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!

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary March 2, 2012 at 7:45 am

What fun! This is a good idea… I think we’ll pull out a few and see what we can find. This blog hop looks like so much fun, too.

We are going on a baseball field trip today – don’t know how much Dr. Seuss we’ll fit in. 🙁


Ami March 2, 2012 at 8:07 am


You can fit in some Seuss any time . . . not just on his birthday! 🙂
Have a fun field trip!


Ami March 2, 2012 at 8:06 am

I love this, Jimmie!

Back in my teaching days, I used many a picture book to teach a concept; it seemed to be less intimidating for my students (and fun!).

I pinned it to use with Elijah in a few years. Thanks!


Shannon AKA WordGirl March 2, 2012 at 9:17 am

What a great post, Jimmie! I think another advantage of using picture books with tweens is that you can go back and hit books they might have missed when they were first learning to read. My eldest daughter learned to read really early and skipped over a lot of picture books in favor of chapter books. I plan to use this idea with my 5th and 6th grade daughters – I think it will be fun for all of us.


Melissa Telling March 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm

I’ve always loved Dr. Suess. What a perfect day for my newest little niece to be born! I guess I know what I will be buying as a baby gift. Something Seuss themed. 🙂


Jolanthe March 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

GREAT idea, Jimmie. Definitely will pull these out to use with the girls!


Chi-ann March 2, 2012 at 4:36 pm

HI Jimmie, love the ideas and am so inspired! I’m definitely going to do this with my girls. Love all the recommendations – as always!


Cindy March 2, 2012 at 6:59 pm

We love using Dr. Seuss books to analyze themes – political, Christian, social and more. What a brilliant man!


Paige March 2, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Jimmie-Thanks to you, I’ll never look at picture books in the same way! Thank you so much for sharing :).


lee March 3, 2012 at 12:18 am

We used the Butter Battle Book this year for nuclear proliferation. It’s also good satire.


Cheryl March 3, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hey Jimmie, My eldest is taking a literary analysis course this year and this will make a fun break for her. Thanks for the idea!


Sylvia Duggan March 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Thanks for the fun suggestion, we are trying to work on literary analysis, will be focusing on it more next year but working on introducing it this year, so this is perfect. It is also a wonderful example of my answer to people who ask “Why do you still have picture books on the shelf?, your kids are too old for them.”


Elizabeth March 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Hi! I have not posted a comment in a long time, but did you know that Dr. Seuss was voted least likely to suceed? His grades in Dartmouth college were quite low, apparently.

Your idea looks great. Sprite is still cute as ever!


Giggly Girls March 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Totally fabulous!


Dana March 23, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Great post! Are you familiar with “The Butter Battle Book” about the Cold War? We watched the videos online a couple of years ago:


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