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Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum Book Poster Image
Horse guides kids on fun trip through art history.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum is  a lively, kid-friendly introduction to art, art history, and the museum experience. Several key art movements and styles are clearly, briefly explained, including Impressionism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism, and Abstract art. A section at the back lists the 35 artworks reproduced in book, with a paragraph about artist and the work. These include a terra cotta horse from the northern Wei dynasty, AD 386-535, a Navajo pictorial blanket, 1885-1900, a prehistoric Lascaux cave painting in France, circa 16,950-16,650 B.C., and paintings by Edouard Manet, Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollack, and sculptures by Deborah Butterfield and Alexander Calder. There's also an illustration from Dr. Seuss's 1949 book Bartholomew and the Oobleck, plus a smattering of individual Seuss book characters who pop up on the pages throughout. Super-informative "Notes from the Publisher" in the final pages add information about Dr. Seuss (aka Ted Geisel), his life and career, and how the publisher brought his previously stored manuscript and sketches it to life.

Positive Messages

"There are lots of ways of looking at things." "Looking at art -- and thinking about it --is fun. There's no right or wrong way to do it. Museums are good places to find art. You can find art in other places, too."

Positive Role Models & Representations

The horse who leads the kids on their museum tour is knowledgeable and a good teacher, who gives concise explanations -- usually in a sentence or two -- of different art styles and historic art movements. The main two kids, one white-skinned, one brown-skinned, are curious and interested. The other characters are diverse, with representations of different skin colors, ages, a kid in a wheelchair, a girl in a headscarf.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum takes readers on a fun, informative trip to an art museum. Illustrated by Andrew Joyner and based on a manuscript and sketches left by Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor "Ted" Geisel) and found by his widow, this book is a fabulous, kid-friendly introduction to art and art history. Joyner's illustrations capture the spirit of a Dr. Suess book but don't try to replicate Seuss's exact drawing style. And the text does not have Seuss's familiar rhyming structure --it's straightforward but lively prose. This would be a great book to read before a trip to a museum or to inspire kids to get out the crayons, paint, or clay and explore different ways to make a representation of something they see. Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum is not really about horses -- it's about how different artists have seen and portrayed them. And it's a welcome addition to the Seuss bookshelf.

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What's the story?

DR. SUESS'S HORSE MUSEUM is based on a manuscript and sketches Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) had stored in a box he had marked "Noble failures" that his widow found after his death in 1991 but didn't examine till 2013. His publisher hired Australian illustrator Andrew Joyner to complete the book (Geisel had indicated in his notes that he still needed to include examples of modern art) and bring it to life. The story starts with: "Art. What's it all about?" Then it follows two kids, a blond white boy and a brown-skinned, black-haired girl, as they're led through a museum by an upbeat talking horse guide who walks upright on two legs and dresses like a human, including wearing a jaunty bow tie. "Let's look at how different artists have seen horses," he says. "Maybe we can find some new ways of looking at them ourselves?" They proceed to take a tour (picking up other enthusiastic kids and families along the way) that shows horses in paintings, sculptures, on artifacts like ancient Greek vases, even on prehistoric cave paintings, up through examples of modern art. Photographs of 35 actual works of art appear among the cheery cartoon characters -- which include a few cameos from familiar Dr. Seuss book inhabitants.

Is it any good?

This amazing, lively introduction to art, art history, and museums is an utter delight. By focusing on one art subject -- horses -- kids will see how different interpretations can be, depending on the style and technique of the artist. Dr. Suess's Horse Museum captures the zany spirit of Dr. Seuss' books and the cartoon style of his characters, but illustrator Andrew Joyner doesn't try to replicate Seuss' drawing style -- except when a beloved Seuss character steps into a scene, like the Cat in the Hat, Horton the elephant, or a fish popping out of a teapot. Kids will have fun spotting those beloved characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the different art styles in Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum. Which styes do you like best -- realistic or not? Which paintings do you like best? What appeals to you about the ones you like? 

  • Have you been to an art museum? Was your experience anything like the kids in the book have? If you haven't been, would you like to go now?

  • How many characters from Dr. Seuss books did you find in Dr. Seuss's Horse Museum? Who's your favorite?

  • Try drawing and animal you know -- like a cat, a dog, or a fish -- in two different art styles, then ask someone to look at them both and say how they're different. 

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