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Book Review: Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss

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Somehow during my childhood I completely missed reading Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss. Raised on the Seuss classics: The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish – my parents somehow neglected adding the loveable, big-hearted pachyderm of the 1954 Seuss classic. With the recent release of the feature-length film inspired by the book to DVD, and my children’s consequent adoration of the movie rendition, it was high time I remedied our lack of exposure to the original work.

Horton is an elephant from the Jungle of Nool who finds himself in an unusual predicament on the fifteenth of May. He hears a noise. Not just any noise, but a noise that is coming from a tiny speck of dust. He wonders if there is someone on the speck, someone so tiny that they cannot be seen, in need of his help. Indeed, it is soon revealed that this is the case. His jungle friends and neighbours doubt the plight and existence of Horton’s new friends, the Whos. So great is their persecution and mockery of what they do not understand that Horton and all speck-life are threatened by the small-mindedness of those around him.

Having viewed the film prior to reading the Horton Hears a Who!, I noted how certain aspects differing from the book was inevitable. Yet it’s patently unfair to compare a work that has been in print for over 50 years before a film adaptation was made to its revised, modern form. I’ll only mention here that differences are inevitable, sweeping, and affect all aspects of the story. However, if like me and are only now considering reading the print version I can affirm that the spirit of the film is true to Seuss’ original work despite the differences.

Long time Seuss devotees are no doubt delighted to see Horton receiving his due. This is one elephant that was ahead of his time. Horton’s steadfast defense of the worthiness of each life regardless of his or her perceived value to others preceded the Civil Rights Movement and its emphasis upon the intrinsic value of every human being 'no matter how small’.

Hortons’ staunch defense of the Whos have firmly associated his name with the many character traits he displays in his unsought-for mission to protect the Whos. Their simple personhood is enough to engender his love, loyalty, service, and protection against all comers. Parents reading this story together with their little ones will be inexorably drawn into the realm of discussing human rights and character traits. “That’s right isn’t it Mommy, a person is a person no matter how small.” My five-year-old daughter proudly proclaimed in understanding. It’s easy to build from there.

On all other fronts, this is Seuss as we expect him to appear. Wild, action filled black and white line drawings, filled with two or three colours per page that repeat throughout the book. Rhymes that delight the ear, but at times stumble into awkward cadences when read aloud. Reassuring, repetitive phrases forming the glue that binds.

Perhaps, like me, this is your first time to encounter Horton and the Whos. Maybe you’d like to introduce him to your children or grandchildren, or you may just wish to reaquaint yourself with his finer qualities. I know where you’ll find him, clover in trunk, watching over a tiny town filled with even tinier folks who’ve won his heart.

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About Jennifer Bogart