Dr. Seuss teaches peace - The Butter Battle Book 

"If we are to reach real peace in the world, we shall have to begin with the children."  Gandhi

The Butter Battle Book (theme is silly conflicts can escalate into a dangerous situation) was written in response to the arms buildup and nuclear war threat during the Reagan administration. Published in 1984, Butter Battle shed light on the growing threat of war between Yooks and the Zooks. The threat stems solely from the way Yooks and Zooks choose to eat their bread: butter-side up and butter-side down, respectively. The story ends with a blank page, leaving a cliffhanger ending that is open to interpretation. The Butter Battle Book was on the adult New York Times bestseller list for adults. In 1990, a televised version of The Butter Battle Book was shown on Russian television.

This cautionary Cold War tale has a lot to teach about intolerance and how tit-for-tat violence can quickly get out of hand. Explaining the very serious differences between the Zooks and the Yooks, a Zook grandpa tells his grandchild the unspeakable truth: "It's high time that you knew of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do. In every Zook house and every Zook town every Zook eats his bread with the butter side down!" He then recalls his days with the Zook-Watching Border Patrol, as he gave any Zook who dared come close "a twitch with my tough-tufted prickley Snick-Berry Switch." But when the Zooks fought back, the switches gave way to Triple-Sling Jiggers, then Jigger-Rock Snatchems--even a Kick-a-Poo Kid that was "loaded with powerful Poo-a-Doo Powder and ants' eggs and bees' legs and dried-fried clam chowder." (5th-6th graders) 

Background/ History

Published in 1984, The Butter Battle Book is an anti-war story written by Dr. Seuss.  It is a children’s’ rhyming story addressing fears from the cold war era during which it was written.  Specifically it deals with the nuclear war and the possibility of mutually assured destruction.  Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, wrote many children’s books, and many referred to his political views or other moral codes.  Some of his stories, like The Butter Battle Book were considered controversial at the time.  This particular story was censored and taken out of public libraries for its obvious statements against the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.     

Objectives

  • Students will explore the themes behind the story
  • Students will analyze the significance of these messages in today’s world
  • Students will learn about the different methods of propaganda
  • Students will discuss present issues they see in their own societies

 Instructions

1. Hand out copies of the book and have the students read it in a read aloud so many students get a chance to read. 

2. Start a class discussion with open ended questions such as:

    a. Why do you think the Zooks and Yooks did not get along? 

    b. What do you think caused this conflict to get worse?

    c. How do you think this happens with your friends or siblings?

    d. What do you think the Zooks and Yooks could have done differently to prevent this conflict?

    e. In the story, each side uses propaganda to make their side seem like the right side.  Does anybody know how to explain what propaganda is?

3. Direct the conversation by explaining:

Propaganda is the spread of information aimed at promoting a cause or influencing public opinion, often slanting the truth to mislead.

4. Next give a few examples of methods used in propaganda such as:

    a. Testimonials- using famous celebrities or leaders in advertisements

    b. Name calling-insulting or putting people down

    c. Fear- using fear to change somebody’s opinions

5. Transition into class activity by putting the students in groups of 3-4.  Hand out a bank sheet of paper to each group.  Write on the board the 3 different methods of propaganda and explain each. Then assign each group to be either the Zooks, or the Yooks to create a banner against the other side using the methods on the board. 

6. After about half an hour pair up opposing groups and have the groups present the banners to one another.

Evaluation

1. To evaluate student comprehension, have the groups present the banners to the whole class and explain the different methods and purposes they had in mind.

2. Have students explain what methods they chose to use, and the purpose of their banner.

3. Next lead a discussion about propaganda in today’s world.  Ask the students if they think it is still used often, if they believe it is influential, where they see it the most in society, whether it be television commercials, billboards, newspapers etc.

4. On another day, you may also chose to show the adapted production film of the story, which is available online and in most public libraries.

Optional follow up assignment

1. In addition to the class activity, students can choose a scene from the story that they thought illustrated the significant themes.  They then illustrate the scene and write blurbs discussing the themes being represented and what they believe Dr. Seuss is implying.

 

Parent Adaptation

Background/ History

Published in 1984, The Butter Battle Book is a pro-peace story written by Dr. Seuss.  It is a children’s’ rhyming story addressing fears from the cold war era during which it was written.  Specifically it deals with the nuclear war and the possibility of mutually assured destruction.  Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodor Seuss Geisel, wrote many children’s books, and many referred to his political views or other moral codes.  Some of his stories, like The Butter Battle Book were considered controversial at the time.  This particular story was censored and taken out of public libraries for its obvious statements against the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.    

Objectives

  • Child will explore the themes behind the story
  • Child will analyze the significance of these messages in today’s world
  • Child will learn about the different methods of propaganda
  • Child will discuss present issues they see in their own societies

Instructions

1. Have a copy of the book and take turns reading it out loud. 

2. Start a one-on-one discussion with open ended questions such as:

     a. Why do you think the Zooks and Yooks did not get along? 

     b. What do you think caused this conflict to get worse?

     c. How do you think this happens with your friends or siblings?

     d. What do you think the Zooks and Yooks could have done differently to prevent this conflict?

     e. In the story, each side uses propaganda to make their side seem like the right side.  Have you learned what propaganda is?

3. Direct the conversation by explaining:

Propaganda is the spread of information aimed at promoting a cause or influencing public opinion, often changing the truth to mislead.

4. Next give a few examples of methods used in propaganda such as:

  1. testimonials- using famous celebrities or leaders in advertisements

  2. name calling-insulting or putting people down
  3. fear- using fear to change somebody’s opinions

5. Transition into an activity by giving them a bank sheet of paper.  If you are working with more than one child, give each their own sheet of paper.  Write on a piece of paper the 3 different methods of propaganda and explain each. Then let the child pick a side, either the Zooks, or the Yooks to create a banner against the other side using the methods on the board.  With one child, you should make a banner for the side they do not choose.  With more than one child, have them do opposite sides.    

6. After about half an hour present the different banners to one another.

7. Have the child/children explain what methods they chose to use, and the purpose of their banner, and if you created a banner do the same. 

8. Next lead a discussion about propaganda in today’s world.  Ask the children if they think it is still used often, if they believe it is influential, where they see it the most in society, whether it be television commercials, billboards, newspapers etc.

9. You may also chose to show the adapted production film of the story.

Optional follow up assignment

1. In addition to this activity, children can choose a scene from the story that they thought illustrated the significant themes.  They then illustrate the scene and write blurbs discussing the themes being represented and what they believe Dr. Seuss is implying.

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