Reading Across America: Was Seuss Racist?

Dr Seuss birthdayRead Across America is celebrated each year on March 2, the birthday of Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel.  For years, Dr. Seuss has been the go-to book for early readers–books that kids loved and would actually read.  Recently, Dr. Seuss has fallen out of favor with  many educators because of the way he portrays people of color.

In a study published earlier this month in Research on Diversity in Youth Literature, researchers Katie Ishizuka and Ramon Stephens found that only 2 percent of the human characters in Seuss’ books were people of color. And all of those characters, they say, were “depicted through racist caricatures.”

Last year when Melania Trump tried to give some Dr. Seuss books to  the Cambridgeport Elementary School Library in Cambridge as part of National Read Day on September 6, the librarian turned the gift down because she considered the books to be racist.  These books were the same titles that Melania had read to her son when he was young.   This was the first (but not the last time) I heard about Seuss as a racist.

Seuss is supposed to have have written “an entire minstrel show in college and performed as the main character in full blackface.”  And Suess wasn’t even a politician….

Seuss is not the first American children’s author who has fallen out of favor because of racism.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, the long time popular author of the Little House series, was labelled a racist last year because of the way her books portrayed Native Americans.  Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has long been on and off banned book lists for years.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been contested for many reasons. Some readers object to the strong and sometimes racist language and think it’s inappropriate for children. However, most educators think given a proper context the book is a great read.

When is the right time for child to read books that many percieve to be racist?  Does the child need to be old enough to understand that harmful stereotypes are not true and may be hurtful?  In the case of Dr. Seuss, could his books that feature animal characters and not humans be more acceptable?  ( I have heard of people who think that Cat in the Hat is racist so that may not be a suitable idea either.)

Do you think that Seuss was a racist and should not be taught to children?



Read Across America–Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

March 2 is Read Across America Day.  It is also (not coincidentally), Dr. Seuss’s Birthday.

Dr Seuss birthdayFrom the NEA website:  In cities and towns across the nation, teachers, teenagers, librarians, politicians, actors, athletes, parents, grandparents, and others develop NEA’s Read Across America activities to bring reading excitement to children of all ages. Governors, mayors, and other elected officials recognize the role reading plays in their communities with proclamations and floor statements. Athletes and actors issue reading challenges to young readers. And teachers and principals seem to be more than happy to dye their hair green or be duct-taped to a wall if it boosts their students’ reading.
Have you ever tried your hand at writing a  Dr. Seuss style story?
All the ‘Hoos in Hooville attend UVA
But the Whos from Whoville had something to say.
“Who is the real Who”” they did cry and fuss
“Should it be You or Should it be Us?”
Your hoo is a Wahoo- a fish who can drink
Twice it’s own weight without having to think
While we are created by Dr. Theodore Seuss
A very smart man, in touch with his Muse.
The ‘Hoos responded with true Wahoo zeal
Jefferson’s our founder and his words are real.
He wrote the Declaration of Independence.
Not fictional characters of dubious residence.
Our foes are quite legion like our rival at Tech
You just have the Grinch, though he put you through heck
We each have our issues and this is quite true
But you also have Horton, who once heard a Who.
Each group had its huddle, the crisis to solve
The wisest expounded with learned resolve.
Who is the Hoo?  Is it you?  Is it me?
They finally decided to just Disagree.
What are you doing to celebrate Read Across America Day?
1)  Read to a child, whether it’s your own or a neighbor’s.
2) Support your local literacy program.
3) See if you library has a story hour and if they need any help.
4) Donate a new or gently used children’s book to a book sale, a fund drive, or a charity of your choice.
5)  Give an appropriately aged book for birthdays, Christmas and other gift giving occasions. Time has a list of the 100 Best Children’s Book.
Amazon, your child’s teacher, or a librarian can also offer several suggestions
For more information about Dr. Seuss, click here.

Banned in Boston (or at least in Cambridge)

It seems a fitting end to Banned Book Week that a librarian, Liz Phipps Soerio at the Cambridgeport Elementary School, has refused Melania Trump’s gift of several Dr. Seuss Books that were offered on National Read a Book Day, September 6.  The Washington Post carried the story yesterday.

According to the Post,  “Seuss’s illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes,” librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro wrote in a letter to Trump on Tuesday.”

“The 10 books on the list are: “Seuss-isms!”; “Because a Little Bug Went KaChoo”; “What Pet Should I Get?”; “The Cat in the Hat”; “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”; “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”; “The Foot Book”; “Wacky Wednesday”; “Green Eggs and Ham” and “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”