During World War II, everyone played a part.
Everyone…including Dr. Seuss.
Before Theodore Giesel gained worldwide prominence as a childrens’ book author, he was the chief editorial cartoonist for the New York magazine PM. Between 1941 and 1943, Geisel drew over 400 cartoons for the magazine, and also for other publications.
It is a rare moment when an iconic figure shows his political colors–and a unique website allows us access to this part of his career.
The Dr. Seuss collection at the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego houses all the original drawings and cartoons by the famous author. About 200 of these cartoons were reproduced in the 1999 book Dr. Seuss Goes to War.
UCSD has digitized its entire collection and provided it for general use at its website Dr. Seuss Went to War. All his wartime cartoons for PM have been categorized by year, battle, geographic area and personality covered by Seuss.
It provides an excellent resource for teachers making connections between the complexities of war and a beloved childrens’ author. Seuss was always political, and these cartoons show the political mind that would later create such controversial works as The Lorax and The Butter Battle Book.
As exemplars of political cartoons, this database is second to none. The obviously excellent artwork provides hours of analysis, critical thinking and classroom discussion. Because they were made as events occurred, the Seuss cartoons have an immediacy that is often overlooked by students today.
Finally, as a historical artifact, the Seuss cartoons allow students to see the war as readers at home saw it–through the eyes and pens of the writers and artists of the press.
Enjoy these cartoons and please let us know how you used them.
Videos for the Classroom: Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book
In our belated homage to Dr. Seuss on his March 2nd birthday, the Neighborhood presents a video of one of Seuss’ greatest–and most controversial–works.
In 1984, Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book caused a sensation in classrooms, libraries and especially the corridors of power in the Reagan administration. A satirical parable about the arms race, militarism and especially nuclear war, The Butter Battle Book was so controversial that public libraries across America banned the book over its viewpoints.
Given the Cold War hysteria of the early Eighties, the book’s content was rife for discussion.
The book chronicles the long-simmering conflict between the Yooks and the Zooks, two cultures at war over breakfast food. The Yooks butter their bread on top, while the Zooks butter theirs on the bottom. This innocuous difference leads to an escalating arms race, culminating in the development of an “Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo”–a weapon designed to wipe out all life with no counter-defense. The book ends as both generals hold their tiny Armegeddon devices, ready to drop at any moment.
Like the Lorax, Seuss’ other well-known political work (then about the environment), The Butter Battle Book is not your traditional feel-good children’s story. A cliffhanger is left as we don’t know what happens with the Yooks and Zooks and their factories of death.
Yet Seuss’ nuclear fable differs in that it feels much more hopeless, more helpless–and thus much more sinister.
Attached is the 1989 animated special of the book by TNT. It was created by an equally controversial animator in Ralph Bakshi, who created a work very close to the wording and intent of the original book. Narrated by charles Durning, the special was so well made that Seuss himself considered it the most faithful adaptation of his work ever made.
This is my all-time favorite Seuss work, and is brimming with classroom debate and discussion at any age.
Enjoy…and stay away from butter altogether. It’ll kill you in the end 🙂
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