To Think that I Learned it From Children’s Books

During the Big Poetry Giveaway, I mentioned a teacher of mine whose version of a poetry slob (someone who thinks he’s read poetry, but hasn’t really) is someone who indicates Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein as their favorite poets. As it so happens, they are my favorite poets. Now, in my teacher’s defense, she implied this hypothetical person hadn’t bothered reading any poetry since their childhood. Nevertheless, I feel that children’s literature is sorely underrated. Too often, I have had teachers barrage such books with criticism, as if a book written for kids can’t be a real book. They seem to have forgotten a very important fact. They read these books as children too.

In the academic world, we tout “literature” as something which comments on the “human condition,” something which sends a message to the reader about the state of the world we live in. It’s seen even more easily in fiction: Twain commented on racism, Dickens on poverty, Wilde on high-class society. And so we read them. And we keep reading them because we still the echoes of our own world. But children’s literature, likewise, delivers a genuine, unrelenting truth. So what if these stories have a higher percentage of happy endings? So what if they don’t use big words (which is totally untrue by the way, I learned the word “funicular” from Dr. Seuss, and not even my parents knew that one.) So what if they rhyme? None of these factors make books like The Big Brag and Horton Heard a Who any less a foundation for our lives.

That’s why, in all of ranting and raving at UNM, I was utterly delighted to hear that one of my teachers almost included in the syllabus, my all time favorite Seuss book (and one of my all time favorite books in general) on his syllabus: To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. The class was about travel, the unit, imaginary travel, and the book is about the power of imagination itself. It reminds us both of the endless possibilities which the imagination allows as well as the way in which the most ordinary of things can fuel those ideas. I think it is difficult to consider oneself a connoisseur of any literature (though fiction in particular) without paying homage to this work. Then again, that’s just me proving I can be pretentious too.

Despite my adoration for the book, I have only read it once. That is, on only one occasion did I sit down with the physical book in my hands and read through the pages and look through the pictures. That was last year, when I picked it up at the library. My first introduction to the book was through a cassette tape (if you remember those) handed down to me from my brother. It contained five Dr. Seuss books on it, and To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street was the last. I remember the first time I listened to it, when the narrator reached the end of the book, I almost exploded at the beauty of the ending. I have always loved stories about storytelling and the magic of imagining, so the message which Seuss delivered in this one became an instant favorite. I listened to that tape so many times, I have part of the story memorized. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do a search at your local library. It’s worth every word (and at least one college professor will back me up on that.)

Today’s poem takes us back to childhood in a different way. This is another one dedicated to Simon:

Teach me mathematics.
Take me back to kindergarten,
and start with two plus two. Or better yet
with one plus one. Draw the ones
like pickets on a white fence
in front of the house I paint each day.
Teach me the blending colors of numbers,
the stippling of decimals.
Show me how the brush strokes of division,
multiplication and subtraction only add
to the masterpiece.
Take me to the fraction circus.
We’ll watch numerators walk the tightrope
over least common denominators and gasp
as they fly on the trapeze of cross-multiplication.
At intermission, these acrobats of probability
will give lessons in juggling percentages.

Oh, and you may have noticed the drastic change in the timing of my posts. Due to volunteering at a local school and working nights, my posts might show up a few hours shy of the daily mark. Bear with me.


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