Six of Dr Seuss’ children’s books will no longer be published, according to the company that oversees his legacy and creative output, because the stories contain foul language and racist slurs.
The choice, made on the author’s birthday, which schools have long observed, may have significant ramifications for numerous classrooms and libraries.
Despite growing worries about the racist and xenophobic stereotypes present in many of his works for young children, Dr Seuss—real name Theodor Seuss Geisel—remains a treasured classic in the early reading canon.
The six books that won’t be published are McElligot’s Pool, If I Ran the Zoo, On Beyond Zebra, and And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street!
, Scrambled Eggs Super!
, The Cat’s Quiz, and. The company that oversees the author’s legacy, Dr Seuss Enterprises, issued a statement claiming that the books “portray people in ways that are cruel and incorrect.”
In 2017, Education Week published an article debating the debate around Dr Seuss’s readings in the classroom, which included allegations that The Cat in the Hat’s illustrations were inspired by minstrel shows.
If I Ran the Zoo is one of the books that has been banned from being published because it uses stereotypical images of African people and calls Asian people “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant.”
Another, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, also depicts preconceptions about Asians, with an image of a man holding a bowl of rice, a conical hat, and slanted eyes that are accompanied by the statement, “A Chinese man who eats with sticks.”
For many years, these novels and Dr Seuss, in general, have dominated elementary school curriculums in the United States. The National Education Association established Read Across America Day, an annual celebration of reading, in 1998. It was timed to coincide with Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birthday, March 2, in order to promote reading.
But in recent years, the NEA has made an effort to divert attention from Dr Seuss. The group is honouring a variety of works that examine “family, community, courage, and fashion” in March.
President Joe Biden broke with recent presidential speeches by Donald Trump and Barack Obama, who both recognised the author for the occasion, by omitting Dr Seuss from his proclamation for reading Across America Day earlier this week.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied, “It is vital that children of all backgrounds find themselves in the children’s books that they read,” in answer to a query on why Dr Seuss wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s White House press briefing.
Many elementary schools continue to celebrate Dr Seuss’s birthday with green eggs and ham for breakfast in the classroom, read-aloud of The Cat in the Hat or Oh! What a Wonderful World, and children dressing as their favourite characters from his books.
, The Places You’ll Go!
Conservative lawmakers and observers have criticised the decision to halt the publishing of the books, saying that it is another example of “cancel culture.”
However, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the head of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, which campaigns against book bans, claimed that this isn’t really censorship.
Any author, or anyone publishing books, may choose what is available in the world, the spokesperson said. “[Dr. Seuss Enterprises] has not issued a plea for libraries or schools to remove the books from collections.”
Teachers and Librarians Can Now Take a Moment to Consider Dr Seuss’ Books in Light of The Verdict:
Despite the fact that only the six works named in this Dr Seuss Enterprises declaration are at issue, his larger body of work has been called into doubt by critics for a number of years.
Dr Seuss is “complex and not readily summarised,” according to Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk in 2017, and several of his tales, like The Sneetches or The Lorax, overtly denounce prejudice based on difference or support environmentalism.
In a 2019 analysis of 50 Dr Seuss children’s books, researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens discovered that all of the characters of colour were created in ways that reinforced Orientalism and anti-Blackness, and were “only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanised roles.”
Only 2 per cent of the 2,240 human characters in the books, according to the study, are people of colour. (This is not a characteristic unique to Dr Seuss’s books; surveys of children’s literature continue to find Black, Latino, Asian, and Native American characters underrepresented.) The books are also overwhelmingly white.
The Study’s Authors Write:
A long history of research demonstrates that text combined with imagery, such as books with pictures, shapes children’s racial attitudes. When children’s books centre on Whiteness, erase people of colour and other oppressed groups, or present people of colour in stereotypical, dehumanising, or subordinate roles, these actions have a lasting negative impact on children’s perceptions of themselves, their homes, communities, and the wider world (Santora).
The National Council of Teachers of English’s president, Alfredo Celedón Luján, stated that students do recognise themselves in books and that they notice when they aren’t.
I applaud [Dr. Seuss Enterprises] for presenting the statement and for stopping the publication of those books because they are hurtful, he said. “Our position at NCTE, and mine personally, is the language of affirmation—to affirm marginalised students, authors, and literature, and to affirm cultures and differences in students.
Many educators and researchers in the field of education have long discussed how books that rely on racial stereotypes or distil the lives and experiences of people of colour into a “single story” can cause students of colour to internalise unfavourable messages and lose interest in reading, while also subtly informing white students that these stereotypes are accurate and common.
Uncertainty exists around whether or not libraries will cease lending these books out or whether teachers will stop reading them to students.
“Often, the decision is to keep the book in the collection, but it may not be surfaced in storytimes or displays,” Caldwell-Stone said. “How libraries approach the Dr Seuss books is going to differ based on individual guidelines for collection curation and community demand for them.”
However, Caldwell-Stone noted that “this is a time that affords adults the chance to engage in critical discussion regarding Dr Seuss’ works and to choose whether or not to recommend them to the young people in their life.”
I read Dr Seuss’s books to my own kids, not exactly the ones in question, but I’m also seeing these novels now from a fresh perspective, he said.