As a kid in the 60s I grew up reading Dr. Seuss. You could still get “Dick and Jane” books at the time, and let me tell you, the difference between them was stark. Reading Dick and Jane was drudgery. Reading Dr. Seuss was fun,and I associated reading with fun because of him.
Last year there was a big controversy about him that lead to six of his books being pulled from print. Dr. Seuss Enterprises said they did because these books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Fair enough. Some of the images like those above from “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” are terrible in my opinion. I don’t think there is much lost in that book being pulled from print. I would pause for one of those books though. The imagery from “Scrambled Eggs Super” seems vaguely offensive in my mind but it echoes more offensive imagery from other books depicting Arabs and Eskimos, so I am not surprised it went. I am disappointed: I loved that book. But that’s just me. It’s not hard to see the imagery as stereotypical, if not as negative as some of the others.
Thinking about Dr. Seuss and his imagery is difficult. At times blatantly racist (especially early in his career) and other times strongly progressive (later). Because of the former I can see why many educators and others would like to see him gone. I suspect his influence will wane over time and educators and parents will shift to newer books with representations that better reflect their values. Maybe someday we won’t even see the Grinch any more at Christmas.
That said, I am happy I grew up with Dr. Seuss books and read the ones I did. I am glad I read the ones I did to my kids too. (None of which were among the six.) His books were very helpful in teaching me and others the joy of reading. I hope the books that come to replace his do the same.
For more on this topic, it’s easy to find links to the controversy on the Internet. Here are some of the pieces I’ve collected:
- Here’ a piece from Vox.
- Here’s another.
- One from The New York Times.
- Here’s another
- Here’s a defence of his politics at the BBC
- The National Post had a piece on the problematic imagery of Dr. Suess.
- Here’s a piece criticizing the attacks on Dr. Suess.
- This blog post contains much of the imagery under attack.
- This one talks about the racism behind the Cat in the Hat, which is debatable, let me just say.