Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

Infobox Book |
name = Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

image_caption =
author = Dr. Seuss
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
genre = Children's literature
publisher = Random House
pub_date = April 12, 1958
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages =
isbn =
oclc = 255164
preceded_by =The Cat in the Hat Comes Back
followed_by =Happy Birthday to You!

"Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories" is a picture book collection by Theodor Geisel, published under his more commonly-known pseudonym of Dr. Seuss. It was first released by Random House Books on April 12, 1958, and is written in Seuss's trademark style, using a type of meter called anapestic tetrameter. Though it contains three short stories, it is mostly known for its first story, "Yertle the Turtle", in which the titular Yertle, king of the pond, stand on his subjects in an attempt to reach higher than the moon—until the bottom turtle burps and he falls into the mud, ending his rule. The story, among Seuss's most notable, is widely recognized as condemning fascism and absolute power; the despotic ruler Yertle was intended to parallel the dictator Adolf Hitler, and has also been compared to Saddam Hussein.

Though the book included "burp", a word then considered to be vulgar, it was a success upon publication, and has since sold over a million copies. In 2001, it was listed at 125 on the "Publishers Weekly" list of the best-selling children's books of all time.

Plot overview

“Yertle the Turtle”

The titular story revolves around a Yertle the Turtle, the king of the pond. Unsatisfied with the stone that serves as his throne, he commands the other turtles to stack themselves beneath him so that he can see further and expand his kingdom. However, the turtle at the bottom of the pile, named Mack, asks Yertle for a respite. Ignoring his request, Yertle commands more and more turtles to add to his throne, until he notices the moon rising above him as the night approaches. Furious that something "dares to be higher than Yertle the King", he decides to call for even more turtles in an attempt rise above it. However, before he can give the command, Mack burps, shaking the stack of turtles and tossing Yertle off into the mud, leaving him "King of the Mud" and freeing the others.cite book |title=Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories |author=Dr. Seuss |authorlink=Dr. Seuss |date=1958-04-12 |publisher=Random House |oclc=255164 ]

“Gertrude McFuzz”

The second story recounts the tale of the"girl-bird" Gertrude McFuzz, who has a small, plain tail and envies Lolla-Lee-Lou, who has two tail feathers. Gertrude's uncle tells her where she can find berries that will make her tail grow, and she eats the entire vine, causing her tail to grow to an enormous size. However, the added weight prevents her from flying, and she is forced to pluck out her tail feathers. Though she has only one feather left—as before—she now has "enough, because now she is smarter."

“The Big Brag”

The third and final story tells of a rabbit and a bear, who both boast that they are the "best of the beasts", because of the range of their hearing and smelling abilities, respectively. However, they are humbled by a worm who claims he can see all around the world—right back to his own hill, where he sees the rabbit and bear, whom he calls "the two biggest fools that have ever been seen".

Publication history

A stack of turtles drawn similarly to those featured in "Yertle the Turtle" first appeared on March 20, 1942, in a cartoon for the New York newspaper "PM", where Seuss worked as an editorial cartoonist. The illustration shows two stacks of turtles forming the letter "V" on top of a large turtle labelled "Dawdling Producers", with a caption reading "You Can't Build A Substantial V Out of Turtles!" [cite book |last=Minear |first=Richard |title=Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel |accessdate=2008-05-12 |edition= |date= |year=1999 |publisher=The New Press |location=New York |isbn=9781565845657 |pages=244 |quote= ]

Seuss has stated that the titular character Yertle represented Adolf Hitler, with Yertle's despotic rule of the pond and takeover of the surrounding area parallel to Hitler's regime in Germany and invasion of various parts of Europe.cite news |author=Cynthia Gorney |title=Dr. Seuss at 75: Grinch, Cat in Hat, Wocket and Generations of Kids in His Pocket |work=The Washington Post |publisher=Katharine Weymouth |location=Washington, D.C. |date=1979-05-21 |accessdate=2008-05-12 |language= |quote= 'I couldn't draw Hitler as a turtle ... So I drew him as King ... of the Pond ... He wanted to be king as far as he could see. So he kept piling them up. He conquered Central Europe and France, and there it was.' ] In 2003, reporter John J. Miller also compared Yertle to former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, saying that " [i] ts final lines apply as much to Saddam Hussein as they once did to the European fascists". [cite web |url= |last=Miller |first=John J. |authorlink=John J. Miller |work=National Review |publisher=Jack Fowler |date=2003-11-21 |accessdate=2008-07-25 |title=The Good "Dr." ]

Though Seuss made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind, stating that "kids can see a moral coming a mile off", he was not against writing about issues; he said "there's an inherent moral in any story" and remarked that he was "subversive as hell".cite journal | author =Peter Bunzel | date =1959-04-06 | title =The Wacky World of Dr. Seuss Delights the Child—and Adult—Readers of His Books | journal =Life | volume = | issue = | pages = | publisher =Time Inc. | location =Chicago | issn =0024-3019 | pmid = | doi = | bibcode = | oclc =1643958 | format = | accessdate = | quote =Most of Geisel's books point a moral, though he insists he never starts with one. 'Kids,' he says, 'can see a moral coming a mile off and they gag at it. But there's an inherent moral in any story.' ] cite book |author=Jonathan Cott |title=Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature |accessdate=2008-05-12 |format=Reprint |year=1983 |publisher=Random House |location=New York |isbn=9780394504643 |oclc= 8728388 |chapter=The Good Dr. Seuss |quote= 'I qualified that,' Geisel explained, 'in order to avoid sounding too didactic or like a preacher on a platform. And I wanted "other" persons, like yourself, to say "surely" in their minds instead of my having to say it.' ] "Yertle the Turtle" has variously been described as "autocratic rule overturned",cite journal | last =Lurie | first =Alison | authorlink =Alison Lurie | date =1990-12-20 |title =The Cabinet of Dr. Seuss | journal =The New York Review of Books | volume =37 | issue =20 | publisher =Rea S. Hederman | location =New York | issn =0028-7504 | url = | accessdate =2008-05-12 |format=Reprint | quote =As in the classical folk tale, pride and prejudice are ridiculed, autocratic rule overturned. ] "a reaction against the fascism of World War II",cite journal | author =Elizabeth B. Moje | authorlink = | coauthors =Woan-Ru Shyu | year =1992 | month =May | title =Oh, the Places You've Taken Us: "The Reading Teacher's" Tribute to Dr. Seuss | journal =The Reading Teacher | volume =45 | issue =8 |publisher =International Reading Association | location = | issn =0034-0561 | oclc =1681346 |format = | accessdate = | quote = ] and "subversive of authoritarian rule".cite book |author=Selma G. Lanes |title=Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature |format=Reprint |accessdate=2008-05-13 |year=1971 |publisher=Atheneum Publishers |location=New York |oclc=138227 |chapter=Seuss for the Goose Is Seuss for the Gander |quote=Sometimes Seuss is simply subversive of authoritarian rule in general, whatever form it takes, as in "Yertle the Turtle" ]

The last lines of "Yertle the Turtle" read: "And turtles, of course ... all the turtles are free / As turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be." When questioned about why he wrote "maybe" rather than "surely", Seuss replied that he didn't want to sound "didactic or like a preacher on a platform", and that he wanted the reader "to say 'surely' in their minds instead of my having to say it."

The use of the word "burp"—"plain little Mack did a plain little thing. "He burped!"—was also an issue before publication. According to Seuss, the publishers at Random House, including the president, had to meet to decide whether or not they could use "burp" because "nobody had ever burped before on the pages of a children's book".cite journal |author=Stefan Kanfer | date =1991-10-07 | title =The Doctor Beloved by All | journal =Time | volume = | issue = | pages = | publisher = | location = | issn =0040-781X | format = | quote = 'I used the word burp, and nobody had ever burped before on the pages of a children's book. It took a decision from the president of the publishing house before my vulgar turtle was permitted to do so.' ] cite interview |last= |first= |subject=Dr. Seuss |subjectlink=Dr. Seuss |last2= |first2= |subject2=Maurice Sendak |subjectlink2=Maurice Sendak |last3= |first3= |subject3= |subjectlink3= |last4= |subject4= |interviewer=Glenn Edward Sadler |cointerviewers= |title=Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss: A Conversation |type= |url= |format=Transcript |program= |callsign= |city= |date= |year=1989 |month=September/October |accessdate=2005-05-12 ] However, despite the publishers' initial worries, it eventually proved to be a hit—in 2001, "Publishers Weekly" reported that it had sold over a million copies in the United States and was 125th on the list of all-time best-selling children's books. [cite web |url= |title= All-Time Bestselling Children's Books |last=Hochman |first=Debbie Turvey |work=Publishers Weekly |publisher=Reed Business |date=2001-12-17 |accessdate=2008-07-25 ]

The book is dedicated to the Sagmaster family as a tribute to Joseph Sagmaster, who had introduced Seuss to his first wife, Helen Palmer, when they were both attending Oxford University. Sagmaster is quoted as saying that bringing the two together was the "the happiest inspiration I've ever had".cite journal | author = E. J. Kahn | date = 1960-12-17 | title = Children's Friend | journal = The New Yorker | pages = 47 | publisher =Advance Publications | accessdate = |issn=0028-792X | quote = In the judgement of Sagmaster ... to whose family Dr. Seuss's "Yertle the Turtle" has been appreciatively dedicated, bringing the Geisels together was 'the happiest inspiration I've ever had.' ]


Although "Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories" has not been directly adapted, several characters from the book have appeared in other media. Yertle is a character in the 1996–1997 television series "The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss", and in Stephen Flaherty's Broadway musical "Seussical", Yertle serves as a judge and Gertrude McFuzz acts as Horton's love interest.

In popular culture

*Red Hot Chili Peppers, an American funk-rock band, adapted some verses of "Yertle the Turtle" into a song of the same name on their second LP "Freaky Styley".
*In an episode of "The Simpsons", Lisa Simpson remarks that "Yertle the Turtle" is the best book written on turtle stacking.
*In David Mamet's 1988 play "Speed-the-Plow", Fox calls Gould "Yertle the Turtle".
*In the television show "Friends", Ross Geller calls "Yertle the Turtle" a "classic".


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