Bartholomew and the Oobleck, written by Dr. Seuss, was illustrated by another very talented man named… Dr. Seuss.
You know that, of course, and we're mostly being cheeky. (We're good at that.) But we wouldn't blame you if this comes as a surprise. After all, these black and white line drawings are a long way from many of Dr. Seuss's more fantastical and colorful illustrations which we know and love.
Still, you can definitely spot the Grinch in the King's face, and Seuss can't resist a little color to animate (and overtake) by the end of the story. Like all of his illustrations, it's like we're looking straight into the man's imagination.
So what, exactly, do these illustrations do for the story? Let's take a look at the good stuff.
Sure, when we're told that the King is obsessed with the weather, we believe our narrator. But nothing drives the point home better than seeing the King peer squinty-eyed through a gigantic telescope (2-4). The same goes for when the King has his big idea to call his magicians (15-19). His eyes grow wide, and Bartholomew's light shines down from the heavens.
And it's not just the King who gets the illustrative treatment. Just look at the eyes on that cow in paragraph 5. Do you think she's happy about the task she's been given? Likewise, the trumpeter looks groggy and incompetent, which should tell us everything we need to know about how this little interaction is going to go down.
Okay, so animating emotions and actions is what all illustrations are supposed to do. But there's something so over the top about the way Seuss does it, we can't help but point it out.
The List of Small Things Looking Big:
(1) Take a look at Bartholomew as he whistles for the magicians (20-23). He stands at the top of a long set of windy stairs, looking very small indeed.
(2) The same thing happens as the King sleeps and Bartholomew stares out at the Mystic Mountain Neeka-tave, wondering what the magicians are doing (31). Bartholomew is but a tiny boy in a very big turret, looking out at forces he fears but can't control.
(3) Now look at those stairs Bartholomew must climb to reach the trumpeter (62). He might as well be racing up the back of a dragon. And how about that zig-zaggy hallway as Bartholomew races out of the castle to save the kingdom?
Whether it's stairs, hallways, or turrets, Dr. Seuss uses space, angles, and scale to up the ante.
(And isn't it just like that King Derwin to build a palace that's so unnecessarily confusing?)
Okay, at this point, it's a little ridiculous not to say it. The biggest, most effective thing the illustrations do is up the stakes with green, green, and more green.
At first, the illustrations are black and white, and that's the end of it. But as the magicians work all night (32-33), we see the wisps of green laced within the potion's smoke. Then, as dawn breaks (34-40), "queer little greenish blobs, just about the size of grape seeds" pepper the grayscale. Then it's green drops spattering the King's window (41-48) and big splashes flopping out of the bell tower (51-56). And then?
It's everywhere. There is green gooping over birds, sneaking into the castle, ooblecking all over clotheslines. By the time we reach the King on his throne, the black and white is no longer peppered with green; it's overcome by it. Just look at how that green oobleck looms threateningly over the King's head (122-127). Gulp.
When it's all resolved (thanks for taking your time, Derwin) all that green melts right off the gray until there's nothing but a single drop, flinging off the bell.
What we're saying is, the black & white vs. all green smackdown is not just a vicious battle; it is the battle. And you've got to be a good illustrator to capture that.