As a writer for children and young adults, I can’t help but celebrate the genius of Dr. Seuss. But as an educator of anxious college graduates who often receive multiple copies of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as graduation gifts, I believe it is time to diversify our grad books, choosing texts whose challenges are less abstract than the howls of Hakken-Kraks, Giving Trees and Little Princes.
It is a perennial and paradoxical phenomenon. Just when America’s youth are about to face the perils of real adulthood – when they’re old enough to fight a war or finance a car – we inexplicably give them children’s books.
By the time I graduated in May 1996, the infantilization of graduates seemed a done deal, with “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” of Seuss. become a perennial fixture on the debut season bestseller list and help set the standard for what a graduation gift book should look and feel like.
Today booksellers like Barnes & Noble continue to recommend Seuss, “Winnie the Pooh”, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and “The Little Prince” as the “perfect gift for graduates of all ages”. And again, starting May 19, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” reclaimed its annual No. 1 position on USA Today’s best-selling books list, where it debuted in 1993 on its way to becoming a giveaway cliché.
If buying graduation books is any measure, we Gen Xers are truly becoming our parents.
I understand the need for nostalgia felt by gift givers whose graduates are on the cusp of a scary new rite of passage. Giving a graduating adult a children’s book might seem like a fun or fantastic way to allude to the challenges of the world without speaking to them directly. The clever allegories embedded in children’s stories and adult fables such as “The Alchemist” can help those of us afraid of being high school buzzkills avoid or sanitize real-world wickedness.
And adults deserve credit for donating books, at a time when leisure reading is declining dramatically among teens and 20-somethings. In doing so, we remind young people of the need to value words and ideas long after the assigned readings have ended.
For precisely these reasons, I argue that we should think twice about giving children’s books as gifts to new adults. If we want to remind our graduates of the need to create space and time for the picky eaters in busy adult lives, let’s give them texts that can’t be easily distilled into aphorisms or leafed through like a greeting card. extent.
As a new generation enters the beginning phase this spring, Seuss will undoubtedly have its day. As 2022 graduates once again face the threat of a totalitarian ruler bent on war and conquest in Europe, perhaps it’s time to gift them books that live up to the historic moment.
In May 1945, American graduates helped earnest, dark portrayals like Ernie Pyle’s “Brave Men” and Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” gain a foothold at the top of the bestseller list. This year, the texts we select as gifts can speak volumes to our favorite graduates about what we appreciate, what we are ready to fight for and what may not be a laughing matter.
This year, as I make my graduation list, I’m thinking of books that affirm the difficulties in our lives, like “The Way Home: Tales From a World Without Technology” by Mark Boyles or “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion. I think of books filled with fact and wit that remind us of the neglected ecologies in which we exist, like Dan Fagin’s “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation” or Oliver Sacks’ “The River of Consciousness.” I also think of the rivers of race and time, and of the titles that make the courageous work of intergenerational books like “Between the world and me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates or “Letter to my daughter” by Maya Angelou.
And if none of that is enough, a blank, sturdy, bound book can be the most lasting gift of all. It is a book that can begin with reflections on the occasion of obtaining their diploma, and which reserves the rest of the pages for them.
Zachary Michael Jack is the author of several books for children and young adults, including the most recent “Suffragette March”.