go into the community, collect trash and make art out of their finds.
The high school learners will also discuss the concept of entitlement. The Once-ler is not necessarily mean, but indifferent and ignorant about the effect his actions are having. As people we often have a sense of entitlement and think we deserve to have whatever we wish. This is a key idea that is discussed throughout our curriculum.
3. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (1999)
Although the most recently written, the Gruffalo is based on a traditional story. It teaches learners that cunning and smarts are more important than size. It is an especially important book for us as the tale of a small figure using cunning to escape a negative situation has deep African roots. Learners read the story, learn about different animal homes (both in the story and African animals), and make their own Gruffalo masks.
4. The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss (1961)
“….until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one…or that one was this one…or which one was what one…or what one was who”
The Sneetches is another key text in our staff training, but also used with all ages of learners. As mentioned before, it raises big, scary, real world issues such as discrimination, greed and insecurity, but in an approachable way. We discuss the idea of how our insecurities drive our behavior and compare to other real world examples.
“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.”
The Sneetches ends on hope. Although these situations exist, we have the ability to learn and change.
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1969)
A classic childrens book, The Hungry Caterpillar is used to learn about life cycles and nutrition.
The younger grades use the caterpillar to start doing math and patterns. They learn about change and just because something looks one way, does not mean this is what it will always be.
They make many versions of caterpillars as their art project.
6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (1964)
The Giving Tree is also one of our top resources used across the board in our curriculum and training. We discuss imagery and looking for meaning beyond the words.
The staff discuss our relationship as humans as both givers and takers and how just because you are older, does not mean you have necessarily advanced. The boy may be a man, but is really still just a boy.
The tree thinks she is helping the boy but she isn’t. By giving him whatever he wants, she doesn’t treat him as a man and so does not truly respect him. This is a big topic for our staff training. We discuss having to grow up and take responsibility. If someone is giving you everything, do they respect you? We’re saying that we respect you enough to expect more of you.
This story is an especially good example of a story creating a space where the readers can be comfortable with paradox. Is the tree nice or mean? Both. Is the tree good to the boy? Yes and no. The story leaves the reader without a clear answer, which is hard to do any other way for a child. It is a shift away from the black and white reality, while laying the path for a grey scale and eventually full color picture.
7. Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1964)
This story demonstrates how ingenuity and team work overcome any danger. Swimmy illustrates the basic message of, “get busy living, or get busy dying”. We use it to talk about dealing with loss and death. Swimmy sees his whole family die, but then realizes the ocean is still really beautiful. There are still good things about living and so can move on.
It also demonstrates the value of diversity. Swimmy is the only black fish, but he then can be the eye of the fish they create, which helps them all survive.
Our learners create painted watercolor Swimmys and learn about all the different creatures he encounters along the way.
8. The Zax by Dr. Seuss (1961)
The second story in the Sneetches book, the Zax, is also used widely at Thanda. We even use it as the basis of our interview process for new facilitators.
The main discussion revolves around the idea that hatred is not something that you are born with, you are taught it. As the story says, “For I live by a rule that I learned as a boy back in South-Going School” We compare this to Nelson Mandela’s quote,
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
The Zax are so stubborn in what they have been taught, they can’t progress, but the world does not stop and progresses around, and over, them. We discuss culture and what our responsibilities are living in a multicultural society.
“Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!”
Of course the world didn’t stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.”
9. Ironman by Stan Lee (1963)
As mentioned before, super hero stories are powerful teaching tools for us at Thanda. Ironman, the story of Tony Stark, a billionaire playboy and engineer who is kidnapped to build a weapon of mass destruction, but builds a powerful suit instead teaches readers that more weapons does not mean more safety, but rather more violence. A big part of what we do with Ironman is compare the original 1963 comic text to the film adaptation in 2008 and look at the massive shift in society and amount of respect that Marvel has for its audience. The original contains derogatory slang for communists and ditzy females appearing only to serve the male characters. In the recent version, however, she is smart, powerful and vital for Tony’s survival. Additionally, Tony realizes that making weapons is in fact not good and that he is essentially an accomplice in the murders these weapons commit. As in Spiderman, we see that he is human and flawed. He becomes a hero, not because it is easy for him, but because it is the right thing to do.
Another big theme we look at is the fighting of tradition. Tony comes to terms with his culture and has the maturity to say, “I don’t care what my tradition is, if I am hurting people, I am not going to be a part of it”. He has the dignity to realize there are aspects of the way we do things that need to change.
The comparison between the two stories helps to put the world into perspective for our learners. A lot of things have gotten worse in the world, but there is also a lot of good as well. The fact that the story had such shifts when presented 40 years later, shows a tremendous shift in society’s thinking.
10. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (1940)
“He looked to the right of him. No caps. He looked to the left of him. No caps. He looked up into the tree… And what do you think he saw? On every branch sat a monkey. On every monkey was…a cap.”
In the story a cap seller keeps all his caps on his head but when he stops to take a nap, he wakes up and all the caps have been taken by monkeys. Our learners use the story to learn math and numbers which they do by acting out the story.
They also talk about thinking outside the box and to not let their thinking become to constrained. The peddler is yelling and yelling to get his caps back, but it is not until he throws his cap down in frustration and the monkeys throw theirs down as well that he retrieves his caps.
What are some of your favourite books and stories?