“Daddy,” she chirped from the backseat, “What does Z-I-Z-Z-E-R Z-A-Z-Z E-R-Z-U-Z-Z spell?”
Bloody hell, I thought. But instead answered, “It spells no word in the known universe. It’s a made-up word.”
“It has to spell something,” Jellybean said, lifting the book up as if I could read it in the rearview mirror, “because it’s in the book.”
Jellybean is learning to read, and Dr. Seuss isn’t helping. These are the moments that try a parent’s soul. On the one hand, you’re so proud they’re learning to read, growing their intellect and finding joy in such a simple exercise. On the other hand, it gets really freakin’ annoying having every word spelled out.
The ride to school, which is usually narrated by Katy Perry’s juvenile rhyming scheme (“you read me like erotica/make me feel exotica”), has now been overthrown like a bejeweled despot by Jellybean’s reading of “Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book.”
Now, when Jellybean actually reads, it’s nothing short of magical. But apparently Dr. Seuss was something of a verbal masochist. In a 20-minute car ride, already I’ve had “xylophone,” “orangutan” and “umbrella,” spelled out while hearing all about the “Quick Queen of Quincy and her Quacking Quackeroo.”
And that doesn’t even include the words he just makes up to create a rhyme … like the aforementioned Zizzer Zazzer Zuzz, which wasn’t the name of a Manson family baby but actually looks like the three-way love child of a dragon, an otter and a Gee’s Bend quilt.
Dr. Seuss is whack.
Look, the English language as God and George Plimpton intend is confusing enough — do, due, doo, dew; i before e except when eight feisty neighbors seize a surfeit of weighty heifers — without tossing in “The Cat in the Hat,” Horton and his Who, “Yertle the Turtle” and Sam I Am. Yet they stick these books in the Little Readers section of Barnes & Noble like some psychological test aimed at gluttons for punishment (aka gullible parents), of which I’m a card-carrying member.
Yep, I’m kinda dumb.
I just wanted Jellybean to learn to read, so when she showed an interest in these books with cardboard covers just the right size for tiny, uncoordinated hands, I couldn’t say no (also didn’t hurt that they were buy two, get one free). Plus, I thought it would be a fun bonding experience. I also bought the first two Harry Potter books for serious nighttime reading.
Jellybean has the good fortune of coming from a houseful of readers. Not to make us sound elitist — we also love watching “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo.” But books are something that we all enjoy and so it was just a matter of time before Jellybean wanted to join the Cool Kids, which is kinda like the T-Birds from Grease only we wear glasses instead of leather jackets.
But the journey from Dr. Seuss to Dostoyevsky can be long and frustrating.
To Jellybean’s credit, she doesn’t get angry, doesn’t give up, doesn’t throw the book out the window or threaten to have a hissy fit while sounding out “rhinoceros.” She just keeps plugging away, occasionally calling me to her rescue. So for now I’ll happily decipher Dr. Seuss even when “Willy’s in the wash tub washing Waldo Woo.”
And Katy Perry’s just gonna have to wait, unless she ever sings Seuss, but given her one-time stint on “Sesame Street,” that’s doubtful.
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.