This is going to sound crazy, but my favorite book about the French Revolution is about a small turtle named Mack. Think about it. Yertle the Turtle is the story of a despot who orders all the turtles to allow him to stand on their backs in order to build up his kingdom. Honestly, it’s not even that different from this famous cartoon of the era, showing the first and second estates riding on the back of the third. Like in the French Revolution, or in any revolution, it turns out that they people on the bottom have power by virtue of being on the bottom. Mack helps overturn the order of things in the pond. In the final illustration, he sits on Yertle’s old rock perch while Yertle is stuck in the mud. When I taught school, I used to begin my lessons on the French Revolution with this book.
Last week, when I sat down to think up a list of picture books for older readers, I very nearly included some Seuss because I think many of the Seuss titles work extremely well as ways to begin to tackle bigger topics. Sure, some of them hit you over the head a little bit, like The Butter Battle Book‘s blatant Cold War allegory. However, others, like The Sneeches or The Lorax are clearly about social issues, but don’t have an exact parallel and provide a good way to begin thinking about an issue for elementary and middle school students, whether you agree with Seuss’s perspective or not.
I think this is one of the services that picture books can bring us. They provide us with simple ways to meet complex topics.