Below is an annotated list of children's literature for the elementary classroom. The books are organized by the Six Elements of Social Justice Curriculum Design (Picower, 2007). It is based on work by pre-service teachers at Montclair State University. They have read and reviewed these books and provided insights into how they can be used in K-5 settings.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yertle the Turtle

Yertle the Turtle

Title: Yertle the Turtle
Author: Dr. Seuss

This Seuss story is about a turtle named Yertle that is the king of the pond and all that he can see. One day, he decided to have a few of the turtles in the pond climb on each others' backs so can can stand on the top of the pile and have a better view of much more land, therefore ruling over more territory. He gets greedier and greedier, forcing more and more turtles to stack up, despite the poor turtles' tired and aching backs. He seems unstoppable, until the small turtle on the bottom burps, causing all of the turtles to fall, and finally landing Yertle in the mud, powerless. This is when all of the turtles finally become equal and are no longer oppressed by the former king Yertle.

I was originally drawn to this book because I have always been a fan of Dr. Seuss. I enjoy his ability to capture the readers' interest with rhythmic word patterns, cartoon-esque illustrations, and amusing story plots. It was not until college however that I truly realized the depth of his books. Geisel (Dr. Seuss) includes valuable lessons and morals that relate to real-life, world events in many of his stories, such as Yertle the Turtle. This story in particular offers a critical look at dictatorship and the greed associated with the power struggle. The website would be a valuable resource if a teacher decided to conduct an in-depth author study that not only included research on his past, but an analysis of his stories and underlying messages. This would be a useful skill in getting students to think about critically analyzing stories and books that they read to find the deeper meaning and a possibly hidden message that they are absorbing. includes information on Seuss's (Theodor Geisel's) history as a political cartoonist,and his intention with the book.

Another focus of the story could be a study of dictatorships of the past and present. One website, a lesson plan entitled "Dictator for a Day." It discusses the dictator of ancient Rome, Julius Caesar, and provides various discussion questions for the students to explore the concept of dictatorship. It also provides an activity in which a student would be appointed the classroom dictator, and would be allowed to make all of the rules and decisions for the class for the entire day. This could be done either before or after reading Yertle the Turtle allowing for personal reflection and connection to the themes within the story.

Another website I found that could be helpful for all various grade-levels was a website dedicated to exploring Dr. Seuss themes and activities. provides lesson plan ideas as well as printable versions of worksheets and activities for use in the classroom. It also provides many links to other Seuss and children's literature lesson plans and themes.

There are many different ways that this book can be used within a classroom. It could be used in any grade level from K-High school, depending on the depth of which the teacher decides to analyze the story. It can be used as a social studies/history focal point by covering government, dictatorships, civil rights, power struggles, oppression, perspective, etcetera. It can be used within the language arts spectrum as an author study, word study with the use of rhyming and the rhythm he chooses to write in. Mathematics can be included by looking at the number of turtles stacked in relation to how far Yertle could see into the distance, etcetera. It could also be used within a classroom in which bullying is an issue so that students can relate it to dictatorships and reflect on the problematic behavior. 

This book clearly fits into two of the stages of social justice education, and could easily be used to enhance the fifth stage as well. It explores issues of social justice by exploring the oppressive consequences of power and dictators. It also relates to the fourth stage of social movement and change because the students saw that the one small turtle on the bottom of the stack was able to lead to the dictator being overthrown, allowing freedom for all. If the class discovers an issue of power abuse in their community, such as something they notice with a bully or other school issue, they could potentially write letters or discuss the behavior to make a difference in the classroom. This book has the potential to springboard many different meaningful, integrated themes and lessons within many different age groups in classrooms. I recommend it to any teacher, especially Dr. Seuss fans!
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