This week, New York Times Books asked, "What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book and why?" via Twitter. As I attempted to write my response to this monumental question within the infuriating restraint of 140 characters, I realized there was no satisfying way I could sum up the impact Dr. Seuss' The Lorax has had on me in so few words. (Or maybe I simply lack the brevity of wit a tweet requires.)
You see, The Lorax played an integral role in shaping the person I am today. It changed the entire course of my high school experience, it was the subject of the college entrance essay that got me accepted to the university of my dreams, and it connected me with lifelong friends, bonding us together in a cult of like-minded people (as indicated by the T-shirts being worn in the first image of this post).
It all started at the end of my freshman year of high school. My friend convinced me to spend one week of my precious summer vacation on a school science trip in Olympic National Park hiking, camping and studying the ecology of the northwestern region of Washington. The trip was one of four annual field studies organized by our school's science department to bring lessons outside of the classroom. (At the time, the trips included Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Monterey and Olympic National park.)
Each trip was bookended with thoughtfully selected Dr. Seuss books. On the first night, Mr. Smith, our school's preeminent biology teacher and the mastermind behind the field study concept, read The Sneeches aloud. The tale set the tone of the trip, highlighting the pitfalls of the temptation to judge a someone by their appearance -- a pertinent lesson for a group of high school students.
On the last night of each trip, after a week of hiking scenic trails and bonding with peers in that unshakable, cliché campfire way, Mr. Smith read The Lorax aloud. If you're not familiar with the story, the Once-ler, a rather mysterious narrator, comes upon a place filled with wonderful Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba-loots, and Humming-Fishes. Captivated by the beauty of the Truffula Trees, the Once-ler greedily chops them down to produce and mass-market Thneeds made of Truffula Tree tufts.
As the trees swiftly disappear and the creatures start to leave, the Lorax warns the Once-ler about the pollution and destruction caused by his Thneed factories, but the Lorax's words of wisdom are ignored. Finally, the Lorax vanishes, leaving only a rock engraved with the word "UNLESS." Luckily, the Once-ler saves a single Truffula Tree seed, which he gives to a caring child, who becomes the last chance for a future that includes Truffula Trees. At the end of the book, the Once-ler's words of wisdom to the child are: "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
After the reading, Mr. Smith would distribute a single bead to each student, which not only symbolized the Truffula seed the Once-ler passed along to the young child in the story, but also served as a tangible memento of the trip itself. Then, Mr. Smith would begin the ceremonial gifting of a copy of The Lorax to a student who embodies the accepting qualities of the Sneeches and the generous spirit of the Lorax -- usually a senior, but every once in a while that influential younger student would have the book bestowed upon them. This was (and remains to be) the highest honor in the realm of field studies.
I'm sad to say I've since lost my Truffula seeds and my treasured copy of The Lorax. After we moved out of my childhood home in the midst of my parents' divorce, I couldn't find them in any of the cardboard boxes I'd so carefully labeled during the packing process. I desperately searched for them in the dimly lit storage unit among the relics of my childhood, but I've come to realize that they're just Thneeds. The lessons I carry with me every day as a result of my field studies experiences are far more valuable than the mementos from that time in my life. Though, I'd be lying if I told you I didn't miss them.
What about you? What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book? If you have a minute to share, I'd love to hear...