New York Times Review: “Nobody could possibly have ideas in any way resembling those that occur to this talented man.”
The story opens with a young man named Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell telling his friend what the letters of the alphabet stand for. “The A is for Ape. And the B is for Bear.” etc. all the way to Z. He is so proud of himself for knowing the alphabet because it means he knows everything that anyone knows, because Z is as far as the alphabet goes. But his friend, the narrator of the story, takes the chalk and draws a new letter and states,
“You can stop, if you want, with the Z
Because most people stop with the Z
But not me!“
Then Conrad’s friend shows him a whole new alphabet that goes beyond Z. Each letter is given with an example of a creature that starts with that letter. The first letter is a YUZZ which you use to spell Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz. The next is WUM which you use to spell Wumbus. This continues all the way to the letter HI! which is used to spell High Gargel-orum.
Conrad’s friend tells the reader,
“I led him around and I tried hard to show
There are things beyond Z that most people don’t know.
I took him past Zebra. As far as I could.
And I think, perhaps, maybe I did him some good…”
And Conrad decides the old alphabet isn’t enough and creates his own amazing new letter. The book ends with a dictionary of all the letters we learned about throughout Conrad and his friend’s adventures, ending with Conrad’s own letter which is left for us to name.
I find it interesting that the hero has no name in the book. He is talking to the audience about his friend Conrad Cornelius O’ Donald O’ Dell, but we never learn his name. I personally think Seuss did not name him, because the hero is actually Seuss himself, or a young Ted Geisel before he became Seuss.
In the end Conrad creates the final crazy letter showing that he has officially gone on beyond Zebra and let his imagination explode. By leaving the letter unnamed Seuss is leaving an opening for the reader to start using their imagination as well.
This book came after the heavy morals in Horton Hears a Who. It is a much lighter romp full of silliness and creativity. It is all about thinking outside of the box and also having fun. It is also a great example of one of Seuss’ beastiary books full of creatures that Seuss created and named himself.
The dedication for this book simply reads, “To Helen.” Helen was Seuss’ first wife and was extremely ill during the time that Seuss made this book. They had finished Horton Hears a Who, which Helen had a lot of influence on, when Helen fell extremely ill. She almost died from a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome (ascending paralysis). She had to learn how to do everything again, walk, talk, make food, etc. Helen always supported his creativity and encouraged him to share his silliness, so I see this as a dedication to her support and encouragement all the way from before he was Dr. Seuss and was just Ted Geisel scribbling little doodles in his college notebook in the class they shared at Oxford.
This is the first time there is an illustration that goes along with the dedication.
This is the original publication without the dust jacket:
“In the places I go there are things that I see
That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
I’m telling you this ’cause you’re one of my friends.
My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”
What a great way to get a child excited about reading and learning letters, but also a away to get them to think creatively and be ready for adventure!
I have two favorite letters. First is HUMPF and then THNAD, just based on the way they look.
Below is a great image that someone has put together of all the letters in a more classic typeface.
This is not necessarily my favorite image, but it stood out to me the most because I recognized it from one of Seuss’ political cartoons that he made over 10 years earlier. Similar to Horton, it is fun to see Seuss put large animals up high and to know that these images stay in his mind and can be used again without loosing any of their wonderfully absurd originality.
Thanks for reading,