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Dr. Seuss in Spanish - Yay or Nay?

Sadly, the short answer is nay. I'm a big fan of Dr. Seuss. It's hard not to love his creativity, and silliness, and word play, and warm messages about how to be a good person. But his brilliant work doesn't translate well into Spanish. It's just too hard to capture his particular style in a way that flows with the same playful fluidity that it does in English.

When I first saw Un Pez, Dos Peces, Pez Rojo, Pez Azul, I scoffed at the idea of a literal translation of Dr. Seuss into Spanish. I had very low expectations. Admittedly, I was pleasantly surprised - when I finally read Un Pez, Dos Peces, Pez Rojo, Pez Azul - to discover that it's not a literal translation, word for word. That would totally suck. It doesn't totally suck. It's a solid attempt to reach a very difficult (impossible?) goal.

But there just is no substitute for a book written in its original language. I'm no Russian-literature scholar, but I have read and heard enough to know that when we read Dostoyevsky in English, we lose some of the author's magic. And Dr. Seuss is no different. The Seuss stories that I have read in Spanish have been clunky and awkward. They're likely the best possible result under very challenging circumstances, but you're better off reading Seuss in English to your kids, and choosing books originally written in Spanish to help your kids learn Spanish.

Below is a quick review of a handful of Seuss stories in Spanish. I wanted to rank them best to worst, but there's not much point to that because I can't sincerely recommend any of them. So they're listed in no particular order.

1. Yoruga la tortuga

2. ¡Horton escucha a quién!

3. Un pez, dos peces, pez rojo, pez azul

4. Gertrudis pas

5. El gran fanfarrón

6. Huevos verdes con jamón

7. El gato ensombrerado

Yoruga la tortuga

This timeless tale about a power-hungry turtle who demands that all other turtles stand on top of each other to make a tall "throne," on top of which he believes he rules all that he sees, is a pretty entertaining read. The rhyming doesn't always work, which makes it clunky, but the vocabulary is interesting and, of course, the moral is valuable.

Gertrudis pas

This funny story about an envious bird who tries to outshine the object of her jealousy by growing so many feathers that she can't fly, or even walk, reads a bit awkward in translation. Some of the rhymes seem forced, and the sentence structure suffers for it. But the story is cute nevertheless and the lesson is valuable.

El gran fanfarrón

This funny story -- about a wise old worm who calls out a narcissistic bunny and an equally narcissistic bear for wasting their time engaged in eg-driven competitions with each other -- is worth a read. The story is super silly, and the moral is delivered in an obvious and playfully easy-to-capture way. The translation is not terrible.

Libros infantiles traducidos

¡Horton escucha a quién!

This is one of my favorite Seuss stories. "A person's a person, no matter how small." Horton is so brave and kind. This may also the best Spanish translation of a Seuss book. It's still a bit clunky, but it works for the most part. If you're determined to read a Seuss story in Spanish, this is your best choice.

Un pez, dos peces, pez rojo, pez azul

Most of the rhyme schemes in this book actually work. Some of them are a bit of a stretch, and the rhythm falls flat at times, but it's not the worst.

Kids' books in Spanish

Huevos verdes con jamón

Green Eggs and Ham is a tough one to translate. They tried, but it seems the feat was too difficult. Some of the rhymes work, but much of the wording is awkward. I can't recommend this one in Spanish.

Children's books in Spanish

El gato ensombrerado

I am a fan of The Cat in the Hat in English, but the translated version in Spanish is awkward. It doesn't flow. And at times the wording even seems grammatically incorrect. I don't recommend this one.

I recommend borrowing Seuss in Spanish from your local library before buying any copies. I found all of the stories listed above at the Beverly Hills Library in Los Angeles. Granted, they have a huge children's section. But I imagine you can find at least a few Seuss stories in Spanish at most libraries. It's best to judge them for yourself before spending money on them.

Happy reading!