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The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Picture Book Review

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


Cover art for The Lorax picture book by Dr Seuss
Random House


Since The Lorax, a picture book by Dr. Seuss, was first published in 1971, it has become a classic. For many children, the Lorax character has come to symbolize concern for the environment. However, the story has been somewhat controversial, with some adults embracing it and others seeing it as anti-capitalism propaganda. The story is more serious than most Dr. Seuss books, and the moral more direct, but his wonderful zany illustrations, use of rhyme and made-up words, and unique characters lighten the story and make it appealing to children 6 and older, although I would recommend it primarily for ages 8 to 14.

The Lorax: The Story

A little boy who wants to learn about the Lorax explains to the reader that the only way to find out about the Lorax is to go to the old Once-ler's home and give him "...fifteen cents/and a nail/and the shell of a great grandfather snail..." to tell the story. The Once-ler tells the boy it all began long ago when there was an abundance of brightly colored Truffula trees and no pollution.

The fruit of the Truffula trees fed the Brown Bar-ba-loots, little bear-like creatures, while Humming-Fish happily swam in the nearby pond. The Once-ler was very happy to find the trees, telling the boy, "All my life, I'd been searching for trees such as these." He built a workshop, chopped down one of the Truffula trees and knitted s thneed out of the tree's soft tuft. What's a thneed? It's a one-piece combination shirt, pants, socks and hat, but it also has other uses.

When the Once-ler finished, who should appear but the Lorax? What's a Lorax and why was he there? Even the Once-ler wasn't sure what the Lorax was, describing him as "sort of a man...shortish..oldest...brownish" who talked in a sharp and bossy voice. As for why he was there, the Lorax made that very clear, saying, "I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees." The Lorax was very angry that the Once-ler had cut the Truffula tree down, accusing him of being greedy and saying that no one would buy the Thneed.

However, the Thneed proved so popular that the Once-ler needed help and invited all of his relatives to come and help make Thneeds. He built a big Thneed factory. The bigger the Once-ler's business grew, the more Truffula trees were chopped down. In fact, the demand for Thneeds was so strong that the Once-ler invented a special machine, a Super-Axe-Hacker, so he could cut down 4 Truffula trees at a time.

By the time the Lorax visited again, it was to speak for both the trees and the Bar-ba-loots who no longer had enough to eat because so many Tuffula trees had been cut down. As a result, the Lorax had to send the Bar-ba-loots away to find food. Although that made the Once-ler sad, he said, "But...business is business! / And business must grow."

The Once-ler concentrated on expanding his business, adding to the factory, shipping more and more Thneeds and making more and more money. In telling the story to the little boy, the Once-ler assured him, "I meant no harm. I most truly did not. / But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got."

The next time the Lorax returned, it was to complain about the pollution from the factory. The smoke was so bad that the Swomee-Swans could no longer sing. The Lorax sent them off to escape the smog. The Lorax also angrily pointed out that all of the byproducts from the factory were polluting the pond and he also took the Humming-Fish away. The Once-ler had grown tired of the Lorax's complaints and angrily yelled at him that the factory was going to get bigger and bigger.

But just then, they heard a loud sound. It was the sound of the very last Truffula tree falling. With no more Truffula trees available, the factory closed. All the Once-lers relatives left. The Lorax left. What remained was the Once-ler, an empty factory and pollution.

The Lorax disappeared, leaving only "a small piece of rocks, with the one word.../'UNLESS.'" For years, the Once-ler wondered and worried about what that meant. Now he tells the young boy he understands. "UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

The Once-ler then throws the very last Truffula tree seed down to the boy and tells him he's in charge. He needs to plant the seed and protect it. Then, maybe the Lorax and the other animals will return.

The Impact of The Lorax

What makes The Lorax so effective is the combination of a step-by-step look at cause and effect: how unfettered greed can destroy the environment, followed by an emphasis on positive change through individual responsibility. The story's end emphasizes the impact one person, no matter how young, can have. While the rhyming text and entertaining illustrations keep the book from being too heavy, Dr. Seuss definitely gets his point across. Because of this, the book is frequently used in elementary and middle school classrooms.

The Author

Dr. Seuss was the most prominent of several pseudonyms that Theodor Seuss Geisel used for his children's books. For an overview of some of his most well-known books, see Favorite Children's Picture Books and Beginning Readers by Dr. Seuss. To learn more about Geisel, read Hooray for Dr. Seuss and watch the video profile of Dr. Seuss. For a complete listing of all my Dr. Seuss content, see All About Dr. Seuss and His Books.

My Recommendation

While the illustrations and entertaining creatures in The Lorax will appeal to young children, the environmental message will resonate more with older children and young teens. I would recommend the book for children 6 and older, with an emphasis on ages 8 to 14. If you are a teacher, it's a good book to share with your upper elementary and middle school students when as part of a study of the environment. Lesson plans for The Lorax are readily available online. (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1971. ISBN: 9780394823379)

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