March 20, 2014
(++++) GOING PLACES
Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Deluxe Edition. By Dr. Seuss. Random House. $25.99.
Clark the Shark Dares to Share. By Bruce Hale. Illustrated by Guy Francis. Harper. $17.99.
Brer Rabbit had his laughing place, which proved mighty unfunny to Brer Fox, but then it was not his laughing place, was it? And just as classic as that place and the other places in the tales retold by Joel Chandler Harris are the equally classic but much more recent locations in Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go! This is a very late Seuss work, first published in 1990, the year before Theodor Seuss Geisel died at the age of 87. But it is every bit as inventive, funny and strange as the good doctor’s earlier books, and just as full of the oddball juxtapositions for which Dr. Seuss’ prose was known: “You have brains in your head./ You have feet in your shoes.” Now Random House has brought out a fine and fancy slipcased Deluxe Edition of the book, throwing in – as a bonus – the famous (or notorious) Dr. Seuss commencement speech given at Lake Forest College in 1977. That is the one that lasted about two minutes and ended with the lines (which were part of a decidedly Seussian rhyme), “Do a lot of spitting out the hot air./ And be careful what you swallow.” This loses something outside the context of the whole poem, but fear not: it is all there in Random House’s book, and it goes very neatly with the theme of the book itself. For here Dr. Seuss, nearing the end of his own life, passes the torch to the next generation in as rousing a way as he can. “With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,/ you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.” Ultimately as affirmative as always, Dr. Seuss, his trademark outlandish drawings as outré as ever, joyfully asserts that “Out there things can happen/ and frequently do/ to people as brainy/ and footsy as you.” Elephants carry a canopy, long-green-necked creatures occupy manholes, balloons fly high – but sometimes things do not go well, and one of the most wonderful things about this wonderful book is how Dr. Seuss handles that particular reality of life. “I’m sorry to say so/ but, sadly, it’s true/ that Bang-ups/ and Hang-ups/ can happen to you.” And so begins the negative part of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! “You will come to a place where the streets are not marked./ Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.” (A perfect Seussian word invention, that.) And so we find ourselves at the Waiting Place, perhaps the most adult-focused location ever invented by Dr. Seuss, where recognizably Seussian characters wait for this, that and the other thing, and wait and wait and wait and wait: “Everyone is just waiting.” But: “NO!/ That’s not for you!” And so the book’s unnamed adventurer escapes “somehow” and all is well – except when, again, it isn’t, and loneliness creeps in, “And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance/ you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.” But persist, urges the good doctor, “and face up to your problems/ whatever they are.” The upbeat ending of the book is all the more effective for the work’s dark side, which is part of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to a most surprising extent in a Dr. Seuss offering. But that is what this remarkable work is all about. Dr. Seuss told the Lake Forest graduates, “my wisdom is in very short supply,” but fortunately he meant that only in the sense that it could be compressed into very short books or even shorter (14-line) poems. Discovering or rediscovering Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is a very real pleasure, and the handsome new Random House edition is a marvelous way to “get on your way,” be you youth, graduate, midlifer or someone who, like Dr. Seuss when he wrote the book, may be advanced in chronological years but remains decidedly young in mind and spirit.
Unlike the broad philosophical lessons of Dr. Seuss, those of Bruce Hale in the Clark the Shark books for ages 4-8 are much more specific and decidedly more modest. But Hale communicates them very well on their smaller scale, and Guy Francis’ illustrations keep things light and amusing even at their most instructive. The second book about Clark, Clark the Shark Dares to Share, again takes readers to an imaginary undersea world and features the very large, very toothy and very mixed-up title character misinterpreting something at first and then learning moderation and correct behavior by the end of the book. In the first book, simply called Clark the Shark, Clark had to find out how to curb his over-enthusiastic response to just about everything: bounciness is fine, he learned, but not when you are as big, strong and intrusive as Clark. Now, in Clark the Shark Dares to Share, Clark has to cope with the difficult-for-him concept of sharing. He understands that sharing means some sort of participating that involves everyone, but when he does an enthusiastic dance as a fellow student plays music, the teacher tells him to sit down and wait his turn. When another student receives an ice-cream prize for reading the most books (it’s sea slug ice cream!), Clark wants some, because that would be sharing; however, the teacher tells him the decision is not up to him but to the other student. When Clark plays reef hockey, at which he is the best player, he helps his team win the game – but they object that even if the whole team shared the victory, Clark did not let anyone else score. “Sharing is complicated,” Clark decides, and it gets even more complicated when he accidentally breaks a friend’s “Sea Wars” toy (it’s the one that Hale cleverly names “Dark Wader,” enemy of “Fluke Seawalker”). Later, at home, Clark objects when his little brother bites and ruins one of Clark’s caps – that can’t be sharing, Clark thinks. Clark gets into a sulk (in a particularly amusing drawing by Francis), then decides he just has to get this sharing thing right, and spends the rest of the book making amends for his earlier unintentional misdeeds: baking a cake for the friend whose toy he broke, for example, which leads the fellow student with the ice cream to scoop some onto the plates with the cake, and so on. Clark ends up with “a warm, wiggly feeling way down deep inside” (in another of Francis’ funniest drawings – although some children may think this one looks as if Clark needs to go to the bathroom!). All ends well for everyone, of course, and if Clark the Shark Dares to Share is scarcely profound and scarcely written or drawn on a Dr. Seuss level, it is a pleasant, amusing romp with interestingly offbeat characters and a nicely downplayed approach to teaching a basic lesson in manners in a decidedly non-Emily-Post way.