Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Review: Yertle the Turtle

Yertle the Turtle celebrates its 50th year anniversary this year. I have given this book to many friends with young children. Did I do this because I think these little tots will become libertarians when they grow up because Mack revolted against Yertle the Turtle King? Of course not. First and foremost, it is a great story for parents to read to their children. In fact, it is one of the better Dr. Seuss books. What more could one ask for? Well, yes it does make the point that one shouldn’t just do as one is told by an abusive ruler but more importantly it teaches a child about standing up to injustice. I have heard parents tell their children that “life isn’t fair.” I think that is one of the worst things a parent can tell a child. At five years of age, a child wants to believe that the world is fair and just. Why would we want to tell them otherwise? They will find out soon enough that life isn't always fair, but at that age, it is a parent’s or teacher’s job to attempt to make the unfair fair. As a child gets older, he needs to be encouraged to stand up to injustice. I think this book teaches that. Yertle becomes a power hungry ruler and forces his subjects – the other turtles in the pond – to build a tower for Yertle to sit upon. The tower is made up of stacked turtles. Mack is the turtle on the bottom of the stack. When he complains, Yertle demands that he be silent. How dare he question the great turtle king? Eventually Mack burps and knocks Yertle off his throne. The story ends with, “And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free. As turtles, and, maybe, all creatures should be.”

There are actually three stories that make up the Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories book. The first story is Yertle the Turtle, the second one is Gertrude McFuzz, and the last one is The Big Brag. While Gertrude McFuzz isn’t as fun to read as Yertle or The Big Brag, it does have a good moral with a warning about the perils of vanity. The Big Brag is as much fun to read as Yertle and has a very funny ending. In fact, I recall laughing out loud the first time I read it to my girls. It makes the point that those that brag, very often exaggerate their skills and their bragging gets in the way of their work. I have found - as I am sure you have as well - that those who brag are insecure but the truly gifted rarely feel the need to brag. I work with a lot of incredibly bright people – many are internationally recognized as the top experts in their field – and rarely do the truly accomplished ones tell you where they went to school or brag about their achievements. However, the insecure ones will remind you that they graduated from so and so college or that a certain project would not have been successful without their input. Maybe they were never taught as children that humility is a virtue.

I will continue to buy this book for new parents.

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