(This review is in response to a request as to why I have only given One Fish, Two Fish... three stars)
Firmly ensconced in the middle tier of the Dr...more(This review is in response to a request as to why I have only given One Fish, Two Fish... three stars)
Firmly ensconced in the middle tier of the Dr Seuss canon, One Fish, Two Fish... is many people's favorite for its light humor, catchy, Moliere-esque couplets, and clever use of repetition as well as surprise, as in the title, where the rhyming word comes at the beginning of a repeated syllable, rather than at the end of the phrase.
It earns its place as one of the most quotable (possibly only Green Eggs and Ham is more often quoted) and fun to read aloud (after only Fox in Socks), but it stays firmly in the middle tier because it lacks three things:
1) The classic Dr Seuss creations. That book doesn't introduce a Who, a Cat in the Hat, Mulberry Street, Green Eggs, Grinches, or other new element to our culture is not a criticism. It does, however, set those books apart as critical pieces that added to our society in some way; they rise above this book.
2) Giesel's overt moralizing. Whether teaching is about size versus importance, making your own fun and cleaning up after it, the futility of war, or even a covert (and possibly unintentional) lesson on ambiguous modifiers, Seuss' classics do what the greatest children's literature does; they remind us as adults of lessons we needed to grow up and need now not to forget.
3) Covert study of a philosophical principle. This may be all in interpretation (no one suggests that Giessel intended these), but many readers for decades have found the Seuss books' repetition and variation of a theme to serve as a metaphor or direct example of something universal. Whether it's a question of imagination in play and its social consequence (The Cat in the Hat), ontological questions about Platonic ideals (Green Eggs and Ham, which rejects the notion that the environment is relevant to the enjoyment of the food), the Freudian question of experience and its ability to drive all future behavior (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), or a more complex example such as To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which combines all of the above in various ways), the very best of Seuss takes a universal question and circles it, showing us various views in fanciful ways while using childlike tropes to strip the question down to its abstract base. It doesn't do this because Giessel intended to be a philosopher, but because he though about children and learning in deep ways inherent to the essence of experiencing humanity.
In this context, One Fish, Two Fish... is a fine and enjoyable book, and one that I will enjoy reading many times; its three-star rating is only because it is a relative trifle in the Seuss canon when seen next to his many masterpieces. It isn't one you'll go back to over decades for inspiration, when teaching your children, or as an example to understand or explain a principle implicit to Giessel's thinking and vital to us all.
Give this to the nearest 6-10 year-old (or adult who wants to be 6-10 years old again). It isn't the "can you solve it, too" mystery aspect, although...moreGive this to the nearest 6-10 year-old (or adult who wants to be 6-10 years old again). It isn't the "can you solve it, too" mystery aspect, although that's fun enough, it's the attitude: Brown loves--and doesn't fear--a good problem, he wants to help people, he has a good relationship with his family, his friends trust and accept one another while recognizing their individuality, and the underlying sense of justice, both moral and civil, is a valuable lesson to every kid and a valuable refresher course for everyone else's adulthood certification.
The Hardy Boys solve mysteries as adventure. Nancy Drew solves mysteries as an obsession. Jupiter Jones solves mysteries as ego. Danny Dunn solves mysteries as education. All of these are good and fun and laudable and worthwhile for kids to learn from.
If you only have one message to teach a young friend, Encyclopedia Brown solves mysteries because a) he has skill to keep exercised, b) he cares about the kids who come to him, and c) he has his father's sense of justice and service. That's the one I'd pick.
...But make sure your young friend knows about Jupiter Jones and Danny Dunn as well. (less)