Each Wednesday morning I have a preschool storytime. I have a core group of families who tend to show up. It has fluctuated quite a bit over this summer. This was the first summer my library system elected to continue storytime after April. They used to always stop storytime for the summer and pick up again in August. They didn’t like to have the children’s librarians running the summer reading program and still doing storytimes at the same time, I guess. But, they decided that the community was in need of continuous storytimes, so here we are. Initially, my attendance stayed pretty high, but it’s steadily decreased. Today was the smallest storytime I’ve had since I started doing them last year. I had 5 preschoolers and 1 infant. I was doing a circus theme and they loved my “circus big top” (a white bed sheet, because the parachute I had asked to borrow from another library has never shown up.) They enjoyed the first book, Song of the Circus by Lois Duncan (Yep, that Lois Duncan! The same one who writes thrillers.). They enjoyed the songs and movement activities. And then, I tried something I’ve only tried one other time (another very small storytime crowd, come to think of it): I read them a Dr. Seuss book.
I like Dr. Seuss, but he has been troublesome for me in the world of storytimes. The first time I tried to read a Dr. Seuss book for storytime, it was MLK Jr. Day and I read the story of the Sneetches. I love that story. The few children who were at the storytime chimed in with their comments about how terribly treated some of the Sneetches were and how silly it all was that if you have a star on your belly you get to do things that others cannot. It worked as I had hoped it would for that particular theme.
However. There was a father who asked to see the Dr. Seuss book during craft time and then proceeded to tell me how Dr. Seuss was not a good role model for children because he was anti-Semetic and that he doesn’t read Dr. Seuss to his children and believed I should no longer read Dr. Seuss in storytimes.
Well… I’ve never found any reliable sources claiming that Dr. Seuss was anything other than supportive of Jews. In fact, during WWII, he criticized the US for its treatment of Jews and was very solidly anti-Hitler. He did agree with the Japanese internment camps during WWII, which was a moral blunder, but he later seemed to see the error of his ways in the writing of Horton Hears a Who, written about the occupation of Japan after WWII and which he dedicated to a close friend of his from Japan. At any rate, I don’t know where this father got his opinion. Certainly, everyone is entitled to decide whether to read certain books to their children or not, but he stopped bringing his kids to storytime after that. If I’m honest, it was not much of a loss. The fellow was rather off-putting in a general way, although his kids were great. Despite one parent’s problem with an author or a children’s book, I would not stop reading said author aloud to children. That’s not the point of a public library, those sorts of stipulations would be appropriate in a non-public library…like in your own home.
Still, I haven’t given Dr. Seuss a try in storytime since then and that was nearly six months ago. But, today I decided to give it another go because If I Ran the Circus is SO good. It was a big, fat, flop. I think it was too long. Dr. Seuss is definitely wordy. My kids today ranged from about 2-5 and I think Dr. Seuss just dragged on a bit too much. It’s nonsense words went over a lot of their heads. There were a few giggles, but there was a lot more talking amongst themselves and not paying attention. Usually these kids pay attention. So, I was sort of disappointed. I asked them questions about the story when I finished and they could hardly tell me anything about it. It wasn’t good. Maybe it needs an older crowd. Maybe his books are just too long for this age group. Maybe it just wasn’t a day for Dr. Seuss and storytime. Or maybe Dr. Seuss and storytime are not that great of a match here. It’s a shame, really. I’ll probably try him again sometime, but I need to find a way to bring the kids into participating with the story more. Maybe just The Cat in the Hat (although, I really don’t like that one much), or something that they might have been introduced to previously. I don’t know. I’m afraid Dr. Seuss will just go back on the shelf for a while.
I’ll give him three chances, but not another chance for a while. Not only because of the reception he received, but also because it’s a lot of work to read a Dr. Seuss book aloud and not stumble over the nonsense words or the tongue twisters! I practiced reading this book three times before I actually read it to them this morning. It’s tough! I know some people think reading Seuss to kids isn’t good because of all his nonsense words, but I disagree. Even the two-year-old today laughed at some of the nonsense words. They know, even at that young age, that the words are goofy. They know ‘eyeses’ and ‘shouldsters’ aren’t the correct words for the body parts, even if they don’t know that there’s not a planet called “Foon”. It’s all good, but maybe not always the best for a storytime setting? Sigh. I don’t know. It’s a situation where I want it to work and don’t want to give up on it, but its a disappointment each time I try.
In the meanwhile, try reading this aloud without stuttering or stopping or having a brain-jolt at the tongue-twisting turning of phrases of old Theo Geisel:
“When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle
bottle paddle battle.”
― Dr. Seuss,
I have one particular girl in storytime who loves to clap when the story is over. Several of the parents have taken to clapping when the story is over, too… I don’t know how to handle it, so I usually just sort of move quickly on to the next thing we’re doing. But today, after getting through all the tongue twisters without stumbling or messing up the Seussian rhythm I was all like: