If I Ran The Seuss

Alexis Williams reads a book at the Child Development Center during Read Across America week. Photo by Airman Holly Mansfield (USAF)

The latest outrage is that the Theodore Geisel estate is pulling publication of new copies of six of his titles. They are “If I Ran the Zoo”, “And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”, “Scrambled Eggs Super!”, “McElligot’s Pool”, “On Beyond Zebra!” and “The Cat’s Quizzer”.

Unless you’re a hardcore Dr. Seuss fan, you’ve probably only seen two of those, “If I Ran the Zoo” and “And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street”. The first of those titles was a staple in zoo gift shops for decades, which likely contributed to its continuing sales. The second received an extra measure of attention because it was Geisel’s first published “Dr. Seuss” book. Written in 1937, it had been revised in the 1970s to change text from mentioning a “chinaman” into “a Chinese man”. The stereotypical cartoon image was considered offensive then, but not especially so; rather, concerns during the era tended to be that there were too many male references and not enough female. The other four books are obscurities, kept in print mainly to satisfy completists.

While there were a few Dr. Seuss books for adults, overwhelmingly Geisel’s body of work was aimed toward children. For that reason, some people are particularly sensitive about stereotypical depictions – particularly negative ones – and thus these six books are being removed.

As far as them being banned, it is generally inaccurate. The books are still present in many libraries and on many bookshelves. There are many libraries throughout the country which have removed them and refuse to restock them, though. So there is a limited measure of truth to the notion of a ban – just enough to confuse the issue, for those who wish to do so.

Another concern is that President Biden refused to specifically promote Dr. Seuss today, on “Read Across America” day, while President Obama and President Trump consistently did. On this point, I say: Thank you, President Biden.

Let me explain: I don’t like Dr. Seuss. I was not allowed to read most Dr. Seuss books while growing up, and I continued this policy with my daughter. She has well over a thousand books in her bedroom, has read most of them, and of them there have been at most four from Theodore Geisel.

I don’t like Dr. Seuss because he makes up words, which seems like the exact opposite of what should be taught to young children. I don’t like Dr. Seuss because he creates new creatures and diverts kids from learning about established myths. I don’t like Dr. Seuss because he slams kids over the head with morals as if they were too vapid to understand even the most basic of implications. For kids who found the behavioral warnings of the Brothers Grimm too obscure, there was Dr. Seuss.

To continually single him out as the default children’s storyteller has grated upon me for decades. (I freely admit to being a Richard Scarry fan in that regard, as well as some of the little golden books like Danny and the Dinosaur and The Pokey Little Puppy, and of course Edgar Allan Poe for the advanced readers.) My daughter, as it developed, favored none of the authors I loved when I was growing up… no Mad Scientists’ Club, cursory interest in Encyclopedia Brown, no Beverly Cleary… but she developed her own loves in Ursula Vernon, Nick Bruel and Dav Pilkey. There are hundreds of great children’s authors available, and to constantly elevate one above all others has seemed fundamentally unjust.

So, maybe I’m simply the exact wrong person to find horror in failing to mention the Seuss books today. I’m certainly an appropriate person to consider book availability and the marketplace. I am also, considering my long-standing concerns about overreaction and the very active attempts to push some legacy authors out of the public eye by accusations – often invalid – of improper behavior, an appropriate person to gauge concerns about “cancel culture”.

The question is: is Dr. Seuss being “cancelled”? The answer, simply and emphatically, is “no”. The majority of his books remain in print and promoted above other titles in libraries and reading clubs throughout the world. Cancelling is when there are calls to remove not simply an offensive work but everything that a creator made. That happened more in the 1970s during his brouhaha with prominent feminists than is happening today. All that’s happening is six of his books are going out of print for children and a whole bunch of people are whining.

I should probably end this piece with a pseudo-clever quote of a Dr. Seuss line, but I really don’t give enough of a damn. Give me a minute and I’ll go find my daughter’s old book of Hello Kitty haiku; the poetry was better.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.