Analyzing Theme with Dr. Seuss Picture Books

by Jimmie Lanley on March 2, 2012

I’m participating in a blog link-up in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday tomorrow on March 2. Since Sprite is a middle schooler (7th grade), you might be surprised to know that we used Seuss picture books for homeschool lessons! Yes, we did. No, Sprite didn’t make a cute craft or do a phonics activity with rhyming words. I’ll leave those to the ladies with younger children.

Sprite did literary analysis of three Seuss picture books, looking especially for political themes. After doing a little background reading myself, I selected these three stories:

  1. Yertle the Turtle
  2. The Lorax
  3. The Sneetches

reading the lorax

I told Sprite what her goal was — to look for political themes in the books. She had fun reading The Sneetches and The Lorax because these were books we had in China but haven’t read in a long time. It was fun to watch her remember the story and the illustrations. Yertle the Turtle was a new one for both of us.

theme versus plot
Then we had a lively discussion about each book, looking for themes.

The Lorax is quite obviously a statement about abuse of the environment. But The Sneetches is a bit more complex to decipher.

Sprite’s first thoughts about The Sneetches were themes that relate to her own tween life — fitting in, peer pressure, and concerns about appearance. Those are definitely there, but I encouraged her to think in terms of history and how those same themes might be broadened into general society. She thought of the Civil Rights Movement and, after some prodding, the Holocaust. I made sure to have her check the publication date of The Sneetches to make sure those political issues existed when the book was written.  (They did.)

I gave Sprite copies of the theme versus plot notebooking pages to write down the theme and a list of the events in the plot.

If you’re beginning literary analysis with your tweens, picture books are a great place to start simply because they are short enough to be read in a single sitting. They contain all the elements of fiction just like a novel would but in a more manageable proportion. Once your child can dissect a picture book, he can easily move on to novels. (Sprite can already do this with novels, but it’s fun to revert back to picture books occasionally.)

Another perk of this fun language arts lesson — now we’re set to watch The Lorax (when it comes to the bargain theater) because you have to read the book before you watch the movie, right?

There’s More

There are seven other bloggers sharing the Dr. Seuss lessons, so be sure to visit them all!

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