Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ “McElligot’s Pool”

Literature Guide for Dr. Seuss’ McElligot’s Pool

McElligot’s Pool is not one of Dr. Seuss’ best-known books, but it is certainly one of his most creative and most beautiful! Blending true Seuss-ian creativity with environmentalist undertones, the story follows a young fisherman through the many different imaginary marine scenarios that could be playing out in the dark water below his fishing pole. McElligot’s Pool is a farm pond scarcely larger than a puddle and filled with human detritus (an alarm clock, a boot, a tea kettle, a tin can, and so on), and while it seems likely that the small, dirty pond holds no fish at all, the narrator’s youthful imagination is not bound by the constraints of environmental reality (nor any other type of reality) and takes readers on a fantastic underwater trip around the world.

Accompanying the fanciful and creative story are illustrations that beautifully bring each imagined fish species to life. Dogfish with collars chase catfish with realistic cat-like noses, a two-headed eel meets itself, a sawfish with a long and serrated nose is helped by a smaller fish who carries his snout, an Australian fish with a kangaroo-like pouch carries around its young, and so on. The imaginary fish are each more outlandish than the last, and they parade through a series of habitats that is every bit as unlikely as the species themselves. Each illustration is beautifully drawn, and those that are printed in color are especially so.

While at first read the book seems to be just another silly Seuss story, it falls in line with a great many other Dr. Seuss books in that it includes a meaningful message beneath the text. The story taps into the great imaginary play and thought that is unique to childhood, and essential for cognitive development. Despite the farmer’s warning, the narrator continues to fish – not yet held back by reality in his imagination.

The story itself can serve as a catalyst for not only the creation of imaginary fish species, but learning related to a wide variety of topics. After a reading (or two) of McElligot’s Pool, readers can explore their surroundings and learn about local fish species, examine the human impact on their local aquatic habitats, compare imaginary fish species to their real-life counterparts, and learn about changes in environmental regulations during the last 60 years. In addition to the experiential, community-based learning that the story can spark, readers can also utilize the text as a tool for practicing organization of thoughts and heightening phonological awareness. Families and educators of all kinds can share McElligot’s Pool with young readers and create this type of learning using our accompanying literary guide!

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