Why Some Americans Call the Dr. Seuss Books ‘Racist Garbage’

Theodore Geisel would have turned 114 years old on March 2 — his trove of literature remains under fire

The celebrated children’s writer and illustrator Dr. Seuss, whose actual name was Dr. Theodore Geisel, died in 1991 at age 87.

His birthday is March 2, and this year he would have turned 114. The recent controversy surrounding his work, though, would probably have boggled the mind of one of America’s most imaginative children’s writers. His treasure trove of work has come under pretty serious fire.

“The Cat in the Hat” seems completely innocuous — even hilarious — to ordinary humans who’ve read it aloud, much to the delight of gleeful children. It’s a staple in American homes, schools, and libraries, as is the rest of Dr. Seuss’ work.

Some not-quite-ordinary folks don’t see it that way at all, though. They’re bent, in fact, on the notion that a better title might be “The Cat in the Hate” — since its author was evidently some sort of evil monster who harbored a secret hate for children, particularly those with diverse backgrounds.

That’s right. Lest we forget, theoretically well-meaning social justice warriors have declared war on Dr. Seuss.

In a curious development one can only guess must be financially driven, Target is now taking a stance that is leaving liberals’ mouths agape. Not exactly a paragon of conservative values, Target — instead of joining the crazed ones who are demonizing Dr. Seuss — is celebrating his work.

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And in a big way, too. Target’s Hat’s Off to Reading event is slated for March 3, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. The nationwide event includes in-store read-alongs and assorted fun activities for kids.

“Join us for story time with a big-book version of ‘Green Eggs & Ham’ & take home some fun freebies, like an activity book & a Dr. Seuss’s ABC poster with stickers,” the Target website says. “Don’t forget to take a ‘Seussagram’ to share with the hashtag #HatsOffTarget,” the store adds.

Target is offering an exclusive line of Dr. Seuss-themed apparel for the event. In addition, it’s got a Dr. Seuss’ biography with exclusive content, and the 70 Seuss titles carried in the Target stores will be on sale, too.

So Target’s not holding back. Others, however, are definitely holding back. Big time.

In a Monday post in the openly liberal National Education Association’s (NEA) Educators in Action section, the country’s largest, oldest teachers union announced a diverse lineup of authors slated for its Read Across America Day live event.

Read Across America Day has long been tightly associated with and scheduled alongside Dr. Seuss Day. In this year’s most recent post about the celebrated event, Seuss was relegated to only a cursory mention. Last year, in contrast, was NEA’s Read Across America’s 20th anniversary.

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Last year, NEA proudly announced among its featured events, this one: “The kids will also be visited by The Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Thing Two and will listen to the classic Seuss tale ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’ read by NEA president Lily Eskelsen García.”

So what changed? Why do the NEA and its Read Across America project appear to be distancing themselves from Dr. Seuss?

A response on the NEA event’s Facebook page may shed some light. In it, a respondent last week asked, “But is the NEA dropping the Seuss branding? Because that’s my issue. I can’t promote that racist garbage (Seuss) to children or other fellow educators.”

Another commenter this week took a much more reasoned approach. That commenter said, “My research says that while Seuss did have some pretty awful opinions and work early in his career, he later changed his tune, declared that he felt differently, and created some very progressive texts later in his career. While I hear what you’re saying, because the old-school stuff is awful, I also think someone openly saying they’ve decided to do better now that they know better — that they’ve changed their tune and were then trying to do better things in the world — is actually a very good example for our kids.”

The NEA’s response was quite telling. “Thank you for your valid concern. We are working to create a nation of diverse readers, which is why we are having this event. Feel free to send questions to these award-winning authors. Find out more about what we are doing this year for Read Across America.”

Translated to realspeak, this means: “Yeah, we think he’s a total racist, too. But we’re trying to make up for that by diverting your attention to some awesome diverse authors we’re featuring. Don’t bother emailing us with your complaints.”

Read Across America, an event that was once largely about celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday, suddenly has changed its tune.

It’s important to note that the authors the group is featuring are, indeed, an incredibly talented lot. That isn’t the point, though. The point is that Read Across America, an event that was once largely about celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday, suddenly has changed its tune.

In fairness, the NEA has still retained a good bit of the Seuss branding. Several themed items are available in NEA’s Read Across America web store, for example. And the logo and some promotional materials feature the classic “Cat in the Hat” character in his iconic red-and-white striped stovepipe hat.

One likely culprit driving the NEA’s shift away from Seuss may be a hotly debated incident from last fall. Near the beginning of the school year, Liz Phipps Soeiro brazenly, defiantly, rudely, and publicly snubbed Melania Trump’s gift of several Dr. Seuss books to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, school in which she was working as a librarian. She claimed Seuss was a racist.

The press went wild. The school later informed Soeiro that she did not have the power to decline the gift, but the damage had been done.

In the wake of the wild flurry of outrage (from both sides) that followed, Soeiro — formerly extremely active online in children’s literature-related social media circles — suddenly went dark. Her Twitter account disappeared, for example. Further, she hasn’t penned (at least not under her own name) any other work in School Library Journal since the date she published the rude “Dear Mrs. Trump” letter five months ago on their site.

Hats off to Target for openly celebrating Dr. Seuss. At least it has the integrity to honor the man for his very real contribution to children’s literature — even if the store is probably doing it to rake in as much consumer cash as possible.

(photo credit, article image: Dr. Seuss, CC BY 2.0, by ayoub.reem)

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