Dr. Seuss is an icon in the children’s story and book industry. Most families in North American probably grew up reading at least one of his iconic books.
His book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” is constantly referenced to graduates at all levels year and year again.
Recently, Dr. Seuss has been a target between culture wars. Recently a librarian even rejected a donation from first lady Melania Trump claiming the Dr. Seuss books that she donated were racist and no needed or welcome in her library.
A museum dedicated to the late Dr. Seuss located in Springfield, Ma recently had to replace a mural of his artwork featuring a Chinese character from his popular book “And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”. This came after complaints that the art was racist the way it depicted the Chinese character.
What do experts say about this?
According to Ann Neely who is a professor of children’s literature at Vanderbilt University in Nashville states “Just as every author/illustrator is, I think that Theodor Geisel was a product of his time,”
“Yes, there are some Dr. Seuss drawings that, given today’s ideologies and values, can certainly be viewed as being racist,” Neely says. “The illustrations of the Chinese characters in And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street are stereotypical, offensive, and inappropriate. I believe the museum is doing the right thing by removing these images from the mural.”
“Books like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and Green Eggs and Ham are fun books for beginning readers. But we also have current authors/illustrators who provide children with marvelous books as they learn the concept of story. For example, Mo Willems’ 25 books in the ‘Elephant and Piggie’ series are truly loved by children today as they learn to read and long after.”
“We should not judge Theodor Geisel by today’s standards,” Neely mentions, “but we must evaluate his books that we decide to share with children using today’s standards. We cannot wallow in our own nostalgia when we make choices for the books we share with young children. There are simply too many outstanding books available.”
Philip Nel, who is a professor of children’s literature at Kansas State University and author of “Dr. Seuss: American Icon and Was the Cat in the Hat Black?” was quoted by USA TODAY that Dr. Seuss used both racist and anti-racist themes in his work. “The Sneetches” and “Horton Hears a Who!” were a prime example of the later.
Both books “clearly argue against picking on others for arbitrary marks of difference,” Philip states.
“Racism lurks in children’s culture in ways we’re not aware of, and (authors) can recycle images and ideas in their work without being aware of it,” he says. “People don’t take children’s lit seriously, they think kids are not going to notice this, only grownups notice. That underestimates their intelligence and doesn’t take into account that we learn things without being aware we’re learning things.”
Personally, we just feel like things are getting out of hand. What do you think?