I’ve been dragging my feet about addressing the Dr. Seuss controversy, mainly because I myself have mixed feelings. But after being asked by a few people what my thoughts are, I’ve decided to weigh in.
Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, was one of my favorite early childhood authors, and I shared my love for his whimsical books with my library storytime attendees throughout my twenty-six year career. I enjoyed reading Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, The Sneetches, Oh the Places You’ll Go, and of course, How the Grinch Stole Christmas to my young patrons and loved that many times they could recite passages along with me.
While I loved And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street as a child, looking at it through the eyes of an adult, I admit I was uncomfortable with the illustration of an Asian man, and so that was a book I did not feature. Then, a few years ago there started to be rumblings regarding some of Geisel’s earlier wartime political cartoons, as well as his illustrations for advertisements both before and after he became a children’s author. Many of these were derogatory toward multiple groups of persons of color, as well as Jews, Muslims, and women. Even worse, through a closer lens not clouded by nostalgia, these harmful stereotypes seeped into his some of his early children’s books, which leads us to the current “cancel culture” brouhaha. As you know I’m firmly against censorship, and after mulling this over the last few days, I’m reaffirming my stance in this case as well. I understand the harm and hurt racial, religious, and gender stereotypes can cause, especially in books meant for impressionable young minds, but it seems that rather than ceasing to publish these six books, perhaps we’d better serve children by sharing them and having discussions about the time period they were written in, why the illustrations and language are objectionable, and how no one is perfect, including our heroes. In addition, sharing some of the thousands of diverse picture books that have been published since Dr. Seuss passed away with young readers is absolutely essential, now more than ever. I’d also like to acknowledge that this isn’t a typical case of censorship as Dr. Seuss Enterprises owns the publishing rights and publishers cease publication of older books all the time. In this case though, they did so due to outside pressure which is why I’m equating it with censorship. This is of course my humble opinion, and I welcome hearing everyone else’s thoughts. I do want to share an article in The New York Times that I think excellently sums up the controversy and make some good points.