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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

The Arms Race


Students read “The Butter Battle Book” to examine more complicated themes of nuclear weaponry.



Written in 1984, The Butter Battle Book was Dr. Seuss’s commentary on the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. It tells the story of the Yooks and the Zooks, who live on either side of a long wall and who disagree about how best to butter their bread. Both groups end up developing ever more powerful weaponry to outdo the other.

Read The Butter Battle Book or watch the video together. Inform students about the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II, which was a large part of the Cold War. Students should try to draw parallels between the book and the Cold War situation.

  1. Ask students for their opinion on the Yook-Zook conflict—which side do they think was right or wrong (if any)?
  2. Have students read The Butter Battle Book. Discuss how Dr. Seuss uses the book to comment on the arms race. Which techniques worked particularly well? Which were less effective? How do you think children would respond to this book? Is children’s literature an effective medium through which to communicate views on important and complex issues?
  3. In groups or individually, students brainstorm ideas for their own book that comments on some aspect of nuclear weapons. Ask them to incorporate elements of the earlier discussion on what makes an effective children’s book.
  4. Students write the text of their books and optionally illustrate them.


Share the final projects with elementary students. This provides an opportunity for the high schoolers to get feedback on their work and put themselves in the position of a children’s book author seeking to teach children about an important aspect of the world.