Yesterday in my reading method’s class my professor said something that really blew me away. We had been talking about the history of literacy and had just finished comparing the “behavioral psychology” and “linguistic” models (better known as the “sight word” and “phonics” eras). That’s when she said it, “the difference is that Dr. Seuss actually wrote great literature and ‘Dick and Jane’ was not.”
For a second I just set there staring at her while I tried to process what she had just said. Dr. Seuss wrote great literature. Was that even possible? He wrote children’s books. Could a child’s picture book a great literature?
For that matter, what makes any book great literature? What qualities do they have to have?
After spending most of class working on a list of qualities (as opposed to taking notes) that a great work of literature should have I came up with five qualities.
Great works of literature should…
be interesting (so that someone, sometime, somewhere will want to read them).
be popular (at some point in their existence, although not necessarily right away).
touch upon something in some way controversial (it doesn’t have to be a huge something just something).
cover more than one theme (that way it has wide enough which ups its chances of becoming popular).
be remembered (it’s got to count for something if a book can manage to capture the public’s attention for more than a couple years).
In other words like every other great a great work of literature should be timeless.
By the end of class I had decided that based on my list, yes Dr. Seuss’ books are great literature regardless of their marketed age level. They make very little sense, which makes them interesting. Kids have loved, still love, and probably always will love his books, which means by association parents love them, so they’re indeed popular. Although it’s well masked Dr. Seuss’ books often touched on controversial topics like responsibility and racism. Each of his books had so much crazy stuff going on in them that they must qualify as covering more than one theme, so I’m gonna say we’re good to go on quality four. Finally, since parents are still reading these books to their children they have definitely been remembered. Yep, if that’s not great literature than I don’t know what is.