6 Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published due to racist imagery
'These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,' Dr. Seuss Enterprises said
Six Dr. Seuss books — including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo — will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author's legacy said Tuesday.
"These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong," Dr. Seuss Enterprises — a division of Penguin Random House — 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' catalogue represents and supports all communities and families."
The other books affected are McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat's Quizzer.
The decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion with teachers, academics and a "panel of experts," the company told AP.
Books by Dr. Seuss — who was born Theodor Seuss Geisel in Springfield, Mass., on March 2, 1904 — have been translated into dozens of languages as well as in braille and are sold in more than 100 countries. He died in 1991.
He remains popular, earning an estimated $33 million US before taxes in 2020, up from just $9.5 million US five years ago, the company said. Forbes listed him No. 2 on its highest-paid dead celebrities of 2020, behind only the late pop star Michael Jackson.
Offensive images and plot points persisted in some of Seuss's work even after they were changed by the author, according to Philip Nel, a scholar of children's literature and the author of Was The Cat in the Hat Black? among other books on Seuss.
In his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, one of the characters is described with a racist term and depicted as a caricature of Chinese culture. In a later release of the same book, that name was changed and the image updated, but remained fundamentally the same.
"It's slightly less racist, but it still doesn't solve the problem," Nel said.
Other depictions and descriptions of African, Middle Eastern and Asian people pervade the books in question, he said.
The Dr. Seuss Enterprise was far from the first to notice these problems. The National Education Association, which founded Read Across America Day in 1998 and deliberately aligned it with Geisel's birthday, has for several years de-emphasized Seuss and encouraged a more diverse reading list for children.
School districts across the United States have also moved away from Dr. Seuss, and in 2017, a school librarian in Cambridge, Mass., criticized a gift of 10 Seuss books from first lady Melania Trump, saying many of his works were "steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes."
And on Wednesday, the Toronto Public Library said a group of librarians are reviewing the removed Seuss titles for racial or cultural representation concerns. If they find any, a spokesperson said, they may recommend pulling the books from the stacks or moving them from the children's section.
A spokesperson for the Vancouver Public Library said they're launching a similar review, to determine if any action is necessary.
Nel said this sort of grappling with history — questioning whether a book we loved as children may be damaging to children today — is healthy and can be used as a stepping stone in learning about harmful stereotypes. Contextualizing Seuss's books alongside examples that accurately depict different cultures and people can also be useful, but requires that educators be trained in anti-racist education, and engage fully in difficult conversations, he said.
He said while many might think of the move as an example of "cancel culture," he sees it as like a "product recall."
"These books date from the '30s, '40s and '50s," Nel said. "But if you think for example of automobiles in the '50s, they didn't have seatbelts … Now all cars have seatbelts, because it's a really good idea, if you like driving and staying alive.
"So things change, and Random House is recognizing that maybe it would be a good idea if we didn't publish books that put damage into the world."
Canadian children's book author and teacher Nadia Hohn agreed the decision to remove the books was a good one. It's important for the books in her classroom to affirm students, she said, and not make them feel embarrassed or like they have to hide who they are. Children's books that reinforce negative stereotypes can do the opposite, and she said the company's decision to stop publishing these books is likely a response to parents and educators who have been speaking out.
"I think they're just being responsible and responsive, which is important," Hohn said. "There are a lot of, well, classics that are just out of step with right now, and they have been problematic for a long time."
At the same time, Hohn said that just because the books will no longer be published, doesn't mean that they should be swept under the rug or ignored. Keeping them available for study will make sure that similar tropes aren't repeated.
Brian Liss, owner of Toronto-based Liss Gallery — which sells Seuss's paintings — also said it is important to continue discussing his works.
Liss said that while he supported the decision to remove the offending books, he is proud to continue showing the artwork.
"His legacy in support of literacy, the environment and peace will continue to shine," Liss wrote in an email to CBC.
The Cat in the Hat, one of Seuss's most-popular books, has received criticism, too, but will continue to be published for now.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, however, said it is "committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio."
Numerous other popular children's series have been criticized in recent years for alleged racism.
In the 2007 book, Should We Burn Babar?, the author and educator Herbert R. Kohl contended that the Babar the Elephant books were celebrations of colonialism because of how the title character leaves the jungle and later returns to "civilize" his fellow animals.
One of the books, Babar's Travels, was removed from the shelves of a British library in 2012 because of its alleged stereotypes of Africans. Critics also have faulted the Curious George books for their premise of a white man bringing home a monkey from Africa.
And Laura Ingalls Wilder's portrayals of Native Americans in her Little House On the Prairie novels have been faulted so often that the American Library Association removed her name in 2018 from a lifetime achievement award it gives out each year.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press