Published in 1961 by Random House Inc.
“[Seuss’s] long maturation process helped him surmount the attitudes of his day to be come a pioneer in the fight for equality, so that children would grow up already knowing what it took him several decades to recognize.”
– Charles D. Cohen (author of The Seuss, The Whole Seuss, and Nothing but The Seuss)
The story opens with a Star-Belly Sneetch walking, with it’s nose in the air, past a crestfallen Sneetch that has no star on it’s belly. The narrator tells the reader about the lives of the Sneetches. The Star-Belly Sneetches act like they’re better than the Sneetches without stars. They play ball on the beach, have frankfurter roasts, picnics, and marshmallow toasts, but they never invite the starless Sneetches.
But ONE day a stranger arrives in a very strange car full of mechanical pieces. He announces himself to be Sylvester McMonkey McBean. He shows the Plain-Belly Sneetches a machine that puts stars on their bellies, but it costs three dollars each!
The Plain-Belly Sneetches are so excited to be like the Star-Belly Sneetches that they give Sylvester McMonkey McBean lots of money. Then all the Sneetches look the same, but the original Star-Belly Sneetches still think they’re better than the others and want a way to tell the difference between the best Sneetches on the beaches.
Sylvester McMonkey McBean then tells the original Star-Belly Sneetches that he’s created a machine that takes stars OFF of bellies. The haughty Star-Belly Sneetches immediately pay him ten dollars each to have their stars taken off.
This builds into a huge messy confusion of Sneetches jumping in and out of the Star-On and Star-Off machines until they can’t tell who originally had “stars upon thars.” Meanwhile, Sylvester McMonkey McBean rides away with loads of cash leaving the Sneetches with this comment,
“They never will learn.
No. You can’t teach a Sneetch!”
But McBean was mistaken. The Sneetches decided on that day that no Sneetch is better than any other kind of Sneetch and they forgot about who had stars and who didn’t.
This story was originally specifically in reference to antisemitism, but it has since been expanded to symbolize racism and discrimination in general. The exclusion of the Plain-Belly Sneetches from activities reflects segregation, and the self-given superiority of the Star-Belly Sneetches reflects Nazi ideals of the master race. This story is obviously trying to show that all humans are created equal just as no Sneetch is better than any other Sneetch.
There is a second lesson in the book that often goes over looked. The Sneetches are scammed by the the con-man Sylvester McMonkey McBean. They let what is fashionable, whether it be stars or no stars, decide if they are part of the superior crowd. They throw out money left and right to be changed so they can fit in with the popular group. This can definitely be used as an example of fashion and advertising draining us of money and individuality.
This is the first of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books (that is not a Beginners Book) to not have a dedication.
The Sneetches was originally written as a poem in a 1953 Redbook magazine. Segregation in schools was voted unconstitutional a year later, so during it’s original publication this was a very hot topic.
Seuss almost abandoned finishing this book because someone he respected had said it was antisemitic. His friend and fellow children’s author, Bob Bernstein, got him back on track by pointing out that the criticism he was receiving was like the empty green pants in his other story What Was I Afraid Of?. He had to face his critics and realize they’re not that scary.
Bob Bernstein explained that Seuss, “despised even the slightest hint of any kind of racism, and had to be convinced that his book would not be misinterpreted.”
Obviously, Seuss’s earlier books include plenty of pretty racist images and several stereotypical “exotic” characters, but during World War II Seuss started drawing political cartoons that encourage equality for black workers. His depiction of Japanese and other Asian cultures continued to be very racist until he actually visited Japan. After the war, his books no longer relied on stereotypes to show different far-away cultures for children to get excited about. Instead, he used his imagination and created completely fictitious lands and used more animals and seussian beasts, rather than different races of humans.
This collection of stories, as well as Green Eggs and Ham, was turned into a cartoon called Seuss on the Loose. It was later changed to Green Eggs and Ham and Other Stories due to the popularity of the Green Eggs and Ham book.
The original cover shows the Star-Belly Sneetches, adult and child, being snotty and walking with their noses high in the air. I find it odd that the newer cover would put the Plain-Belly Sneetches acting superior on the cover. It could be interpreted as showing that both kinds of Sneetches went through stages of thinking they were better than the other kind, but consdering that most people thinks of “stars upon thars” when they think of Sneetches I would assume that’s what they would advertise on the cover.
My favorite image is the final image in The Sneetches. It is the reconciliation of the Star-Belly Sneetches with the Plain-Belly Sneetches when the Sneetches finally realize,
“That Sneetches are Sneetches
And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.”
My favorite quote from this book is actually not from The Sneetches. It’s from one of the “Other Stories.” My favorite line is from What Was I Afraid Of?, which is the last story in the book. It reads:
“I said, ‘I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.’
I said, and said, and said those words.
I said them. But I lied them.”
Children, and many adults, go through the process of telling themselves over and over they’re not scared of something, but usually they are lying to themselves, because if they really weren’t scared they wouldn’t have to tell themselves they’re not. I just think it is a beautifully worded quote.
One day a South-Going Zax runs into a North-Going Zax. The North-Going Zax demands that the South-Going Zax gets out of his way because he can’t take a step in any other direction. The South-Going Zax demands the same of the North-Going Zax.
They yell at each other and refuse to budge no matter how long they have to stand in one place. The world keeps on moving and eventually a highway is built over them, but they just keep standing there refusing to budge.
This is a pretty short and sweet story about stubbornness. The message being, if you refuse to budge then you’ll never get anywhere.
**Too Many Daves**
Too Many Daves is about a woman named Mrs. McCave. She had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave. Which meant that every time she called out for “Dave” to come into the house, they all came running in at once. Then the story lists 23 other creative names that Mrs. McCave could have used which are as follows:
- Bodkin Van Horn
- Sunny Jim
- Moon Face
- Marvin O-Gravel Balloon Face
- Soggy Muff
- Buffalo Bill
- Biffalo Buff
- Weepy Weed
- Paris Garters
- Harris Tweed
- Sir Michael Carmichael Zutt
- Oliver Boliver Butt
- Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate
**What Was I Scared Of?**
This time the narrator is the hero of the story. It’s a young bear-like creature who used to never be afraid of anything until he was walking in the woods one night and ran into a pair of pale green pants with no one inside them!
This scared our hero and he ran away, but he ran into the empty green pants a week later. They were riding a bicycle and almost knocked him down. He was so scared he dropped his spinach from Grin-itch.
The very NEXT night, when our hero was fishing for Doubt-trout on Roover River, the empty green pants rowed toward him. Our Hero was so scared he screamed, rowed away and lost his line and bait.
He ran to a Brickle bush and hid. He stayed there for two nights. When he finally came down he had to pick a peck of Snide in a gloomy Snide-field. As he picked them he told himself,
“I do not fear those pants
With nobody inside them.”
When he reached inside a Snide bush he touched the empty green pants on the other side. Finally he and the pants stood “face to face!” He screamed and cried, but then he noticed the pants began to cry as well. He then realized that the pants were just as scared of him as he was of them!
So, he comforted the empty green pants and now when they see each other they don’t get scared. Instead, they smile and say, “Hi!”
Thanks for reading,