Favourite books: Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
16 February 2009Add to My Folder
Andy Stanton goes on a journey of discovery with Dr. Seuss’ philosophical story…
Today I realised I can still remember what it felt like to read Dr. Seuss for the first time. I was in my first year at primary school when I picked up The Cat in the Hat – and of course I’d never seen anything like it. The outrageous characters, the free-wheeling drawing style and that patented rhyme scheme, somewhere between a gallop and a march – it turned my five-year-old world on its head.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! (HarperCollins, ISBN 9780007158522) bears all the classic Seussian trademarks, but this time all the wackiness adds up to something a bit deeper and more philosophical.
The book is essentially a roadmap to the ups and downs of life. Along with the every-child main character, the reader encounters a series of weird metaphysical landscapes filled with impossible architecture, berserk visual perspective and all manner of crazy creatures. Some of these places are friendly, others less so. But not to worry – they are all just stages on life’s journey and, according to the book, you’re ‘98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed’ to bypass the pitfalls of existence and become a success.
Presenting the book
The Dr. Seuss books are unusual not only in content but in format too. Although they are picture books, the page area is quite small – not much bigger than an average novel. With that in mind, you’d probably want the children up close when reading so that everyone can see the pictures when you show them. And for even more fun, why not project them onto a big screen, if such a thing is possible. (The pictures, not the children.)
After reading the book, you might instigate a discussion as to what it all ‘means’. Is the book just about a lot of strange places and funny animals or is there a deeper message? Why are some of the drawings fun and others a bit scary?
See if the children are able to relate the situations in the book to their real-life experiences. Ask them, What does it mean when the child in the book is flying in the hot-air balloon? How is he feeling? Have you ever felt like that? What does it mean when the child falls into a Slump? Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a Slump? How did you get out of it? And so on.
One clear message from the book is that life has its ups and downs. Try illustrating this with ‘Fortunately, unfortunately’, a word game to be played out loud. It goes like this:
One person comes up with a sentence (for example, One day a cat was walking in the park). The next person adds an unfortunate event (such as Unfortunately, it was raining). The following person adds a fortunate event (for instance, Fortunately the cat was carrying his brand new umbrella).
The game continues until it reaches a satisfactory conclusion, and each event can be as surreal and imaginative as the children like. Play it with the whole class to begin with, then put the children into groups to make up their own stories.
Postcard from another world
Ask the children to invent names for the strange places in the book. Now let each child design and write a picture postcard home from one of those places – or perhaps they could write about their own invented lands. Give each child a blank card and bring in a selection of holiday postcards to inspire them. Say that on the back you want to hear about what the children have been up to on their travels – who they’ve met and the strange things they’ve seen. Oh, and don’t forget to have them design unusual stamps to stick on, otherwise how on earth are the cards going to get delivered?
The not-so-good street
Early on in the story the main character chooses not to walk down a ‘not-so-good street’, which is inhabited by pothole-dwelling monsters. But what if he had gone down this street? Where would it lead? What other horrors would be lurking around the corner?
Get the children to write a poem about this adventure called ‘The Not-So-Good Street’, full of high peril and menacing details – sights, smells and sounds. Encourage the children to make their poems rhyme in this instance.
Discuss which of the landscapes in the book represent positive ones and which represent negative ones. Then get more specific: what particular emotion or mood does each landscape convey? Write up each emotion or mood on the whiteboard, and continue to ask for more – as many as the children can think of. Ask the children to pick an emotion and draw or paint what it might look like. Would anger be black rocks and crashing seas? Would happiness be a green hillside? What does jealousy look like? Sleepiness? Love? Disappointment? Joy?
Rhythm and rhyme
The rhythm of the book is already very pronounced, but make it even more so by exaggerating the beats as you read it out. See if the children can clap along in time, then divide the class into groups. Give each group a few verses to work with and see if they can chant their verses together. Perhaps each group can try alternating the lines among themselves. Perhaps they can alternate the words and still keep things in time. Maybe some of the groups want to incorporate percussion. When each group has rehearsed their section, invite them to perform it, then – without breaking rhythm – it’s the next group’s turn. Can the class get through the whole book in this way without losing the beat?