The Art of Dr Seuss: What We Can Learn from Him

We recently had an opportunity to see an exhibit of Dr Seuss’ artwork. The exhibit has been in the area for a while but I purposely timed it so that we would see it on his birthday.  The exhibit was very interesting & informative.  If you aren’t a Seuss fan … I would be willing to bet you might become one after seeing more of his work.

What I liked about this exhibit is that it was laid out similar to a time-line and as you walked through, you were able to get a sense of how his career evolved over time.  In anticipation of attending this exhibit, we had read The Boy on Fairfield Street by Kathleen Krull so we were versed on his advertising career.  I found these two advertisements particularly intriguing. What struck us was how different the times were even 70 years ago.  That people would consider gurgling with chemicals laced with DDT just as people would brush their teeth with Radon in the days of Madam Curie.

The other work that fascinated me was his creative taxidermy sculptures.  The book, The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss features eight of his sculptures and since its publication, an addition nine ‘lost sculptures’ have since been identified.  Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, treasured his taxidermy artworks and found a number of ways to use them in various projects throughout the 1030s and 40s.

Dr Seuss Flying Herring

Flying Herring – Hand-painted cast resin, recast from 1930s original

Dr Seuss Sawfish

Sawfish – Hand-painted cast resin, recast from 1930s original

I have shown two of my favorites here.  In the next week, we will be exploring this topic for fully as I pull out the polymer clays and do a mini-lesson on animal adaptations with the munchkins.  I encourage you to join us … it would be fun to see all the crazy Seuss inspired critters we can create. Please post a link in the comments if you want to play along and I’ll include a link to your post in our follow-up.  🙂

“If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good.”
~ Dr. Seuss

Surprisingly, Buddy was very much interested in the life-size sculptures.  Most were cast in bronze but one was in stainless steel.  He asked for his picture taken at each one.  I’ve selected to share The Lorax (Classic Seuss) in honor of the movie that was released this weekend.

Edited 3 March 2017 :: One of the things the exhibit touched upon was that Seuss was kind of a racist. I was recently reminded of this when an article was shared on social media detailing flyers kids made to protest “Dr Seuss Week” at their school.

I admire the gumption of the kids who made these posters. I believe it is important to know this history. Dr. Seuss is such a revered figure in our society, a staple of children’s literature. Schools and libraries across the country honor his work annually.

How do we move away from false heroes and saints and acknowledge people’s faults alongside their accomplishments? We can utilize his work as an opportunity to have a discussion with our students about the history of racism in the U.S. and to humanize Dr. Seus. Our heroes are not infallible. People learn and grow and change for the better.

Environment Exchange Boxes

Have you ever marveled at the differences between the natural environments of your home region and those of areas through which you travel?  I know I do.  I grew up on the southern Oregon coast, lived in the Willamette Valley through college, and we started our family while living in central Oregon.  Even within this one small state, the ecosystems are varied and thereby the plants and animals that reside there are diverse.   I now live in Northern California and I am amazed at how distinctly different the ecology is here.

To celebrate the diversity of the regions in which we live, I am organizing an exchange activity.  However, I will need your help.  I don’t have many followers so you’ll need to help spread the word.  I’ve also shared the project with my local homeschool community.   The activity is based upon Project Learning Tree‘s activity #20, Environmental Exchange Box (click upon the link for the PDF of the lesson plan).   Follow this link for visual ideas, PLTs Forest Exchange Boxes.

Essentially, each family puts together a box of things found in your local natural environment … a selection of pressed leaves and flowers, seashells, seeds and cones, a vial of sand, feathers, a few stones, a sound recording of local birds, stories the kids have written about their favorite things to do in their area, photographs, samples of non-perishable regional foods (maple syrup, walnuts, etc.), and/or  copies of newspaper clippings relating local environmental issues.

We can also use a webcam and/or YouTube to facilitate the exchange – allowing the students an opportunity to interact with their exchange partners to explain the contents of the box they prepared.    What you select and how you organize your box is up to you.  Be creative!

Everyone wishing to participate would be given the address of another family to whom to send their box. You mail a box just once.

Those interested in taking part should submit the information below via email.  I will thereafter assign each participating family a partner family with whom to exchange boxes.

  • Name
  • School Name (if you have one)
  • Address
  • Telephone Number (include area code)
  • Age of Students
  • Email Address
  • Preferred state or region with which you would like to exchange (not guaranteed)

This exchange project has concluded.

Old Time Holidays :: Field Trip

Each year in early December, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and Old Shasta State Historic Park team up to offer numerous holiday activities for families. Ever intrigued by living history opportunities, we were eager to take part.

 Our first stop was at the historic Camden Tower House, built in 1852, the Camden House is the oldest house in Shasta county.  Here, the kids cooperated together to create a Christmas wreath of evergreens. We then toured the inside of the house (though it is furnished minimally in only two rooms).  It was fun to imagine living here in the late 1800s and looking out upon the orchards.  Upstairs, we enjoyed listening to a Christmas story read aloud by a volunteer in modern clothing.

Returning outdoors, the kids selected a old-style picture postcard and used a feather quill and ink to write a seasonal greeting to a family.  We had tried to make our own feather quills some time ago … the directions had stated to bury the feather in an aluminum pan of hot sand.  We did so … but apparently the sand was too hot and the feathers blistered, warped, and burned.  The kiddos were thereby very excited to give this a go.

We then made our way to Old Shasta where we were able to walk along the row of old, nearly-ruined brick buildings.  Once the “Queen City” of California’s northern mining district, these ruins and some of the nearby roads, cottages, and cemeteries are all silent today.  Volunteers dressed in period attire introduced the kids to numerous children’s games – Hoop & Stick, Game of Graces, and Jacob’s Ladder.  Sweetie asked if perhaps we could volunteer here, “I miss dressing up and pretending I lived in 1880.”  I promised I would inquire, but sadly the park is one of several state parks slated to close in May.

We then walked down to the Blacksmith shop where kids could try their hand at forging a piece of iron into a wall hook.  Sadly, we arrived late in the day and the last visitor they would have time to tutor was just getting started.  Buddy was fascinated … as I’m sure any young boy would be … and he begged to come back another day.

We were able to dip candles, however.  As there weren’t many children at this late hour, they were even able to get back in line a second time.  Each of the kiddos brought home two hand-dipped candles.

Everyone had a great time and it was a fun way to kick off the holidays.  We hope that funding or alternatives can be found to keep the museum accessible.   

California State Railroad Museum

This has been a long awaited trip … the California State Railroad Museum is well known throughout the western states and it’s been on Buddy’s ‘Bucket List’ for years.  Now that we live in California .. the trip was an easy few hours drive from home.  The museum is located within Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

As the commercial center of the California Gold Rush, Sacramento became a crossroads of transportation, connecting steamboats to San Francisco, supply roads to the mining regions, and to Folsom by the first railroad in the West.  Though the commercial district gradually moved east of the the riverfront, today there are 53 historic commercial structures on 28 acres that make up Old Sacramento State Historic Park.

While the focus of our visit was the Railroad Museum – we’ll definitely be back again when our history studies bring us to California.  The railroad museum houses more than 20 restored locomotives and railroad cars along with thousands of smaller artifacts and a variety of exhibits in its exhibition facility. In addition, the Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station and Freight Depot make up a part of the historic district.

The passenger station is a reconstruction of the western terminus of America’s first transcontinental railroad (circa 1876).  Here you’ll find the ticket office (where we purchased tickets for the Spookomotive Train event), telegraph office, main waiting room, and a separate waiting room for women and children only.  The museum’s steam-powered excursion trains arrive and depart from the reconstructed late 1800s transcontinental railroad freight station.

We planned our trip to coincide with the Spookomotive train ride – a whimsically decorated train staffed with an entertaining ‘skeleton crew’.  We had hoped for a spooky ride – perhaps a little mystery in which we’d get to take part onboard.  As it turned out – the ride was a simple down and back along the riverfront with the crew wearing skeleton printed t-shirts and passing out silly plastic toys.  It was suitable for ALL ages.
Buddy’s favorite exhibit was the 4294 locomotive.  The unique cab-forward design of the locomotive saved engineers from being asphyxiated by smoke fumes in Southern Pacific’s numerous long mountain tunnels and snow sheds.  Sweetie’s favorite exhibit commemorated the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the ceremony that took place at Promontory Point, Utah.  We were surprised to learn that the paintings we see so frequently in the history books portraying this event were staged.  Some of the people pictured were not even there when the infamous gold spike was nailed in place.  Sadly, the people that were responsible for the construction of the train – most of whom were immigrants from China and Ireland – were not featured at all.
While we were there, Buddy completed the Junior Engineer assignments.  He was disappointed though that his special award was game token for Old Sacramento Historic Park.  He’d hoped for a patch or lapel pin.  Ah well – the important thing was what he learned not the tangible reward.

San Francisco Chinatown

We’ve been to Chinatown before … in Vancouver, New York, San Francisco and even Portland. As the kiddos are learning Mandarin, it is an opportunity to practice their language skills as well as experience a tiny bit of another culture.  We thereby visit whenever the opportunity arises.  Thus, our visit to San Francisco last week was not complete without spending a portion of the day in Chinatown.  This time, we visited a few new places … both of which the munchkins have asked, “Can we stop here every time we come to Chinatown?”

When we first left the motel on 2nd and Howard, Sweetie asked if she could hold the city map.  I asked if she wanted to be the navigator and she exclaimed with glee, “Yeah!”  We led us to the Children’s Creativity Museum and from their she directed us to Powell Street Station to catch the cable car.  I was very impressed with her sense of direction.  Upon boarding the cable car, she was careful to read each street sign and signaled to us when we had arrived at Jackson Street, where she felt we should get off.

Fresh frog legs, anyone?

We walked two blocks – stopping briefly when anything unusual (at least us) and then turned onto an alley where we immediately found the San Francisco Fortune Cookie Factory.  It is literally a hole in the wall … located on Ross Alley, it is one of the oldest fortune cookie companies in San Francisco.  If you are looking for a tourist attraction (i.e. a tour), gourmet fortune cookies, single cookies, or picture taking opportunities (they charge 50 cents) – this place is not for you.  If you are looking for a tiny shop, free samples, flat cookies, cookies in bulk, or great customer service – you’ve found the right place.

The Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory

Within a few paces of the entrance you can see fortune cookies being made right in front of you. First, the thin circular cookie is pulled off a hot press. Then, a fortune is placed on one side of the hot, flat dough. Next, each soft, hot cookie is shaped over a steel rod into the shape of a fortune cookie. This process must be done very quickly, otherwise the cookie will harden before it has the right fortune cookie shape. When you are inside the factory, you will be amazed at how quickly the fortune cookies are made.  An elderly man was at the entrance giving us free samples of warm cookies fresh of the grill.  We watched for a few minutes while enjoying our samples and then before departing, purchased a bag of flats for ourselves.

Enjoying their first tea sampling at Aroma Tea Company

From there we wandered about, going into shops that appealed to us including a coin / jewelry store that had solid gold coins.  Buddy wanted to buy one of course but it was several thousand dollars.  He settled for a gold-colored U.S. dollar coin instead … an even exchange.  Sweetie found the Aroma Tea Company and saw that the sign said, “Free Tea Tasting” so she asked if we couldn’t take part.  We sampled three types of tea and purchased two.  Great idea, Sweetie!  My stop was to a book store where we purchased a few children’s books and a tablet for each of the kiddos to practice writing their characters.

Another delightful afternoon exploring and learning.  Life is good.

Richardson’s Rock Ranch

One of the excursions we have wanted to take ever since we have lived in Central Oregon is to Richardson’s Rock Ranch, just north of Madras.  Somehow or another … it just never made it onto our calendar.  Now that we are moving, I insisted we make the drive.  The night before our departure, my mother called me to say that she would be joining us and that she would be bringing along my niece and nephew!  What a nice surprise!

We met at the ranch around 9:45 a.m. and checked in at the office.  From there, it was only 7 miles to the digging site (we selected an easier one since we were beginners) but the road was not maintained so it took us a good 20-30 minutes to get out there.   We began our quest immediately and were not discouraged.  Everyone found thundereggs … some even appeared to be discarded on the ground.  Our buckets were full within an hour, thankfully as it was getting quite hot already, and we made our way back to the office to weigh and cut open our thundereggs.

According to ancient Native American legend, when the Thunder Spirits living in the highest recesses of snowcapped Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson became angry with one another, amid violent thunder and lightning storms they would hurl masses of these spherical rocks at each other. The hostile gods obtained these weapons by stealing eggs from the Thunderbirds’ nests, thus the source of the name “Thundereggs.”

The Thunderegg was designated Oregon’s official state rock in 1965.  Today, Thundereggs are made into beautiful jewelry, especially bolo ties and pendants, pen stands, bookends, and decorator pieces. Their value ranges from about $1 per slice or half egg to well over $100 per slice or single cabochon.

A Thunderegg is not actually a rock. It is a structure, sometimes a nodule or geode, occurring in rhyolite, welded tuff, or perlitic rocks.  Scientists do not agree on the processes forming Thundereggs. Some insist that the characteristic and unique internal pattern of typical Thundereggs is due to expansion and rupture of rock by gases. Others claim the pattern is due to drying of a colloid or gel. Thundereggs range in size and weight from less than an inch and under one ounce to over a yard in diameter and over a ton in weight. Most eggs collected are between two and six inches in diameter.

If you are interested in teaching a geology unit in your homeschool, you may be interested in a 10 week unit I developed for the middle grades or logic stage.  Earth Logic: Our Dynamic Earth.  I have also created a Squidoo lens where I have organized numerous free online resources and have shared a short interactive quiz.  You can find the lenses here …  Geology Rocks:  A Homeschool Unit Study and Geology: How Well Do You Know Your Stuff?