Move over, Dr. Seuss. Truax is here.
Dr. Seuss, most will know, is the pen name for the writer who authored such children’s books as “The Cat in the Hat,” and “Green Eggs and Ham.” What you may not know is that the Dr. Seuss who wrote such whimsical, rhyming, and appealing children’s stories as those titles also authored one that touched a nerve in the forest products industry.
“The Lorax,” published in 1971, was about a typically peculiar Seuss creature, the Lorax, with a round head and a huge walrus moustache. Another character, the Once-ler, is a businessman who haphazardly cuts down Truffula trees in order to make his company’s product. Over time, Once-ler destroys the resource and land by chopping down all the Truffula trees. The Lorax, who speaks for the trees, tries throughout the story to warn the Once-ler of the horrible consequences of cutting down the Truffulas.
Of course, the Once-ler is nothing more than a caricature, and the character resembles more of a 19th century robber baron than a forest products industry business of the late 20th century.
To make matters worse, people with a preservationist agenda have used the Dr. Seuss book as a tool to indoctrinate schoolchildren. That’s when it caught the attention of Terri Birkett.
Terri, who works for Stuart Flooring Co. in Stuart, Virginia, once visited a 4-H camp where some college students were using “The Lorax” to preach a liberal environmental message to children. “I don’t think Dr. Seuss really meant it to be an all-encompassing statement on losing forests as much as encouraging kids to be in favor of planting trees and things like that,” she said. “But it was starting to be used by people who had an environmental slant to scare kids that we were losing all our trees.”
Terri realized there was a need for an alternative, a children’s story that would educate youngsters about the forest products industry.
The result was “Truax,” a wonderfully readable booklet intentionally written and illustrated in a style that will remind you of the Dr. Seuss books. Terri wrote it. She wanted an artist who drew in the same vein as the illustrations of Dr. Seuss and selected Orrin Lundgren of North Carolina to illustrate “Truax,” which was published by Terri in 1995.
The title character is a logger who teaches another character, Guardbark, about forestry and the importance of logging. As the story begins, the flying Guardbark sees Truax cutting down trees and is incensed. However, Truax explains the benefits of timber harvesting and forest management, such as providing diverse wildlife habitat, preventing catastrophic wildfires, and the use of renewable timber resources.
“Truax” is available with a brief study guide. Both the booklet and study guide are geared to children in grades three and four. Students and teachers, many of whom live in urban and suburban areas, will benefit from the convenient glossary of key definitions and concepts.
“Truax” gives educators and parents an opportunity to set the record straight about forestry issues. It should be read to every elementary school-aged child because the schools and news media tell our youngsters virtually every day — in one way or another — that cutting trees is an environmental evil.
“It’s definitely something that’s needed” for children, said Terri. “They get bombarded from cartoons, movies and cereal boxes…that cutting trees is bad.” Ironically, she noted, many of the preservationist messages children receive are “right on paper.”
And if you think that the Lorax is not an environmental hero to people whose political agenda seems dangerous, look for the words “The Lorax” on an Internet search engine. You’ll find more environmental gobbledygook. One site on the World Wide Web, www.arcos.org/lorax/lorax.html, has links to such radical environmental groups as Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network. Of course, these groups claim to speak for the trees, just like the Lorax and Dr. Seuss.
Truax is to the Once-ler what Guardbark is to the Lorax. Guardbark and the Lorax both have a let-your-conscience-be-your-guide role in their respective books, but Guardbark is a superior character because he confronts a real logger, not a straw man. And Guardbark actually learns something.
If your elementary school-age children encounter “The Lorax,” now you have a better response than merely telling them that Dr. Seuss didn’t know what he was writing about. Read them “Truax.”
“Traux” is available through a cooperative effort of several trade associations in the forest products industry: the Hardwood Forest Foundation, the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, the National Wood Flooring Association, and the Northeastern Loggers Association. More than 200,000 copies have been distributed to public schools; this year, about 20% of them ordered additional copies, according to Stan Elberg, executive director of the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association.
In order to teach children the truth about environmental issues, you need the right materials, such as publications like “Truax.” When children learn about the forest products industry from a book like “Truax,” the ideas will take hold, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps the best test of a children’s book is how youngsters respond when you read it aloud to them. My children like Dr. Seuss stories because of the bouncing cadences of the nonsense verse. They also enjoy “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass.”
My children really liked “Truax.” Terri has managed to effectively imitate the rollicking style of Dr. Seuss and also to convey some common-sense principles that children can easily grasp — not an easy task.
The Guardbark character seemed to me to be drawn in a way that was unnecessarily ugly. Guardbark looks grotesque. However, my children never remarked on this and even seemed fascinated by him. So what do I know about how a storybook character should look?
After reading the story, one of my young daughters, unprompted, pointed to her favorite page. It says:
Do we ever consider just how it would be
If we could NEVER, EVER again cut a tree?
Would we live in houses made of plastic and steel?
‘Til the oil and the ores run out?-and they will.
She had gotten the message. I hope hundreds of thousands of other children will, too.
(Editor’s Note: Terri Birkett holds the copyright to “Truax.” The booklet is produced by the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association with her guidance and permission. Copies are available from the association by calling (901) 526-5016. “Truax” is also published on the Internet at www.nofma.org/truaxbook.htm.)