The Cancellation of Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss’ literary estate pulls six early books for questionable content, setting off a political firestorm

Citing “hurtful and wrong” content, the business that manages Dr. Seuss’s literary estate said March 2 it would no longer publish or license six of his early books, setting off a cascade of hand-wringing from conservative circles.

The statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, released on the author’s birthday, said the group decided last year to cease publication and licensing of the books after reviewing Seuss’s catalog with a panel of experts, including educators. The announcement came on Read Across America Day, a reading program of the National Education Association originally scheduled to coincide with Seuss’s birthday that in recent years has sought to widen its scope.

The books going out of print are Seuss’s 1937 debut, And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, along with If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer.

“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the March 2 statement noted, echoing years-long criticism of Seuss’s depiction of Asian, Black and other marginalized communities in his books, as well as his earlier cartooning and advertising work.

Dr. Seuss

Right-wing Twitter erupted, especially after President Biden failed to mention Dr. Seuss during his Read Across America proclamation.

“If Dr. Seuss wanted to #DefundThePolice, his books wouldn’t be getting canceled,” huffed Ohio Republican U.S. Rep Jim Jordan on Twitter. Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz dubbed the move “asinine” before tweeting out a Cat in the Hat-themed birthday wish. North Carolina Republican and accused harasser Madison Cawthorn castigated the decision during a morning FOX TV appearance, later tweeting, “Apparently Dr. Seuss books are now offensive and Democrats are trying to cancel publication of anymore (sic) of his books. This has to be a joke.”

And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street includes Asian characters drawn with slanted eyes and pointed hats who eat “with sticks.” In 2018, Dr. Seuss Enterprises removed a mural based on those images at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss museum in Springfield, Mass., after complaints. During World War II, Seuss drew cartoons for the New York newspaper PM that supported internment camps and featured racist caricatures of Japanese Americans.

Black characters in If I Ran the Zoo have pot bellies and thick lips. Seuss’ early cartoons often depicted Black people as monkeys, and some used racial slurs.

The six books included in the March 2 announcement aren’t the only ones that have come under fire in recent years. One of Seuss’ most popular titles, The Cat in the Hat, reinforces minstrel stereotypes with its oversized top hat, floppy bow tie and white gloves, some scholars argue. In Loudoun County, Va., school district officials urged its educators to distance their celebrations of this year’s Read Across America day from Seuss themes due to such concerns, which inevitably led to a required public explanation.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises said ceasing sales of the books is only “part of our commitment and our broader plan” to ensure Seuss books are more inclusive. Sellers, meanwhile, were already hiking prices of And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street on Amazon a few hours after the announcement, although no new copies were available for sale. One other possible ripple effect? Universal Orlando theme park’s Seuss Landing attraction, part of which is based on If I Ran the Zoo. The park said in a statement March 2 it had removed the books from shop shelves and would be “evaluating our in-park experience too.”

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Sharyn Vane

Sharyn Vane has reported and edited at newspapers in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Florida and Texas. For the last decade she has written about literature for young people for the Austin American-Statesman.

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