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KS1 Book Topic: A Hatful Of Lessons Inspired By Dr Seuss

Let children loose in the world of the ‘American Poet Laureate of Nonsense’, and see where their imagination takes them, says Carey Fluker Hunt...

  • KS1 Book Topic: A Hatful Of Lessons Inspired By Dr Seuss
  • KS1 Book Topic: A Hatful Of Lessons Inspired By Dr Seuss
  • KS1 Book Topic: A Hatful Of Lessons Inspired By Dr Seuss

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“If you never did you should. These things are fun, and fun is good.”

This line from One Fish Two Fish sums up Dr Seuss’ work – if you haven’t dipped into his world of zany humour and repetitive rhymes, you really, really should.

Titles such as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are known and loved even in households that don’t really ‘do’ reading, and many of his characters have become cultural icons in their own right. To date, more than 650 million books have been sold in more than 20 languages.

Affectionately known as ‘The American Poet Laureate of Nonsense’, Dr Seuss, born Theodor Geisel, might not have been a real doctor, but he was a thoroughly authentic and original author who understood his young audience and produced book after book that they adored.

Seuss started his working life in advertising – a role that developed his understanding of the rhythms of language and honed his ability to communicate. Campaigns such as ‘Quick, Henry, the Flit!’ showcased Seuss’ anarchic and hugely creative mind and the kind of energy, irreverence and humour that would be found in his books.

HarperCollins has just reissued four of his best-known and most playful texts in handsome new editions, but Seuss wrote more than 60 titles in total, many of which are still in print. His ability to manipulate a limited vocabulary and turn it into riotously joyful text led to success in the ‘beginner reader’ market, but Seuss wasn’t just interested in teaching children to read, he wanted to teach them to think.

Books such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Horton Hears a Who! and The Lorax deal with issues such as consumerism, environmental disaster and the arms race in ways that children find enticing, accessible and fun. Seuss never spoke down to his audience, but neither did he lose sight of the need to entertain.

Written in a catchy, foot-tapping poetic meter and full of quirkily energetic illustrations, these are books that children find impossible to ignore, and make a great starting point for creative literacy and cross-curricular activities.

Discovering the books

Place a surprise package in your book corner containing Dr Seuss books and label with a message from the Cat in the Hat inviting everyone to dig in. Allow children to explore independently and watch what happens. Which books are they drawn to, and what do they tell each other about their choices?

Once you’ve had time to get to know the books, talk to your class about their response. Which titles do they prefer, and why? Were they familiar with any of these books before today? Who they would recommend these books to, and why?

Explain that you’re going to find out about the man who wrote these books. As a class, come up with questions about Dr Seuss and his works. Display these in your reading corner, along with some of the comments your class made earlier, and refer back to them as you find out more.

Wordplay

Rhymes
Rhyme is a major feature of Dr Seuss’s work. Play rhyming games by taking turns to think of a word that rhymes with an object in the room, or giving clues such as, “What’s a word that rhymes with red? It’s where you go to sleep at night”. Read other rhyming stories and poems, and compare.

Repetition
A limited and repeated vocabulary makes Dr Seuss’s books accessible to beginner readers. Learn some of the text in Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat by heart and perform it.

Invented words
Dr Seuss loved playing with words and inventing new ones. Try making some new sounds and work out how to write them down. Read The Lorax and find the invented words (eg gruvvulous, snergelly and rippulous). What do they mean? How can you tell? Invent some words to describe everyday objects. Which would you use in a poem, and why?

“I can’t blab such blibber blubber!”
Dr Seuss was a great fan of tongue twisters. Warm up with Peter Piper before you tackle the rhymes in Fox in Socks, though. They’re thoroughly fiendish!

Playing with beat and rhythm
The beat (or pulse) in Dr Seuss’s work is the ‘ticking of the clock’ behind the poetry. If you tap your foot as you speak, you’re marking the beat (the rhythm follows the words).

Share Steve Webb’s picture book Tanka Tanka Skunk, then beat time to some familiar rhymes (see here for more ideas) before tackling Green Eggs and Ham. Give everyone the chance to beat the pulse while others read aloud. You could try moving in time to the beat while you read, too!

“He should not be here when your mother is out…”
‘Misrule’ is a feature of Dr Seuss’ books, and it appeals to children enormously. It also places Seuss in a storytelling tradition that stretches back to our earliest folk tales. Read The Cat in the Hat and talk about the Cat’s (and the children’s) mischief. Role play the events, then make up some more tricks, games and near-disasters before writing and illustrating your own stories.

Fiction can explore things we wouldn’t want to happen in real life. Read some traditional stories such as The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. Talk about safeguarding and why we shouldn’t open the door to strangers.

The ish wish dish
The Ish in One Fish Two Fish has a magic dish Make some ‘big swish swishes’ over a suitably magical-looking dish and dream up some wishes of your own. Draw and write about what happens next.

Cross-curricular opportunities

Fun-in-a-box
When Dr Seuss had writer’s block he would go to a hat-filled cupboard and try them on. Sometimes creativity comes in sideways, and playing can be the key to unlocking good ideas.

  • Make a collection of hats and put each one inside a cardboard box. Label the boxes ‘HAT belonging to the CAT’.
  • Read The Cat in the Hat and talk about the games the Cat dreams up. He doesn’t write stories or paint pictures, but he’s still being creative. Give each child a box and explore what’s inside. Where could the Cat have found this hat – and what could it help him invent?
  • Talk about ideas and where they come from. Like Dr Seuss and the Cat, put your hats on and dream up some new ideas (questions you’d like answered, ideas for stories or pictures, inventions that solve a problem, new ways of doing things).
  • How could you record your ideas so that you don’t forget them? In writing, in pictures, as audio recordings, with labelled diagrams or a mixture of everything? Is it difficult to think of ideas while you’re sitting still? Where and how might you have better ideas?

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees”

  • Read The Lorax. What does the Once-ler mean when he says he “went right on biggering…”? And what are the outcomes of his greed?
  • Have a go at swaying like a Truffula Tree, humming like a Fish and singing like a Swomee- Swan, then show what happens when they meet the Once-ler – “He was shortish, and oldish. And brownish. And mossy. And he spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy…”
  • Where might the Lorax have come from, and what did he do before the Once-ler arrived? Role play the conversations between the Lorax and the Once-ler, then write a report for a newspaper as if you’ve just spoken to the Lorax about what happened in the book – or tell a story about what happens when he leaves.
  • The Once-ler lives in a Lerkim. Design your own Lerkim and label its special features. Perhaps you could build a Lerkim den in the school grounds – or make one in your reading corner using a clothes airer and old curtains! A den needs gadgets. What can you invent? Make a whisper-ma-phone using cans and string, and send messages. Can you improve it in any way? Write instructions for the Once-ler, telling him how to make and use a whisper-ma-phone.
  • “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Find out about ways to help the environment. Perhaps you could plant some Truffula trees of your own?

Scrambled eggs super-deedooper-dee-booper
Read Scrambled Eggs Super and explore the impact of adding extra ingredients to your egg mix. Peter T Hooper went for things like ginger and prunes – but you might prefer grated cheese. Why not turn your eggs and ham green, or even blue, with a little colouring? Design an investigation to discover what people think about food that isn’t the right colour, then display your results as graphs and charts.

Try also setting up a Green Eggs and Ham role-play café. Make ‘food’ from plasticine or painted salt dough and create menus, price lists and order pads, then play at serving and eating there. The waiters can take orders and prepare bills, the cooks can write and draw their own cookery books and the customers can write magazine reviews.

You can find more recipe ideas, such as ‘Beautiful Schlopp and Pink Ink Yink Drink’ at Seussville.

A load of old nonsense

Having got familiar with Dr Seuss’ work, try exploring these related reads…

  • Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Joel Stewart
  • Tanka Tanka Skunk by Steve Webb
  • The Puffin Book of Nonsense Verse edited by Quentin Blake
  • The Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr Seuss by Kathleen Krull

Carey Fluker Hunt is a freelance writer, children’s book ambassador and creative consultant.

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