Phonics, reading skills, language acquisition, the foundation for a lifelong love of reading—take your pick. Hop on Pop is really about all of those. Granted, such a claim may not seem like a big deal today, and you could argue the same for any children’s book ever written. But here's the thing: Seuss is that master at this. With this book, and others in the Beginner Books series, he made teaching while reading seem like a fine art.
Perhaps a little history is in order (don’t worry we’ll be brief). Back in the pre-personal computer dark age we know as the 1950s, children books such as Dick and Jane were all the rage. These books centered on the belief that memorization was the end-all-be-all of acquiring language skills. That is, children would read a word time and time and time and time… and time again until they figured out what it meant, how to pronounce it, and how to use it in a given context—assuming they care enough to continue reading afterward.
Seuss found Dick and Jane books and their mode of teaching insanely boring on account of the fact that they are insanely boring. So he, Phyllis Cerf, and his first wife, Helen Palmer Geisel, founded Beginner Books to combat the boredom (source) with a more playful take on beginners' books.
They did this by basing their books on phonics instead of rote memorization. Phonics is founded on the premise that children can acquire language by learning phonemes—the sounds of language within certain letter combinations—and will then recognize those phonemes when reintroduced in other words. Seuss and co also required Beginner Books to be centered on concepts that were more fun and zanier than the stuff of Dick and Jane and its ilk.
Hop on Pop presents this philosophy in its purest, simplest form. Consider out introduction to the Singing Thing:
That thing can sing! (30.1-3)
The child being read to will recognize that the letter combination I–N–G creates an /ing/ sound, so phonics development is now underway. The sentence after the capped words shows how different word combinations create different images. And the picture of the Thing singing is way more enjoyable and engaging than the likes of Dick found a ball, Dick threw the ball, and Jane caught the ball.
To really hone in on this goal, Seuss stripped Hop on Pop to the basics. There are no protagonists or plot threads or settings or major questions on the philosophy of self and the like. Instead, it’s about the words: learning the words, engaging with the words, and, most important, playing with the words.
And that, dear Shmoop, is what Hop on Pop is all about.