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Discontinuation of six Dr. Seuss books aims to reflect his views on race

  • A copy of the book "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," by Dr. Seuss, rests in a chair, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Walpole, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

  • FILE - In this May 4, 2017, file photo, a mural that features Theodor Seuss Geisel, left, also known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, covers part of a wall near an entrance at The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, in Springfield, Mass. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, Courtney Keating, education coordinator of The Literacy Center in Evansville, Ind., reads "If I Ran the Zoo," By Dr. Seuss, to passersby during an event to promote literacy along the Evansville Riverfront. Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author and illustrator's legacy, announced on his birthday, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, that it would cease publication of several children's titles including "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," because of insensitive and racist imagery. (Erin McCracken/Evansville Courier & Press via AP, File)

  • A statue of Dr. Seuss and the cat in the hat at the Springfield, Massachusetts museum. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2021 10:57:18 PM
Modified: 3/2/2021 10:57:15 PM

HANOVER — During his career as an author and illustrator, Theodor Geisel was sensitive to how he depicted people of different races and cultures, Donald E. Pease Jr., a Dartmouth College literature professor who wrote a biography about Geisel, said Tuesday.

At one point, Geisel, a 1925 Dartmouth graduate best known as Dr. Seuss, showed the storyboards for what would later become The Sneetches to a friend. The friend said he detected a note of anti-Semitism in the storyboards.

“Geisel was so upset at that response, he decided that he would not publish The Sneetches,” and destroyed the storyboards, Pease said in a phone interview. It was only after Geisel’s longtime editor said he had detected no traces of anti-Semitism, and that the book’s message of embracing people of diverse backgrounds shone through, that he put The Sneetches into a form ready for publication.

In that vein, it is in keeping with Geisel’s own wishes not to offend readers, Pease said, that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that publishes his books, has decided to stop publishing six early Dr. Seuss books that contain racist imagery.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told The Associated Press in a statement that coincided with the late author and illustrator’s birthday.

“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” it said.

The six books to be taken out of print are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, On Beyond Zebra!, McElligot’s Pool, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

In And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, an Asian person is portrayed wearing a conical hat, holding chopsticks, and eating from a bowl. If I Ran the Zoo includes a drawing of two barefooted African men wearing what appear to be grass skirts with their hair tied above their heads.

At Dartmouth, Geisel served as editor-in-chief of the humor magazine The Jack-O-Lantern and first used the pen name Seuss. He died in 1991 but had been a benefactor through the years, including through his estate, and Dartmouth in 2012 announced that it was renaming its medical school in honor of Geisel and his wife, Audrey, who died in 2018.

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said on Tuesday “there are no plans to revisit the use of the Geisel name on campus.

“We support Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ embrace of inclusivity and its mission to support all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, and friendship,” Lawrence said via email. “The work of Theodor Geisel has inspired a love of reading and storytelling for generations of children throughout the world. While he produced works of compassion, empathy, and tolerance, some of his work perpetuated offensive stereotypes. As we work toward a more just society, we must recognize and learn from his shortcomings in addition to his achievements.”

Dartmouth has taken steps to remove some of its old, racist iconography, putting a series of murals and a weather vane bearing racist images of Native Americans into storage, for example. Dartmouth, Lawrence said, will “continue to explore opportunities to contextualize and educate from this chapter of the Geisel legacy.”

That’s what an academic institution should do, Pease asserted: “As an academic, ... I think it’s important to study what it is in the works that generated that response.”

Geisel drew racist anti-Japanese cartoons during World War II, but also joined organizations that opposed the racism of the America First movement and personalities such as the radio host Father Coughlin, Pease said.

He also went back and revised some of his early work, including Mulberry Street, in which he changed the yellow skin and exaggerated features of a “Chinaman,” and changed the wording to “Chinese man,” Pease said, noting that even that revision could be considered racist today.

Tuesday’s announcement fed into the ongoing culture war: The right-wing press contended that the Biden administration “canceled” Dr. Seuss by leaving him out of its “Read Across America Day” proclamation. Late on Tuesday afternoon that was the lead story on the Fox News website. (The proclamation didn’t mention any other children’s book authors either.)

There should be room in the discussion for nuance, Pease said.

“I do think that Dr. Seuss Enterprises has precedent in Dr. Seuss’ own actions,” he said. But, “if you cancel or remove from circulation” certain books, Pease said, “you erase memory.” The resulting amnesia “can become the breeding ground for stereotypes that you want to destroy once and for all,” so they need to be available for discussion and research and an understanding of how our views change.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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