Sunday, November 11, 2012

Damn that Cat and his Stupid Hat (Week 10)

If there's ever an article on English literature that I would suggest to any audience, it's Louis Menand's Cat People and really, even if you just read the first three paragraphs and the very last, you've caught at least part of why I absolutely love this article.

We ask ourselves a few questions about Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat and Menand asks these questions as well: Where is the Mother? Why should we care about this cat? Who is this cat causing chaos and being a menace (not unlike Denis)? Admittedly, we ask ourselves these questions as adults about a variety of children's books and we do not necessarily get that answer. It makes me wonder, do the children reading this book ask themselves these questions?

This brings another line of questioning to mind: Is a child's curiosity innate or learned? Do the questions that they ask come from the adults around them or from themselves? I suppose this could be a question of nature versus nurture. Most people can agree that we are born curious: we try to touch and eat everything (our natural oral fixation stage), when we learn to crawl we want to get into every nook and cranny we can find, etc. It can be assumed that after that we learn whether it is okay to be curious and whether we should continue to be it.

We've seen in other pieces how curiosity can be treated. In Little House, Laura is just brushed off when she shows curiosity while in Roll of Thunder Hear my Cry, Cassie's questions are answered in usually vivid detail. Renea Arnold and Nell Colburn quote Bruce Perry (a neuroscientist) in their article on Children Curiosity (posted below):

" 'If children are restricted too much or told not to ask so many questions, their curiosity will diminish," notes developmental neuroscientist Bruce Perry in Early Childhood Today. 'The less-curious child is harder to teach because he is harder to inspire, enthuse, and motivate. A less-curious child will make fewer friends, join fewer social groups, and read fewer books.' "

If this is the only moment in their article we pay attention too, that is enough. We know Laura will eventually because less curious and Cassie will become more curious. So when we read books like Cat in the Hat to our children and they don't ask the same questions we do, maybe we should not only be encouraging their questions, but teaching them about the questions we have as well. 

And when one isn't equipped to be curious or doesn't have enough information, well the internet has the answer for that. The Teaching Children Philosophy website  is just one of the great websites where parents can learn what to ask their children about books. This may seem just about teaching philosophy, but the questions that are given, can help a child learn to ask these questions themselves. Even if they aren't asking the philosophical questions on their own, maybe they'll at least be asking the one question that's on my mind at least:

Who's more annoy that Damn Cat in his Stupid Hat 
that Nosey Fish who's confined to his Dish?

More Links On Dr. Seuss:
The Cat in The Hat know A Lot
Dr. Seuss National Memorial
The Art of Dr. Seuss 
Teaching Children Philosophy- Cat in the Hat

More on Children's Curiosity:
Natural-Born Scientists: Children's curiosity about the world begins at birth 
Children's Need to Know
Children's Curiosity and Parental Attitudes (JSTOR)
How can we encourage creativity in today's children?

P.S. There are obviously a multitude of articles on how to teach or encourage curiosity to a child, I did not really post any, but if you're in need of some, just use Google and you'll find plenty to your liking.


  1. I appreciate the contrast that you draw between the curious characters and those whose curiousity is discouraged. I find the same is true in some classroom settings. Those children who are allowed to pose questions, who are permitted to self expression and reaction to literature, rather than accept the teacher's version of everything, are the students that thrive. As a parent, I model the behavior I want my child to display. That means I ask my 2 year old son, Christopher,questions to gage his understanding, but also to create dialogue. It works. He is naturally curious and as a result really advanced. Thanks for reminding readers that questions are essential for understanding and personal growth.
    Angela Robinson

  2. I liked the part you said about whether a childs curiosity is innate or learned and if the questions they asked come from the adults around them or from themselves? I have a four year old and I have often wondered this myself with the sometimes puzzling question that come out of his mouth. I do find it very important to let a child thrive and explore their curiosities. I always challenge my son to share what he thinks about certain things, people, or situations just so he can learn early about expression of ideas. I think that asking questions is an essential part to really understanding your child. Nothing is a better learning tool for a parent than actually engaging in conversation with their children rather than always being the fun snatcher.