Published 1949 Random House
Production Manager, Ray Freiman’s thoughts on Seuss at the time of this book:
“He is his work, all the whimsy and zaniness of it is part of him, and his constant patter of wisecracks.”
Just as Seuss brought back Marco in McElligot’s Pool he brings back Bartholomew for Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Now Bartholomew is a page for the same grumpy and selfish King Derwin in the Kingdom of Didd. King Derwin is tired of having the same four things come from the sky all the time; the snow, the fog, the rain and the sunshine. He wants something new! Bartholomew tries to tell the king that that’s impossible, to which the king replies:
“Boy, don’t you dare tell me what I can or cannot have! Remember, Bartholomew, I am the King!”
“I know, Sire,” said Bartholomew. “You rule all the land. And you rule all the people. But even kings can’t rule the sky.”
King Derwin insists that he can! So, he commands Bartholomew to call for the royal magicians. The royal magicians arrive chanting a rhyme that ends with “Our magic can do anything.” The king makes a wish to have something new fall form the sky and when he asks the magicians what they will make they speak one word together.
When the King asks what it will look like they reply:
“Won’t look like rain. Won’t look like snow.
Won’t look like fog. That’s all we know.
We just can’t tell you any more.
We’ve never made oobleck before.”
Bartholomew tries to warn the King that the magicians are going to do something crazy and that he should call them back, but the king is too excited about being the mightiest man in the world because tomorrow he’ll have OOBLECK!
That night the magicians perform a very grand spell to make oobleck. Bartholomew, having stayed up all night, is standing at the window at dawn and sees little green specks coming from the sky. He starts to reach out to touch one of the green specks, but pulls back because they seem frightening to him. He runs and wakes up the king who is very excited and yells:
“Oh, that beautiful oobleck! And it’s mine! All mine!”
The king commands Bartholomew to wake the bell ringer so he can ring the bell announcing this day as a new holiday. From this point Bartholomew runs to several people as the Oobleck begins to take over like a goopy glue.
- The Bell Ringer: Oobleck clogs up the bell so it will not ring.
- The Royal Trumpeter: Oobleck falls into the trumpet so it will not make a sound.
- The Captain of the Guards: Eats Oobleck to show it is harmless. It glues his mouth shut and little sticky green bubbles pop out of his mouth when he tries to speak.
- The Farmers: Stuck to their tools and animals get stuck to each other.
- The Royal Cook: Stuck to his dishes
- The Royal Laundress: Stuck to the clothes she has out on the line
- Royal fiddlers: Stuck to their instruments.
Bartholomew starts to look for the king and finds him stuck to his throne! The king wants to call back the magicians to fix things, but they are stuck far inside of their cave on the mountain because oobleck has blocked their way. So the king tries to think of his own fancy magic words, but can’t come up with anything.
Finally Bartholomew yells at the king and tells him that it is his fault and that he just needs to say some simple words, like “I’m sorry.”At first the king is angry and yells at Bartholomew, but then he breaks down and says,
“You’re right! It is all my fault! And I am sorry! Oh, Bartholomew, I’m awfully, awfully sorry!”
As if there is a little magic in those words, the sun suddenly comes out and the oobleck melts away. Bartholomew leads the king up to the bell tower and the king rings the bell announcing a new holiday in honor of the four old things that came down from the sky, because those,
“were good enough for any king in all the world, especially for him, old King Derwin of Didd.”
I feel that the lesson of saying sorry and owning up to something being your fault is pretty apparent. There is also a strong message of being happy with what you have and being careful what you wish for. As always Bartholomew, the child, follows orders until his conscious gets the better of him. This is the first time that a child in one of Seuss’ stories actually speaks out against an adult. Batholomew actually lectures King Derwin like a parent lecturing a child. It is a great example for children to be strong in what they know is right and wrong and not be afraid to speak their mind.
Now, I’m just going to point out some silly fun stuff that I get a kick out of with this book. First off, the animal observers are all over this book. There is a bird, a cat and a dog that appear at the beginning and at the end. There is also a crow, another cat, a fish and a horse that are all watching the action. I just love these little guys in his books…as I’ve mentioned in almost every post.
The fish is actually pretty great, because he looks almost exactly the same as the fish that becomes the first animal observer to actually become part of the story! The fish in The Cat in The Hat! He’s in the same bowl and jumping out the same way.
There is also a cat in a hat amongst the magicians. He does not have quite the same appearance as THE cat in the hat, but it is a cat standing upright and wearing a tall (unstriped) hat. It’s just neat to see the ideas for a future book slipping into this older book.
I was also excited to see that there are several women in the background of this book. In fact the royal laundress gets an entire page to herself.
The book is dedicated to KELVIN C. VANDERLIP, JR. which is Seuss’ godson.
The inspiration from this story came to Seuss while he was stuck behind the lines during the Battle of the Bulge. He heard two soldiers talking and one complained, “Rain, always rain! Why can’t we have something different for a change?”
There was only enough budget for one color so most of the book is in black and white, but once the oobleck is introduced we start to see green ink. The green is only used for the oobleck and doesn’t come in until page 12 when the magicians chant their spell and even then it is only a touch of green. As the oobleck takes over the green starts to be stronger.
I think it is a good thing that the book does not have more colors. It makes the appearance of the oobleck stronger and more consuming. It also adds a touch of magic, like Dorothy leaving the black and white world of Kansas and entering the fully colored Oz.
Seuss decided on green after considering several other colors first. He writes:
“[The] problem was to find something unusual…but something that wouldn’t be weird or unpleasant. Pinks are out. They suggest flesh too much. Purples seem morbid. I sort of like this green…be sure the printer prints the Oobleck color first…there will be a light black tone in the Oobleck, and this would be muddied up and lost if the color went on top.”
But later it become more of a Nickelodeon slime color that makes me think of Flubber, like in the image below:
The cover also changed from a navy blue to a bright red pretty early on. The only major change from the red cover below to the more common cover found at the top of the page is where it used to say “Written by Dr. Seuss” it just states “By Dr. Seuss” and the font has changed to be the more familiar Seussian signature that is on all of his books now (even the ones that he originally used his pen name for.) It is also brighter and the title is larger. Basically just bolder and louder to grab children’s attention.
There is also a black cover that was published in 1949 as part of the Junior Literary Guild which was a branch off of an adult book club for younger audiences. The original dust jacket states that it is a Junior Literary Guild Edition and spine should say Guild Book.
Click here for more about the Junior Literary Guild
“Too late to warn the people of the kingdom! There were farmers in the fields, getting stuck to hoes and plows. Goats were getting stuck to ducks. Geese were getting stuck to cows.”
I love this line, because it is so descriptive and silly, but also it adds just a hint of rhythm and rhyme to a book that is mostly pros. “Stuck” and “ducks” and “plows” and “cows.” It’s just fun to say.
This isn’t actually my favorite image. I can’t scan it at the moment and I found this one online. But this is the image that comes with my favorite line and I do love the full spread of this page and the one next to it showing Bartholomew looking out across the land as it’s being covered with oobleck.
My actual favorite image is on the second to last page. It is a window scene of the sun coming out and melting all the oobleck and there is a cat on the windowsill giving a thumbs up and it just brightens my day.
Thanks for reading,
Jack St. Rebor