Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
podcast_1400-MiddayEdition.jpg
KPBS Midday Edition Segments

6 Dr. Seuss Books Won’t Be Published For Racist Images

 March 4, 2021 at 10:25 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Six books and the catalog of famed children's author, Dr. Seuss will be pulled from publication for containing racist and offensive imagery though. Dr. Seuss writer, Theodore Geisel, a long time resident of the Hoya died 30 years ago, his books remain influential and widely read. Joining me to discuss the decision to cease publication of these books is the San Diego union Tribune writer. John Wilkins, John. Speaker 2: 00:25 Hi Jade. Thanks for having me John Speaker 1: 00:28 Books from the Dr. Seuss catalog will cease publication. Speaker 2: 00:32 Well, so there are six of them and they're, um, you know, none of them are particularly well known, uh, books of his, but, um, you have the very first one that he wrote, which was, and to think that I saw it on the Mulberry street and then the other one that's probably, uh, uh, kind of well-known by readers is called. If I ran the zoo, then the others are McElligott pool on beyond zebra scrambled eggs, super. And then the cats quizzer, which is kind of a compilation book that asks kids a bunch of questions. Speaker 1: 01:04 Talk about what's in these books that prompted the decision to end a publication. Speaker 2: 01:09 Well, the, uh, the Mulberry street book, the first one, uh, it has a Chinese character. Who's wearing a pointed hat, carrying chopsticks and a bowl of rice. Uh, if I ran the zoo has drawings of nose ring wearing Africans and a verse about Asian workers who all wear their eyes at a slant, um, scrambled egg super has, uh, some stereotypes about Arabs. So it's that kind of thing. Speaker 1: 01:34 What's your sense of why this decision is being made now? Speaker 2: 01:39 Well, this has been an ongoing discussion, I would say, maybe in the last, uh, five, six, seven years among scholars and educators who have taken a harder look at some of these things in his, uh, in his early work. And, uh, made, made some decisions about whether this stuff's appropriate or not. And Seuss enterprises, which controls, uh, Ted Geisel's, um, catalog put together a panel of experts to go through the entire catalog. And they made a decision that these were the ones that, uh, Susan enterprises no longer want to offer for sale. So, you know, now are going to go back. They're not pulling them out of libraries or schools or anything. They're just not going to sell the books. Moving forward. Speaker 1: 02:22 Theodore Geisel who lived much of his life in LA Jolla has had an enormous influence on the San Diego community. Do you think this decision will cause some to rethink his legacy here? Speaker 2: 02:33 Well, I mean, yeah, it's a complicated legacy. I mean, he has 40, almost 50 books. His books are about 10% of his total catalog. They're not that particularly well, most well-known or influential. So I think, you know, it depends on how people want to react to it. Um, we'll see if they, if people take a sort of a complicated and, um, reasoned look at it in which they try to evaluate everything he did or whether they want to, um, uh, sort of dismiss this entire work. Uh, I think we'll just have to see how it plays out. I mean, I think he, as an offer himself, he tried to make some amends for some of his earlier work, which he himself was embarrassed by. And, um, I think he probably is somebody who would have welcomed this conversation. Speaker 1: 03:18 Some scholars argue that some of Geisel's work like the cat in the hat are rooted in similarly racist. Characatures like minstrel shows and blackface. Do you think critics and scholars will continue to reanalyze his catalog through the lens of race? Speaker 2: 03:33 I do. And I think, uh, I think Seuss enterprises said in their statement on Tuesday when they announced this decision that they had, this is an ongoing effort on their part to make sure that his catalog is inclusive. So I do think they'll look at it and the cat in the hat will be a really interesting one to me to see how that plays out over time. Because at, of course it's a, probably his most famous book, uh, and in any way, in many ways it's most influential it's, that's the book that kind of chased a Dick and Jane out of the schools as the primary use to teach kids how to read. So it will be interesting to see that one that book does have, as you said, uh, a lot of connection to blackface caricatures, you know, you get the white gloves, you've got the Johnny hat, John T hat, you know, he's an outsider, a con man, those are all characteristics that were part of those characters way back in the day. So we'll have to see how that, um, how that plays out over time. Speaker 1: 04:24 Where does the decision to pull these books sit with the larger reckoning we're having as a society about recognizing racism and art and media from the past? Speaker 2: 04:33 I think it fits right in with that racial reckoning that we're seeing going on all over the country, you know, decisions about to rename buildings, to take down statues kind of thing. I think it fits in with that. It also fits in with a much wider discussion that's been going on for decades about, uh, uh, diversity and representation in children's literature, you know, for a long time. Um, if you were a child of color, you had a hard time finding any books that had people who looked like you. And of course that raises all sorts of difficulties for children growing up. If they see books without them in them, you know, what does it make them think about where they fit in society? So, uh, there's been an ongoing effort in children's literature to expand the number of books that, uh, include, uh, images of people of color, but also the number of books that are written by people of color. So it fits, uh, this, this dialogue, uh, that they're having now fits into that broader discussion that's been going on for some time. Speaker 1: 05:34 What has the reaction from the San Diego community been to this decision? Speaker 2: 05:38 I think it's been mixed. You know, you see, uh, I received a number of emails from people who dismiss it as political correctness or cancel culture, but I've also received emails and phone calls from people who welcomed the change, you know, uh, people of all, um, our understanding of, of, uh, media that came out decades ago has, has evolved as well. And, uh, I don't, uh, some other people think, you know, we shouldn't be stuck in just, um, accepting things as they were written back then. And we should, uh, we should look at him through the new lens. So it's, it's been mixed. You know, the union Tribune ran a poll, uh, catch to the, my story, which asked folks whether they thought the name of the guys, a library at UC San Diego should be renamed and a, um, opinion I think was quite overwhelmingly opposed to changing the name of the library. Speaker 1: 06:31 We've been speaking with John Wilkins staff writer for the San Diego union Tribune. John, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me.

Ways To Subscribe
MiddayEd_generic-new_xTZBGBA.jpg
The business that preserves and protects Dr. Seuss’ legacy has announced it will stop publishing six titles because of racist and insensitive imagery.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments