This past weekend, my son and I went on a date to see the new movie The Lorax. I love the Dr Seuss' children's book on which the movie is based, as we have read it together many times at home. Overall, I was impressed by graphics in the movie. Truffula trees were brought to life, and the look just like I thought they should. The actors they chose as voices suited their Seuss counterparts.
However, the producers took much liberty with the story line, padding it so that the movie would be 90 minutes long. The primary difference between the book is that the movie supposes that an artificial town, Thneedville is erected where the Truffula trees, barbaloots, and swomee-swans once lived. So the storyline includes not only the Once-ler's story of how the trufulla trees were lost, but also about a town that has lost its sites on the beauty of nature, seeing soil as dirty and preferring process food and drink. Another noticeable change included the addition of new characters; 0ne was a villain, Mr. O'Hare, a greedy business man in Thneedville, who sells people "air." Another was Ted, the boy who is on a mission to get a Truffula tree for his crush, Audrey, who is yet another new main character.
I enjoyed this movie experience very much, but couldn't help but be offended in moments where they used some word segments directly from the book, but changed it enough so it lost its "Seussian" touch. The Seuss experience is more than the crazy-looking characters and bright colors that make your head spin. Its about the language used to share the message, and that was absent in the movie. I suggest that parents and teachers take the movie release as an opportunity to read the book to kids in order to focus students on what can be learned.
Tips for Using The Lorax as a Teaching Opportunity
As the daughter of a librarian, I took for granted, not only the instrumental role that reading played in my childhood, but also how much fun it was to listen to someone else read a story to me. As a high school biology teacher, I used read-alouds to pique student interest in new topics and to increase awareness of important social issues. I learned early in my teaching career that many types of reading material could be used for a science-focused read-aloud. Even a ten to fifteen minute read-aloud from an excerpt from a non-fiction or children’s book captivates previously uninterested students.
But non-fiction books are not the only option for a science teacher read-aloud. While my sophomore students may have rolled their eyes at me when I pulled out the glossy and brightly colored book, “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, they also have no problem participating in discussion afterward about deforestation or propaganda issues. In using children’s books with older students, I did discover that it is better to focus them on what they should be listening for, or they will view the read-aloud time solely as a “free-day” and not be engaged in the purpose I intend for the lesson. Therefore, before beginning my reading, I prepared students with a handout that encourages them think about how each character is presented in the story, why that character is important, and then to extrapolate what that character may represent in our modern ecological society.
After I finished reading the book, I gave them time to answer additional short answer questions on the handout. Focusing students this way has encouraged some of the richest whole-class discussions I had all year. Students debate environmental issues, under the cloak of a children’s story, and are challenged when they have to identify the assumptions and defend the viewpoint not given in the story. Students leave class exhausted, mumbling, “I had no idea a Dr. Seuss book could get me so worked up!”
Reading this book to my biology classes became an annual tradition each Earth Day. Consider using some of these discussion questions with students (Note: the questions apply to the book, not necesarrily to the 2012 movie version):
- Why do you think Dr. Seuss chooses to tell a majority of the story as a flashback?
- What are the “walk-away” messages you think Dr. Seuss wants to leave with his readers
- What affect might this book have on young children who read it?
- What viewpoint is not told in the story? Who might be upset by the assumptions within the story?
- What concrete facts about deforestation (or logging) would you be interested in knowing after reading The Lorax?
If you feel like extending this topic, you might invite students to do an activity such as this prompt.
Here is a free student worksheet.The story does not provide two sides to this argument. Storyboard an idea for another children’s book giving a different alternative to The Lorax.
There are a number of other children's books that are great read alouds for middle and high school students. Even though older students roll their eyes, reading children's books brings many opportunities for discussion that you 'll miss otherwise. I love reading the Magic School Bus series. And "There's a Hair in my Dirt" by Gary Larson is another staple in my classroom. I read that when we talk about nemotodes. Enjoy!