Dr. Seuss: adoption rule breaker

Book Review: Horton Hatches the Egg

My good friend HK was adopted and she is the favorite aunt to six nieces and nephews – three of whom are adopted. She recommended that I read BE and BC “Horton Hatches the Egg” by Dr. Seuss. I ordered it from Amazon and we got it in the mail this week. I can’t remember ever reading this book as a kid, so for those of us who need a reminder, here’s the premise.

Mayzie the bird lays an egg, but gets tired of sitting on it. She enlists help from Horton the elephant so that she can go on vacation. She promises to be gone a short time, but once she gets to her destination, she decides to stay there. Meanwhile, Horton spends 51 weeks sitting on the egg and endures all kinds of hardships. At the end of the book, the egg hatches and the baby turns out to be half bird and half elephant. And Horton gets to keep it.

The main thing I like about this book is that baby is half elephant and half bird. I really want to believe that children are influenced by both nature and nurture. I want to believe that my children will be like their first parents, but also like me and J. The baby in this book reflects that both birth parents and adoptive parents have a role to play.

However, I have one major issue with the book. As any adoptive parent knows – one big “no-no” is criticizing the birth parents, no matter what they may have done. Here are some examples of how Dr. Seuss describes Mayzie.

  • “A lazy bird”
  • “Old good-for-nothing bird”
  • “Runaway Mayzie”
  • “Still just as lazy”
  • “‘But it’s mine!’ screamed the bird when she heard the egg crack. The work was all done. She wanted it back.”
I would recommend this book without hesitation if weren’t for the portrayal of Mayzie. However, HK and I had an interesting discussion about this. When she read the book to her nephew, he kept insisting that Mayzie really loved the baby. HK, believing that the truth is best, told her nephew that no, actually Mayzie didn’t love the baby.
This lead to a debate between me and HK about how much and how honest you should actually be with your kids about their first parents. J and I have taken a neutral approach. We don’t say anything positive or negative about our kids’ first parents. We figure that when they get old enough, they can make their own decision about how they feel about their parents. Of course, the question is, how much do we tell them and at what age? What have you done with your children?
Overall, I do recommend “Horton Hatches the Egg” as long as you can get past the attitude toward Mayzie. After the baby hatches and its half bird/half elephant nature is revealed, the books ends with: “It’s an elephant bird! And it should be, it should be, it should be like that! Because Horton was faithful! He sat and he sat! He meant what he said and he said what he meant … And they sent him home happy, one hundred percent.” Despite its shortcomings, this book does put the efforts of adoptive parents in a positive light. Although it’s often thankless, adoptive parents do, in fact, have an influence on their children.


I am an adoptive parent living in Detroit with my family. I am the author of the forthcoming speculative fiction book, Antebellum Age is now available through Barnes & Noble.

Antebellum Age
Category: Speculative Fiction, Alternate History

Nothing could suppress the utopian ambitions of Eliza and Thomas Young – nothing except for 150 years of authoritarian, racist rule. Generations after the Young’s experiment, Ambassadors Stephen Harris and Sarah Anderson uncover the Young story; finding meaning and connection in unlikely places. Now they must choose between dismantling generations of segregation or fulfilling the expectations of their society.


19 thoughts on “Dr. Seuss: adoption rule breaker

  1. I loved that story when I was a kid. But when I read it to my kids a few years ago, I was struck by the same parts you mention.

    I wonder if Seuss had any adoption focus in his life that colored his plot line, or if his story just needed a typical hero and villain.

    I’m not sure I’d point my kids toward it now, now that they’d understand and internalize more.

  2. Hmmm…when I first read the part in your review about the baby being born half elephant, I was super excited to get the book and read it to my kids. Good thing you wrote about the rest though because that is not a book I will be reading to my munchkins!!! Back in the day that Dr. Seuss wrote it, “positive adoption language” probably wasn’t on his radar!

    Thanks for the review!

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