Dr. Seuss’ whimsical stories have educated and entertained generations of children. But many of his books are now being pulled for depicting racially insensitive images.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which works to preserve Seuss' legacy, recently announced six of his books will cease publication, including “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and “If I Ran the Zoo.”
Juanita Giles, founder and executive director of the Virginia Children’s Book Festival, learned about the racist imagery from a friend who saw the illustrations while reading to her granddaughter. When Giles borrowed the book to see for herself, she was stunned.
This reckoning on Seuss’ work has been a long time coming, she says. While Seuss’ entire canon won’t be thrown out, Giles says the people she’s spoken with about the news have had emotional reactions because it’s difficult to grapple with a beloved figure perpetuating racism in their work.
The six discontinued books display more overt racism, but many of Seuss’ works also contain more subtle acts of racism, such as mostly white imagery.
But Seuss isn’t alone in perpetuating this. Giles says the children’s book industry is still lagging on providing diverse books that feature people of color. Daily exposure to diversity helps children see themselves and experience differences in their world.
“I would say to parents and grandparents, there certainly is a place for classics, but the diverse books are out there and the more we purchase them or check them out at the library, the more there will be,” Giles says. “If we drive the demand, then there will be more diversity in children’s literature.”
In terms of how to handle racist imagery in books in the moment, Giles discusses it on the spot with her children. Although it’s important to remember when a book was written when it comes to insensitive material, Giles says it’s incumbent for parents, grandparents and teachers to give children context.
“It is a teachable moment for children.” she says, “and it’s really important not to let that go by and let that be absorbed into the child without addressing what that’s in there in the first place.”
Full Transcript Of This Conversation:
This segment aired on March 2, 2021.