Frank Phillips Library Columns

Take a Lesson from the Children

by Frank Phillips
by Frank Phillips

Learning is something we do each and every minute of our lives. We may not acknowledge the lessons we digest in the course of a day, but they certainly are filed in that wonderful storage device we call our brains. It’s in our nature to believe that “learning” requires a concentrated, discrete effort on our part, with an objective, activity, and application. The truth however is that we are constantly learning and applying what we learn whether we consciously realize it or not. As an example, someone offers us a piece of chocolate. We have learned over our lifetime that we are allergic to chocolate and that ingesting it, not matter how exquisite the taste, will lead to major physical discomfort.  A less obvious example may be the visual learning that takes place when we see something that appeals to us and we want to do it, and conversely, we see something that we are adverse to, and we refrain away from doing it.

In this “computerized, internetted, tabletized, all the news in 90 seconds” world we live in, there is a myriad of choices available to us for learning. They range from the sophistication of on-line universities to the delectable recipes that flood our inboxes each 24 hour news and information cycle. In lieu of this, I offer to you a source of adult learning that at first glance, may not appear to be either obvious or productive. What is it? Children’s books!

BBBook OK, if you haven’t moved on to another part of this paper, let me explain. Children’s books are written to teach, entertain, and otherwise occupy young minds. These books are written to prepare them for everyday life and their role in it. They also begin navigation of the road of learning for a child as they progress toward their first organized education experience in school or pre-school. I have found however that some children’s books create a teachable moment for any reader, regardless of age. Two examples are The Butter Battle Book and Oh, The Places You’ll Go. Both were written by Theodor Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. The Butter Battle Book ostensibly deals with a singular question that is in dispute between two rival cultures. Should bread be eaten with the butter side up or with the butter side down. As the book progresses, the mutually held animosity grows with each side creating and  displaying matching hand-crafted weaponry of increased devastating capability until a climaxing standoff occurs as the opposing side representatives hold in their hands a “Big-Boy Boomeroo” that is capable of totally destroying everything. The book was written in 1984 at the height of the cold war and was looked upon as a satirical view of the arms race with the tenuous controlling mechanism of MAD or Mutual Assured Destruction. Criticism of the book at that time thought it to be trivializing the actual issues between the cold war combatants, the United States and the Soviet Union. One key lesson easily learned from this book is simply that it is just not worth fighting butter battles.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go was published in 1990 and is the last book published in the lifetime of Dr. Seuss. The book has many characters including a narrator and the reader and it details the travels of a character who represents the OHPLACESBookreader. The story concerns this trip as the journey of life and all that comes with it. Interestingly the journey ends somewhat open ended even though success is “983/4% guaranteed.” Oh, The Places You’ll Go is a popular gift each year for graduates in the United States and Canada.

As a testimony to the universal teaching capability of these two books, they have been used in various business environments, as team building catalysts and as a basis to resolve organizational issues.

Your Heartland Library Cooperative library has these and many other “children’s” books that make significant statements that can affect our lives and endeavors regardless of our age.