I’d been booked for a reading, but not just any reading. No, this would not be some open mic style event at the nearby coffee shop, nor would I be reading to empty chairs at the local bookstore. I would be reading to a packed room, made up by the most discerning of audiences. An audience, I should add who isn’t afraid to tell you as well as their friends and family exactly how you failed to live up to their expectations in excruciating detail.
I would be reading to my son’s kindergarten class.
It was Dr. Seuss week at his elementary school and guest readers were invited to come in and share their love of reading with the next generation.
I arrived early armed with not one, but two books (affiliate links are included in this post): The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss himself, as well as Dragon Was Terrible by Kelly DiPucchio. I was only expected to read one story but felt the need to ensure I had a backup plan if the room turned on my selection.
I waited in the hall, eager to start, but hesitant to spoil the surprise (we hadn’t told our son I would visit the class that day) or interrupt the lesson at hand. The school principal saw me in the hallway and smiled.
Then I was waved in and invited to sit in front of a group of smiling faces.
I made my choice. It was Dr. Seuss week after all. I held up The Sneetches for all the children to see.
“I have that.”
“I’ve heard it before.”
“My dad reads that to me too.”
Had I made the wrong choice? I wondered. Too late now!
I opened the book to the story of The Zax, which is a tale of two creatures called Zax – one north going, one south going – who meet one day in the prairie of Prax and neither Zax will budge from the direction of his tracks.
And so they stay stuck there, unbudging, for years while the rest of the world grows and leaves them behind.
The kids laughed at how silly both Zax had been, but they also pointed out the dangerous situation the Zax found themselves in. An overpass had been built around those stubborn Zax and fast-moving cars now surrounded them. They couldn’t have gotten to where either of them was going at this point, even if they tried. It was an aspect of the story I hadn’t previously considered.
Afterward, I asked the children what the Zax should have done. Hands shot up.
“They should have gone around each other.”
“One Zax should duck and roll forward so the other could jump over its top.”
“One Zax could split in two so the other could go through the middle.”
Admittedly that last suggestion is a little more problematic than the other two, but I’d like to point out that at no time did a child suggest one Zax push the other out of the way, knock one to the ground to be stomped over, or otherwise use brute force to get where they were going. Instead, all they came up with were creative compromises.
I wound up reading the second book, Dragon was Terrible, too. It was a story the majority of kids hadn’t heard before.
A dragon, who is terrible, of course, performs a series of, you guessed it, terrible acts around a kingdom (like taking candy away from a baby unicorn). The King announces he’s had enough of the dragon’s shenanigans and issues a challenge to his knights to do something about the beast. They aren’t instructed to kill it but tame it. Their attempts to beat the dragon into submission only serve to make it more terrible. Then one day a small boy arrives and he does something no one else in the kingdom has ever thought of – he gives the dragon a chance to be a hero.
Once again, I asked the kids at the end what the story had been about. Hands shot up. Although the story was new, they immediately understood its subtle theme about the power of inclusion.
Either this next generation is super smart or I’m starting to think more grown-ups should celebrate Dr. Seuss week too.
We forget too many of these lessons.