The Butter Battle Book

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The Butter Battle Book
The Butter Battle Book cover.jpg
Author Dr. Seuss
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's literature
Publisher Random House
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and paperback)
ISBN 0-394-86716-5
OCLC 10046060
[Fic] 19
LC Class PZ8.3.G276 Bu 1984
Preceded by Hunches in Bunches
Followed by You're Only Old Once!

The Butter Battle Book is a rhyming story written by Dr. Seuss. It was published by Random House Books for Young Readers on January 12, 1984. It is an anti-war story; specifically, a parable about arms races in general, mutually assured destruction and nuclear weapons in particular. The Butter Battle Book was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

This book was written during the Cold War era, and reflects the concerns of the time, especially the perceived possibility that all life on Earth could be destroyed in a nuclear war. It can also be seen as a satirical work, with its depiction of a deadly war based on a senseless conflict over something as trivial as a breakfast food. The concept of a war based on toast is similar to the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, which was nominally based on the correct end to crack an egg once soft boiled.


The Butter Battle Book tells the story of a land where two hostile cultures, the Yooks and the Zooks, live on opposite sides of a long curving wall, fairly similar to the Berlin Wall. The Yooks wear blue clothes; the Zooks wear orange. The main dispute between the two cultures is that the Yooks eat their bread with the butter-side up, while the Zooks eat their bread with the butter-side down. The conflict between the two sides leads to an escalating arms race, which results in the threat of mutual assured destruction.

The race begins when a Zook named Van Itch slingshots the Yook patrolman's "Tough-Tufted Prickly Snick-Berry Switch" (a many-pronged whip). The Yooks then develop a machine with three slingshots interlinked, called a "Triple-Sling Jigger". This works once; but the Zooks counterattack with their own creation: The "Jigger-Rock Snatchem", a machine with three nets to fling the rocks fired by the Triple-Sling Jigger back to the Yooks' side.

The Yooks then create a gun called the "Kick-A-Poo Kid", loaded with "powerful Poo-A-Doo powder and ants' eggs and bees' legs and dried-fried clam chowder", and carried by a dog named Daniel. The Zooks counterattack with an "Eight-Nozzled Elephant-Toted Boom Blitz", a machine that shoots "high-explosive sour cherry stone pits". The Yooks then devise the "Utterly Sputter": a large blue vehicle intended "to sprinkle blue goo all over the Zooks". The Zooks counterattack with a Sputter identical to the Yooks'. Eventually, each side possesses a small but extremely destructive red bomb called the "Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo" (a reference to the two atom bombs dropped by the U.S. — "Fat Man" and "Little Boy"), and neither has any defense against it. The TV special (see below) demonstrates the development of the weapon in a mad scientist-style song.

No resolution is reached by the book's end, with the generals of both sides on the wall poised to drop their bombs and waiting for the other to strike. The question is left hanging for the reader to answer, much like the question "UNLESS" at the end of Dr. Seuss' book, The Lorax. The book thus departs from the common fashion of children's writing, of positive themes and resolution of the plot's conflict by the end of the story.[1]

Television special[edit]

There was an animated TV special by animator and filmmaker Ralph Bakshi, narrated by Charles Durning and produced by and aired on TNT on November 13, 1989. The special followed the book closely, notably in its preservation of the original cliffhanger ending of said book, hence the title card "The end... maybe." in the conclusion of the story. Seuss himself called the short the most faithful adaptation of his work.[2]



Custom painted display 1993, Atlanta, GA

The Butter Battle Book was once removed from the shelves of at least one Canadian public library during the Cold War because of the book's position regarding the arms race.[3]

A National Review article finds it plausible that the rejection of the book stemmed from Seuss' promotion of a theme of "moral equivalence", where the difference between the Soviet Union and the United States was equivalent to a disagreement over the proper side on which to butter bread, presumably in addition to the theme of the arms race and mutually assured destruction. This issue was discussed in a National Review article published on July 27, 1984.[4][5]


External links[edit]