Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Yertle the Turtle and other stories

Author                                 : Dr Seuss
Illustrated by                       : Dr Seuss
Age range recommended  : 4+
Theme                                : Arrogance, pride, greed; alternatively - humility, kindness)

Opening lines –  
On the far-away Island of Sala-ma-Sond, Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond. A nice little pond. It was clean. It was neat. The water was warm. There was plenty to eat. The turtles had everything turtles might need. And they were all happy. Quite happy indeed. 

They were... until Yertle, the king of them all, decided the kingdom he ruled was too small. "I'm ruler, " said Yertle, "of all that I see. But I don't see enough."

Introduction and Synopsis –
The book has 3 stories, Yertle the Turtle, Gertrude McFuzz and The Big Brag. We look at the first story here.

In this tale, Yertle, the King of all the Turtles, is dissatisfied with the stone that acts as his throne and  with the size of his kingdom, which was restricted to how far he can see. So he decides that he wants a throne so high up that he can see far and thus become a bigger ruler. He ruthlessly decides to make his throne by asking all turtles to climb one on top of another, with himself perched on top. He spares no thought to his subjects who are gettting crushed in the process.What happens to the poor turtles? Does Yertle become a great king at the expense of his subjects? Or, do the other turtles defy their king, to stand up for themselves?

Why did my caterpillar and I like this book?
ME -
I thought this was a very good story to show children what happens when you are overcome with pride and when power goes into you head. Though you don't really have to use these words with your little one, it is a pretty simple story to read to your child and give her a lesson in humility. I read somewhere that Dr Seuss based the character of Yertle on Adolf Hitler and used this story to demonstrate the rise of fascism in Europe! Is there any other author who has done such incredible work? I mean, this is political theory brought out in a book for a 4 year old! Brilliant! Dr Seuss was against writing stories with morals in mind, but he was not averse to writing about issues.

Check out the last lines of the book, pasted below, where his intent and his thoughts are expressed beautifully -

All turtles, and maybe all creatures should be free. Isn't that a simple, yet profound idea to teach your child? And extremely important as well?

An interesting trivia that I got to read about the author on this  book was, when questioned about why he wrote "maybe" rather than "surely", Dr. Seuss replied that he didn't want to sound "didactic or like a preacher on a platform", and that he wanted the reader "to say 'surely' in their minds instead of my having to say it. Isn't that a deep thought?

Yertle is the absolute monarch. He is ruthless. Greedy. Selfish. Corrupted by power. And that is exactly what brings about ultimately his fall from the top, like it should. The other way of looking at the story is - Be kind and humble. Put yourself in others' shoes and see how it feels to be there. Think about others. Be happy where you are. Don't aspire for something you don't really need, especially at the cost of happiness of others.

The illustrations are typical of Dr Seuss's style and the pictures of all the turtles on top of one another is done well.

The writing style is lucid, there is extensive use of rhyme. The simple-to-understand sentences, broken into meaningful phrases, ensure that kids dont get lost during the reading. Interestingly, all through the story, other than black and white, the only 2 colours used are blue and green.

She was a little bored as I read on because, unlike the other Dr Seuss books that we have read, this one had longer sentences and tinier pictures. She loves rhymes, so they kept her entertained. Thundered, mile, mule, beyond - there were quite a few new words that she learnt; the book has ample scope for that. She did not enjoy the illustrations as much in this one, though she was extremely amused with the lengthy 'turtle throne' with Yertle perched on top!

Online link -
We found this online link to the story on You Tube. Do check this so you know about this very interesting story. 

The cocoon rates it -


Though I would rate the book highly myself, the book is a a bit tough for the young reader or listener. I'd say it is a little long for a 4 year old, but you can still manage reading. I wouldn't really recommend it for the under 4 kids.

The book was written in 1958, but I believe the book will stay on and be relevant to future generations to come.

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