UPDATE With Fox News going all in on today’s news that six Dr. Seuss books will no longer be published due to their offensive depictions of racial caricatures, White House press secretary Jen Psaki lauded efforts at diversity and inclusion in children’s literature.
Psaki was asked specifically about the wording of President Joe Biden’s Read Across America Day proclamation, which broke with recent White House tradition by not mentioning Dr. Seuss by name.
“The proclamation was written by the Department of Education,” Psaki said at today’s White House press briefing, “and you can certainly speak to them about more specifics about the drafting of it.”
Psaki then described Read Across America Day as “a chance to celebrate diverse authors whose work and lived experience reflect the diversity of our country. And that’s certainly what they attempted to do or hoped to do this year. And as we celebrate the love of reading and uplift diverse and representative authors, it’s especially important that we ensure all children can see themselves represented and celebrated in the books that they read.”
Read Across America Day was established in 1998 as a way of encouraging childhood reading. The date was chosen to mark the March 2 birthday of The Cat in the Hat author Theodor Seuss Geisel. In recent years, the Association has deemphasized the Seuss connection to promote a more diverse roster of writers and books, a move that became a flashpoint this year with today’s announcement by Dr. Seuss Enterprises that six titles, including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo and McElligot’s Pool, will no longer be published due to what the organization concedes are “hurtful and wrong” character portrayals.
The six books – which date back to the 1930s and 1950s – have been criticized in recent years for racist caricatures of Black, Asian and Middle Eastern human characters.
Earlier today, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that six titles – And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer – will no longer be published due to their “hurtful and wrong” character portrayals. Posted on the Dr. Seuss Enterprises website, the statement comes after some works by the late children’s author have drawn scrutiny for racist and insensitive imagery.
“Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship,” the statement reads.
The combination of Read Across America Day and the plans to discontinue the six titles seem to have boosted Seuss book sales today. By mid-afternoon, eight of Amazon’s top 10 sellers (updated hourly) were Seuss titles, with If I Ran The Zoo coming in at #6. And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was in the top 20, as was Scrambled Eggs Super!
Ebay sellers were asking for hundreds of dollars per copy of the titles – one optimistic listing for And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street had a Buy It Now price of $2,999.95, though actual bids for other copies of the same title hovered around $150. A winning bid for If I Ran The Zoo came in at $75.
The Seuss announcement has been used today by Fox News as the latest example of “cancel culture,” with the network opening its Outnumbered program today with the Seuss news. On this morning’s Fox & Friends guest Donald Trump Jr. expanded on his error-riddled CPAC rant about how “they” have canceled Mr. Potato Head (not true), the Muppets (not true) and now Dr. Seuss. “I literally know The Cat in the Hat by heart without the book there because I read it so many times to my children. These things are not racist.”
The Cat in the Hat is not one of the six books named today by the organization that oversees the legacy of the popular and still-lucrative Theodor Seuss Geisel, who died in 1991. Nearly 40 Seuss titles have been published over the years.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises said that it had consulted a panel of experts including educators in reviewing its catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication of the six titles.
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises writes. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
In a statement to the Associated Press, Seuss Enterprises said it is “committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our entire portfolio.”
The six axed titles announced today have long drawn criticism from some readers. For example, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, first published in 1937, includes a stereotypical depiction of a Chinese man, which until Geisel’s revision in the late 1970s referred to the character as “Chinaman.” If I Ran the Zoo, first published in 1950, has been targeted for its caricatures of grass-skirted Africans and Asians with, as the text describes, “eyes all a slant”
Here is the full text of today’s announcement:
Statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises
March 2, 2021
Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship.
We are committed to action. To that end, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, working with a panel of experts, including educators, reviewed our catalog of titles and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing of the following titles: And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer. These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.
Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.
The criticism of certain Seuss imagery is not new: In 2017, the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts removed a wall mural that included the “Chinaman” illustration from And to Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Geisel’s stepdaughter Leagrey Dimond favored keeping the mural in place to spark debate, but agreed that some Seuss images were “ugly caricatures.”
— InfoseekChina (@InfoseekChina) October 8, 2017
Geisel, whose works have, in general, largely been interpreted as humanist and even anti-establishment, came to regret his World War II-era political cartooning for its racist depictions. His great-nephew Ted Owens told The New York Times in 2017, “I think he would find it a legitimate criticism, because I remember talking to him about it at least once and him saying that things were done a certain way back then. Characterizations were done, and he was a cartoonist and he tended to adopt those. And I know later in his life he was not proud of those at all.”