Six Dr Seuss books cease publication over racist and insensitive portrayals

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<span>Photograph: Erin McCracken/AP</span>
Photograph: Erin McCracken/AP

Publication of six Dr Seuss books will cease, the company that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said on Tuesday, due to their racist and insensitive portrayal of people of color.

Dr Seuss Enterprises said it would cease publication of 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.

It made its decision, it said, after hearing feedback from teachers, specialists and academics and working with a panel of experts to review the work of the famous children’s author.

Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in 1904 and died in 1991. More than 600m copies of his books are in circulation, earning Dr Seuss Enterprises about $33m before tax in 2020, up from $9.5m in 2015, according to the company.

Forbes listed Dr Seuss as the second highest-paid dead celebrity of 2020, in part thanks to multimillion-dollar film and TV deals but mostly because of sales of his books.

“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,” the company said on Tuesday.

And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street has been criticized for including “a Chinese man with sticks”, who has two lines for eyes and can be seen holding chopsticks and a bowl.

If I Ran the Zoo depicts two men, described as being from Africa, wearing grass skirts and carrying exotic-looking animals.

Dr Seuss Enterprises said the books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong”.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA Dr Seuss.
Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA Dr Seuss. Photograph: AP

While Dr Seuss remains a beloved figure in children’s literature, his legacy has come under increasing scrutiny from parents and educators.

Research has shown that children as young as three can form racial biases, and those biases become fixed by age seven.

In 2019, a widely cited study by an academic from the University of California, San Diego and the founder of the Conscious Kid Library, found that just 2% of Dr Seuss’s human characters are non-white, and the vast majority are portrayed in a way that perpetuates racist stereotypes. The study also found a marked lack of women and girls in the books.

“Minimizing, erasing or not acknowledging Seuss’ racial transgressions across his entire publishing career deny the very real historical impact they had on people of color and the way that they continue to influence culture, education, and children’s views of people of color,” the authors wrote.

Dr Seuss Enterprises said it decided to stop publishing the six books last year but made its decision public on Tuesday, Read Across America Day, an event to promote reading in children and teenagers and aligned with Dr Seuss’s birthday, 2 March.

The National Education Association (NEA), which coordinates Read Across America Day, has switched from using the day to celebrate Dr Seuss to focusing more on diverse books. The White House has also distanced the day from Seuss.

In 2016, Barack Obama marked the “birthday of one of America’s revered wordsmiths [who] used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear.

“… he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations.”

Two years later, Donald Trump said Americans should “remember the still-vibrant words of Dr Seuss: ‘You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.’”

This year, however, Joe Biden left out any reference to the author. The omission prompted complaint on the political right, where concerns about so-called “cancel culture” are rife.

A headline on the Fox News website, for example, read: “Biden erases Dr Seuss from ‘Read Across America’ proclamation as progressives seek to cancel beloved author.”

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