• Sheila Cordner

    Sheila Cordner is a College of General Studies senior lecturer in humanities; she teaches children’s literature. She can be reached at scordner@bu.edu.  Profile

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There are 15 comments on POV: Why Halting Publication of Six Dr. Seuss Books Is the Right Call

  1. I am the son of a WW2 veteran. One brief conversation I will never forget I had as a teenager with my father was when I wanted to buy a Japanese car. You see, my father was a decorated WW2 veteran [combat medic in the battle of Okinawa and Leyte Gulf, and in the fleet headed for Japan before the Enola Gay attack]. When he refused to buy any car from Japan, I said he needed to “get over it”. He looked at me, never said a word, and walked away. He never did “get over it”, nor did many of those who served back then. [Watch the movie HACKSAW RIDGE.] In History parlance, the problem is “presentism”. Failing to teach a subject in its context tends to erase the good, bad, and ugly aspects of what can be learned from it. And Dr. Seuss is for all ages, not just kids. But do most people ever have those “hard conversations” with their kids when they get older, as you suggest they should, or do those lessons, like the books themselves, disappear from the dialogue? I hope you do have that conversation with your kids as you suggest. Back then, kids who had WW2 veteran parents had “hard” conversations growing up, especially when you also get a draft card at age 18. Context matters, because “getting over it” doesn’t work. I know.

  2. As t big fan of the Dr. Seuss titles that are still being sold, I have a question. When I read “books depicting either white main characters or animals and nonhuman objects—such as trucks—made up 71 percent of all books published, leaving little room (29 percent) for books depicting any main characters of color (11.9 percent Black, for instance, and 5.3 percent Latinx)”, am I supposed to conclude that animals and other nonhuman objects like trucks have a race, and that the race of a truck might marginalize other races? Although the appearance of trucks in children’s books might not be portrayed in a gender neutral fashion, I can only wish it might. However, as a seemingly ignorant white male, I never imagined trucks would be an issue of race, and it seems like I’m missing something.

    1. I feel that the intention of that statistic was to show how small the percentage of main characters of color is in relation to all other children’s books, which include both white main characters and animals or nonhuman objects. I don’t think it was to say that animals or nonhuman objects have a race, but rather to count the existence of books featuring them as a rather large percentage of children’s books. I do think that it would have been better to split up that statistic into white main characters and animals/nonhuman objects because that would allow for an actual comparison between the percentages of white and nonwhite main characters. The current statistic seems to be manipulating the data to make it seem like the amount of nonwhite characters is much smaller than the amount of white characters, when in reality the large number of books featuring animals or nonhuman objects might make those two categories much closer in number. That is not to say that there is enough representation of nonwhite characters – rather, even if there were equal numbers of white and nonwhite main characters in children’s books, there should still be more nonwhite characters because the world is majority nonwhite. However, I wish that the article had made that clear and not resorted to manipulating data.

  3. What will be banned next? The Bible or the Declaration of Independence written by dead white men?
    As a first-generation immigrant, I am appalled that a bunch of academics, self-proclaimed intellectuals and bureaucrats make decisions on what books we should read and which should be removed from print. Mein Kampf and Mao’s Little Red Book are on sale on Amazon. I guess overzealous fanatics decided that Dr. Seuss is a much greater threat.

  4. Burn the books!…………..Take a look at the history of censorship, the silencing of speech, and the resulting totalitarian governments, both far left and far right. The thought police, looking for anything “offensive” regardless of medium, time or context, now set the agenda in the USA. Who decides what’s acceptable and what’s not? Very scary.

    Would be nice if this post isn’t “cancelled”, but I guess we’ll see.

  5. Even with the best of intentions, censoring and banning literature sets a dangerous precedent and begs the question, “what next?”

    There are lots of books currently published that are offensive to certain segments of society. We can choose what we wish to read and avoid what we don’t. Parents have the responsibility of overseeing a child’s reading material and should make the time to discuss any objectionable content.

    We need to remember that children’s literature was written throughout history by people with different mindsets and values that change over time. While there is always room for new and diverse voices in literature, this doesn’t mean that we should eliminate older books that provide insights into characters’ lives and actions that were different from our own. Some of these actions may be abhorrent to the modern reader but are still a part of our history.

    We cannot work toward a better future if we obliterate our past.

  6. Absolutely ridiculous. Poor argument structure too. Simply put, this is an instance of people who are SEEKING to be offended by something, not actually BEING offended by something. Just a few years ago, we had former president Obama celebrating Dr. Seuss for teaching an entire generation of children how to read. Obama’s remarks remain true to this day. How many of you grew up reading Dr. Seuss? I bet over 90%. My next question is, how many of you became MORE RACIST after reading one of Dr. Seuss’ iconic books? Here is the answer: ZERO. Zero people have become more intolerant towards the Asian community after reading a Dr. Seuss title. Additionally, where are the voices from the Asian community about how they feel about the situation? It seems like you have a group of white academics telling minority groups how they should feel.

    Here is the main takeaway: If we are going to stop publishing and reading Dr. Seuss books to our children because of how they depict a cartoon individual, why should any book (regardless of genre) be acceptable in today’s society if that book depicts another race with a stereotypical feature? Should the book ‘Bitch Planet,’ a text required in gender studies 101, be verboten because one of its main characters is an overweight Black woman? Aren’t ALL cartoons a stereotype on some level? How could you understand a cartoon if there were no indications of what the character is like?

    Here is my alternative: let’s start making kids books without ANY illustrations of ANY person at all. We should just use colorless blobs so we don’t risk offending anyone.

    1. Although I feel like your sentiment isn’t misplaced, let me ask you this. You ask how many of us become more racist after reading Dr. Seuss, and clearly no one becomes a racist after reading Dr. Seuss. A reach, at the very least. Surely no one reads Dr. Seuss and becomes a brazen racist– but that’s not the point. These racist caricatures are what perpetuates the normalized racism and discrimination against Asian-Americans. Surely children who see a disgusting caricature like the one in Seuss’ Mulberry Street won’t think anything of it. And that’s the point. It becomes okay to grow up with depictions like this. Sure, no child becomes a racist, but it certainly doesn’t help that they’re not taught that depictions like these are distasteful and offensive.

      You say that it seems it’s just a bunch of white academics telling a minority group how they should feel. So what if I, as an Asian-American, find this distasteful? Are my feelings invalidated now since there wasn’t some “white academic” telling me how to feel? Besides, I understand Seuss’ time was different (like you and many others commented), so I don’t take personal offense; honestly, I get it. But it seems awfully hypocritical of you to tell anyone else what is and isn’t offensive… kind of like you’re telling a group how to feel. And on top of that, I know plenty of people who are offended, among those adults who grew up in Seuss’ time. So are their opinions invalid as well, since they lived in his time and surely they understand that it was a different time?

      To your point about Bitch Planet, the point of that graphic novel series is a feminist portrayal of womens’ and POC womens’ systemic oppression, so don’t you think the point is a little lost to attack a purposeful portrayal of a POC woman of whom is “overweight”. Also, you say all cartoons are stereotypes, “how could you understand a cartoon if there were no indications of what the character is like?”. You’re completely right! And that’s why no one questions the Who’s in Whoville, and the talking Cat in the Hat, or the Grinch, or any of Seuss’ other characters! They’re fictional, but we all have a pretty good idea of what they’re like, don’t we? So how does an inaccurate depiction of an Asian-American tack onto your argument? Last time I checked, Asian people don’t walk around with yellowed skin and pigtails, unless you’d like to mention any rare sightings.

      In fact, the author explicitly mentioned that she would read her children Seuss’ other famous pieces, like Green Eggs and Ham. So will I. I grew up on these books and I love them to this day. But if you can’t see past the fact that racist depictions are worth criticizing, then I ask you to reflect on what it is you’re truly angry about. Is it “cancelling” Dr. Seuss? Or is there something deeper?

  7. “Eliminate?” “Burn?” “Ban?” “Cancel?” None of these terms accurately describe this situation.

    When did we lose the ability to understand nuance? The title of this article states clearly that the organization is “halting publication.”

    1. Thank you, Patrice. The estate of the authors is choosing to stop further production. There is no banning, burning, or censorship. If only the non-racist Dr. Seuss books could teach reading comprehension (and nuance).

  8. Sadly, many of the critical comments ignore the facts of what actually happened. No one banned any book. No censorship here. The complaint, “I am appalled that a bunch of academics, self-proclaimed intellectuals and bureaucrats make decisions on what books we should read and which should be removed from print.” Does the the writer of this comment know (or care) about the facts of the case? No “self-proclaimed intellectual or bureaucrat appears in this story.

    The facts are that Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the private entity that controls the rights to publish Dr. Seuss material, decided to stop selling six of their older books which were not only poor sellers, but contained material which it did not want to distribute any longer. It continues to distribute 54 Dr. Seuss books. This is a example of corporate responsibility, free of government interference. All free-market conservatives should be the first to defend the right of a private business to decide what it sells, just as they defend the right of private bakery owners not to sell wedding cakes to gay couples.

    If a toy maker had made and sold “action figures” that portrayed racist, insulting stereotypes of Jews, Muslims, African- Americans and voluntarily decided to stop selling these items, it would not constitute what the right-wing calls “cancel culture.” Rather it is a responsible business decision.

    Of grave concern to me is that many of the negative comments to this article are so unrelated to the facts of the case, and full of “boilerplate outrage.” This is the staple of current conservative discourse. When House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, read Green Eggs and Ham to demonstrate how silly it is to stop selling Dr. Seuss books, it was not clear if he knew this book was not one of books Seuss Enterprises would no longer publish, or if he calculatedly decided not to read and show the illustrations from one of six books which many viewers would find offensive. He had no interest in sticking to the facts of the case, but rather wished to whip up uninformed outrage

    One of the goals of education is to enable people to analyze issues based on facts, and to not treat unlike things as alike. Hysterical and overheated reactions to benign actions has become the norm. It needs to stop and be replaced with informed discourse and debate.

  9. When Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess) was 13 years old, America declared war on Germany. (World War I). Overnight, the people of Ted’s town of Springfield, MA, began to shun his family. You see, they were German Americans. Ted spent a very lonely adolescence taunted and avoided by his peers. Books in German were removed from the local library. Apparently idiotic censorship is not a new phenomenon. It must have been tough for Ted. I don’t suppose he ever “got over it,” any more than our World War II veterans “got over” the atrocities they saw in the Pacific at the hands of the Japanese. It is thought that Dr. Suess wrote “The Sneetches and other stories” as an anti discrimination book because of his background. (Sneetches with stars on their bellies discriminate against those who do not have stars.). People are products of their time, their era. When Ted Geisel was a journalist, we were at war with Japan. There were many stories of atrocities in the Pacific. (Ask your Filipino friends what happened in the Philippines.)Things change. We cannot look back and judge people from the past through the high and mighty lens of this “enlightened” era. I wonder what they will say about us in 100 years. They will probably call us the idiots who tried to erase the past.

  10. I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. There are hundreds of thousands of books for children, there is nothing wrong with the dated or less relevant ones fading out and being replaced to make space for newer ones. The same things happen with movies, music, TV shows, technology, etc.

    Eventually, it even happens with history and science: kids today have to learn 20 years more history than I did in school, it’s entirely possible Teapot Dome got lopped out of the textbook to make space for 9/11. That’s life.

  11. I am very happy that you have brought attention to this topic. As a kid, I loved Dr. Seuss. In fact, even as a young adult, I still found his books fun to read. Just a few years ago, I bought my little brother some of Dr. Seuss’s collections like “The Big Red Book of Beginner Books”. But now as a pre-service teacher in an educator preparation program that focuses heavily on social justice and advocacy, I’ve been forced to come to terms with the fact that just because a book was one that I loved as a kid does not mean that it is the best one to use with my students.

    I do not want to give space in my classroom to books (and an author) that overtly present racist and discriminatory themes. In children’s literature, there is a term called “windows and mirrors”. It refers to the need for students to both see themselves reflected in the books they are reading as well as learn about other people through these books. I can’t say that I want any Asian students in my classroom to see the caricatures in “And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street” and believe that represents who they are. And I can’t say that I want other students in the class to think that it is okay to view Asians in such a negative light. I say this especially as a person of Asian heritage themselves.

    You say that you will continue to read some of Dr. Seuss’s books like “Green Eggs and Ham” which I assume contains no overt “problematic” messaging. Of course, this is your choice entirely; however, for me, I don’t see why I would highlight the work of an author who clearly had beliefs that go against the principles of love and acceptance I hope to teach in my classroom when there are other books out there by authors much more deserving of a spotlight in my classroom.

    You brought up the own voices movement – a movement I have been playing close attention to as I collect books for my future classroom library. I wonder – why would I read my students “Oh, the places you’ll go” when I could read them “I Am Enough” by Grace Byers which highlights young, black girls learning self-love? If I want to teach my students literacy skills like repetition, why would I read them “Green Eggs and Ham” when I could read them “Please, Baby, Please” by Spike Lee? If I want to teach my students math skills like counting, why would I read them “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” when I could read them “Just a Minute” by Yuyi Morales?

    When it comes to teaching children whose young minds pick up on even the smallest of details, I don’t think upholding tradition is worth the risk of perpetuating the racism and discrimination our world is currently fighting so hard to do away with – especially when new, modern books are tackling complex issues better than “traditional” books ever could.

    Thank you for prompting me to look for alternatives to the books of my childhood that have not withstood the changes our world is undergoing.

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