Saturday, March 10, 2012


Written by Dr. Seuss

Pictures adapted by Mel Crawford

(Random House, 1950)

When I think of Dr. Seuss books that have a prominent message, The Lorax, The Butter Battle Book and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! come to mind. I don’t believe Dr. Seuss penned the story for the Oscar-winning animated short “Gerald McBoing Boing” with any serious intent, but I do find something deeper behind the fun, particularly in the context of today’s education system.

On a surface level, this story is about a misunderstood boy who, like that reindeer Rudolph, is too different to be accepted by playmates, teachers and even his father. It’s not Gerald’s nose; rather, it’s his voice. As a baby, his first clear utterance isn’t “Mama”; no, it’s “BOING BOING!” Little Gerald doesn’t speak words. He makes sound effects.


When his parents send him to school, Gerald is sent home with a note from his teacher:

You little son Gerald’s
a most hopeless boy.
We cannot accept him,
for we have a rule
That pupils must not go
Cuckoo in our school.
Your boy will go HONK
all his life, I’m afraid,
Sincerely yours, Fanny Schultz,
Teacher, First Grade.

Subjected to ridicule and rejection, Gerald runs away. Fortunately, he meets the owner of a radio station who sees Gerald’s quirk as an employable asset. And just like Rudolph, Gerald is warmly accepted (even revered) by those who’d once viewed him as hopelessly flawed.

Sixty-two years ago, many children were outright denied access to the school system. Many educators like the fictitious Fanny Schultz deemed some kids uneducable. While I am sure Dr. Seuss meant for this story to be about accepting, even appreciating, differences in people, I doubt he wrote it as an indictment of the state of special education. Still, I can’t read this adapted version of the film without thinking of children who have used communication boards and assistive technology to better express themselves in regular classrooms. I also think of parents who struggle to come to terms with the reality that their child has special needs. Gerald’s father, Mr. Cloy, reacts with despair, shame, even anger. For many parents, there is a grief process that precedes understanding and acceptance.

This is yet another book to add to a class library collection on bullying and putdowns. But it is also a valuable discussion starter for identifying each child’s strengths and celebrating these gifts.

The illustrations in Gerald McBoing Boing may disappoint. They are not the work of Dr. Seuss, but have been adapted by Mel Crawford from the animated work of Bill Melendez, Rudy Larriva, Pat Matthew, Willis Pyle and Frank Smith. If the book is used at home or in school, I suggest following up with a viewing of the six-minute animated short. The film supplants words like boing and cuckoo with the conventional sound effects, making it clearer that Gerald does indeed have something truly special to offer.

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