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REVIEW: The Butter Battle Book

Nancy Watt (reviewer) — May 1984

Dr. Seuss. New York: Random House, 1984.

It always makes my day to find that a childhood hero is “politically correct.” Dr. Seuss’ wonderful rhymes have entertained millions, and I have always been an enthusiastic one of those millions. The Butter Battle Book is true Seussery — the pictures, the rhymes, and the humour.

The tale of the Yooks — who eat their bread with the butter side up — and the terrible Zooks who eat their bread with the butter side down — strikes close to home. Obviously, one cannot trust a Zook who “spreads bread underneath,” so the Yooks mount a border patrol of the Wall that separates the Yooks and the Zooks.

From that moment onward, the arms buildup begins, culminating in the invention (on both sides) of the Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo filled with mysterious Moo-Lacka-Moo, which can blow everybody to Sala-Ma-Goo. The end is left up to the reader’s imagination — no happy ending here, but no unhappy ending either.

Dr. Seuss himself has said he’s not sure whether The Butter Battle Book is an adult’s book for kids or a kid’s book for adults. I think it’s both. The story line is very black and white, but — as the man says — “when you write for kids, if you don’t write more clearly and concisely and cut out all the mumbo-jumbo, you lose your audience.”

Last month’s issue of Psychology Today featured an article on children’s fears about the nuclear threat. The researcher concluded that parents need to be prepared to answer their children’s questions. Parents shouldn’t assume that, by not talking about the problem, they can keep their kids from finding out about it. Children need to be given lots of information, because fears are much less difficult to deal with when the imagination is prevented from running wild. Dr. Seuss has provided a starting-point for that discussion.