Words are everywhere. They're so intertwined with human existence that we usually don’t stop to consider that they are, in fact, symbols. For the beginner reader though, the idea that words are letter combinations designed to illicit certain sounds and in turn symbolize particular objects or images can be a daunting thing to wrap one’s head around. That’s where Hop on Pop comes in.
Seuss’s poem uses illustrations in connection with big, bolded words to show that when you say a word you put an image (read: symbol) into the mind of the listener or reader. Take, for example, that wily pup and his humongous cup:
Pup in cup. (2.1-3)
When you read the words “PUP” and “CUP,” you bring to the listener’s mind the image of a pup and cup. When you add the word “in,” you combine the images together as evident by the illustration showing—what else?—a pup in a cup http://pupsincups.tumblr.com/.
Again, for those of us who’ve been through the rigors and trials of the 5th grade and up, this might not seem like a revelation, but to the beginner reader who’s developing her mind for language acquisition, it must be something else to make this connection.
But Seuss takes it one step further in the next stanza:
Cup on pup. (3.1-3)
By changing exactly one letter in the sentence, Seuss shows the child reader that the image, the symbol, of the word has changed entirely. Now the cup is on the pup like a giant tortoise shell. Every word, nay, every letter of every word is important when dealing with language if you want your listener to achieve the proper symbol in their mind’s eye.
And so the book continues, adding more and more words in tandem with more and more illustrations. Each time, the nature of the word as a symbol grows in the child’s ever-expanding mind.
By the way, if you want to get all intellectual about it and impress your friends at those fancy wine and cheese parties, the study of signs is called semiotics. In semiotics, the word is known as the “signifier” and the image or object it represents is called the “signified.” Together they create what linguists call the “sign.”
If you really want to impress, namedrop Ferdinand de Saussure here and there (he’s the linguist who developed the model). But keep it at the wine and cheese parties, please; the kids will have enough to learn without throwing semiotics at them.