Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

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Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories
Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories cover.png
AuthorDr. Seuss
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's literature
Published1950-51 (Redbook)
1958 (Random House)
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Preceded byThe Cat in the Hat Comes Back 
Followed byHappy Birthday to You! 

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is a picture book collection by Theodor Seuss 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 eponymous Yertle, king of the pond, stands 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.

Though the book included "burp", a word then considered to be relatively rude, it was a success upon publication, and has since sold more than 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[edit]

"Yertle the Turtle"[edit]

The eponymous story revolves around Yertle the Turtle, the king of the pond (located on the faraway island of Sala-ma-sond), where all the turtles swim happily. Dissatisfied with the stone that serves as his throne (it's too small for him to rule the landscape beyond the pond), Yertle commands the other turtles to stack themselves beneath him so that he can see farther and expand his kingdom, each time marveling at what he believes he now rules (like a cow, a mule, a house, a berry bush, and a cat). However, the stacked turtles are in pain. A turtle named Mack, who has a checkerboard-style shell and is at the bottom of the pile, is bearing the brunt of the suffering. Mack asks Yertle for a respite, but Yertle just tells him to be quiet. Then Yertle decides to further expand his kingdom and commands more and more turtles to add to his throne. This time, Yertle declares that he is the king of the bees, the birds, the trees, the butterflies, and the air. Mack makes a second request for a respite because the increased weight is now causing extreme pain and hunger to the turtles at the bottom of the pile. Again, Yertle yells at Mack to be quiet. Then Yertle the turtle 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 to rise above it. Before he can give the command, Mack decides he has had enough. He burps, which shakes up Yertle's throne and tosses the turtle king off the turtle stack and into the water, leaving him "King of the Mud" and allowing the others to once again swim free, "as turtles, and maybe all creatures, should be".[1]

"Gertrude McFuzz"[edit]

The second story recounts the tale of the "girl-bird" Gertrude McFuzz, who only has one small, plain tail feather and envies Lolla Lee Lou, who has two feathers. She goes to her uncle, Doctor Dake, for something that will make her tail grow. He tries to tell her that her tail is just right for her species, but she throws a tantrum. He gives in, and he tells her where she can find berries that will make her tail grow. The first berry makes her tail exactly like Lolla Lee Lou's, but greed overtakes her. Now wanting to surpass Lolla Lee Lou, she eats the entire vine, causing her tail to grow to an enormous size. But the added weight of too many feathers does not allow her to fly, run, or even walk. Panicked, she yelps repeatedly, while being stuck on the hill. Her uncle, having heard her painful cries for help, sends for many other birds to carry her home and pluck out her tail feathers, which takes a few weeks, causing her to be sore. Though she has only one feather left—as before—she now has "enough, because now she is smarter".[1]

“The Big Brag”[edit]

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". Then the worm "dived in his hole and went back to his work".[1]

Seuss used similar turtles in an editorial cartoon published in PM on March 20, 1942.

Publication history[edit]

External video
video icon Panel discussion on "Civil and Human Rights Themes in Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches and Yertle the Turtle", New York Law School, March 1, 2013, C-SPAN

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 City 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!"[2]

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.[3][4] 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".[5][6] "Yertle the Turtle" has variously been described as "autocratic rule overturned",[7] "a reaction against the fascism of World War II",[8] and "subversive of authoritarian rule".[9]

The last lines of "Yertle the Turtle" read: "And the turtles, of course ...all the turtles are free / As turtles, and maybe, all creatures should be".[1] When questioned about why he wrote "maybe" rather than "surely", Seuss replied that he did not 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".[6]

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".[3][10] However, despite the publishers' initial worries, it eventually proved to be a hit—in 2001, Publishers Weekly reported that it was 125th on the list of best-selling hardcover children's books in the United States, at just over one million copies.[11]

"This Book is for
The Bartletts of Norwich, Vt.
and for
The Sagmasters of Cincinnati, Ohio"

—Dedication, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories[1]

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 happiest inspiration I've ever had".[12]


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 1996–1998 television series The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, and in Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty's Broadway musical Seussical, Yertle serves as a judge and Gertrude McFuzz acts as Horton's love interest. The story was also turned into a dance number in the 1994 film In Search of Dr. Seuss.

The only notable adaptation of "Yertle the Turtle" is a cartoon "The Turtle King", made by Kievnauchfilm in 1988.

Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories is a 1992 animation directed by Ray Messecar and narrated by John Lithgow[13] (later released and cropped to widescreen format on Blu-ray part of Who's Who in the Dr. Seuss?).

The Red Hot Chili Peppers adapted the story in the song "Yertle the Turtle" on their second album, Freaky Styley, released in 1985.

In 1961, RCA Camden Records released "Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories" with the three stories on the A side and "Bartholomew and the Oobleck" on the B side. The liner notes state "set to dramatic action personally by "Dr. Seuss" with music featuring Marvin Miller".[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Dr. Seuss (April 12, 1958). Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. Random House. OCLC 255164.
  2. ^ Minear, Richard (1999). Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel. The New Press. p. 244. ISBN 978-1-56584-565-7.
  3. ^ a b Geisel, Theodor; Sendak, Maurice (September–October 1989). "Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss: A Conversation" (Transcript). Interviewed by Glenn Edward Sadler.
  4. ^ Cynthia Gorney (May 21, 1979). "Dr. Seuss at 75: Grinch, Cat in Hat, Wocket and Generations of Kids in His Pocket". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. '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.'
  5. ^ Peter Bunzel (April 6, 1959). "The Wacky World of Dr. Seuss Delights the Child—and Adult—Readers of His Books". Life. ISSN 0024-3019. OCLC 1643958. 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.'
  6. ^ a b Jonathan Cott (1983). "The Good Dr. Seuss". Pipers at the Gates of Dawn: The Wisdom of Children's Literature. Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-50464-3. OCLC 8728388. '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.'
  7. ^ Lurie, Alison (December 20, 1990). "The Cabinet of Dr. Seuss" (Reprint). The New York Review of Books. 37 (20). ISSN 0028-7504. Retrieved May 12, 2008. As in the classical folk tale, pride and prejudice are ridiculed, autocratic rule overturned.
  8. ^ Elizabeth B. Moje; Woan-Ru Shyu (May 1992). "Oh, the Places You've Taken Us: The Reading Teacher's Tribute to Dr. Seuss". The Reading Teacher. 45 (8). ISSN 0034-0561. OCLC 1681346.
  9. ^ Selma G. Lanes (1971). "Seuss for the Goose Is Seuss for the Gander". Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature. New York City: Atheneum Publishers. OCLC 138227. Sometimes Seuss is simply subversive of authoritarian rule in general, whatever form it takes, as in Yertle the Turtle
  10. ^ Stefan Kanfer (October 7, 1991). "The Doctor Beloved by All". TIME. ISSN 0040-781X. '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.'
  11. ^ Hochman, Debbie Turvey (December 17, 2001). "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books". Publishers Weekly 248.5. Archived from the original on April 4, 2012. Retrieved December 23, 2013.
  12. ^ E. J. Kahn (December 17, 1960). "Children's Friend". The New Yorker. p. 47. ISSN 0028-792X. 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.'
  13. ^ Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories at IMDb
  14. ^ Dr. Seuss presents Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories, RCA Camden CAL 1035, 1961, liner notes