Children’s books. Photo: pixabay.com

Children’s books. Photo: pixabay.com

Lit Column: No, Dr. Seuss Has Not Been Cancelled

“It is essential to also think of the child who pulls the book off the shelf in a library and sees a painful, racist caricature of themselves on the pages. Certainly, their childhood experience is just as important as yours?”

By Saara Itkonen, the chief librarian at the Creston Public Library.

No, Dr. Seuss Has Not Been Cancelled

Last week for bedtime reading with my daughter, I picked up a collection of Dr. Seuss tales that my father had gifted me when I was younger. The book had followed me around during many, many moves over the years and I thought my daughter was now at an age where she might enjoy the rhyme, silliness and longer length of a Dr. Seuss story.

The first (and shortest) story in the collection was “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” which I began reading with my daughter until we got to the page that depicts a racist caricature of a Chinese person. I stopped the story and pointed out the racist caricature to my daughter and let her know that it wasn’t okay, and why, and that this was an old book that maybe shouldn’t be read much anymore.

Lo, and behold, Dr. Seuss Enterprises – the legal body in charge of making business decisions about Dr. Seuss’ works and preserving his legacy – announced earlier this month that they will no longer be publishing several of Dr. Seuss’ titles because of their racist imagery which “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Among the six titles that will no longer be published is “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”, the very book I had just been reading to my daughter.

Many conservative media outlets have been quick to claim that Dr. Seuss is the latest victim of “cancel culture” run amok and that publishers and libraries are censoring free speech. Nevermind that it is Dr. Seuss’ own estate that is choosing to stop publication and that it only includes six of his less-popular titles and none of his bestsellers (such as the “Cat in the Hat”, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, or “The Lorax”). Nevertheless, the announcement resulted in a recent rush of Amazon sales of the more popular Dr. Seuss’ titles, none of which were on the list to cease publication.

That’s the thing about children’s literature and beloved children’s authors. Our experience of their work is tied to childhood nostalgia, which is a powerful thing. Perhaps when you think of Dr. Seuss you remember a parent or grandparent, a teacher or friend, reading a particular story to you and it can be difficult to now have those memories tainted with the ugliness of racism.

But it is essential to also think of the child who pulls the book off the shelf in a library and sees a painful, racist caricature of themselves on the pages. Certainly, their childhood experience is just as important as yours? Especially if they are still a child and you are now an adult.

In their press release, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said, “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalogue represents all communities and families.” As a long-time children’s librarian, I’m happy when publishers make decisions to be more inclusive. However, this is also a smart business decision when you consider that criticism of the racist images in Seuss’ work has been mounting from teachers and librarians for some time and sales of Seuss’ books totalled $33 million (US) last year.

It’s also important to understand that the titles that are published or added to a library do not remain static over time. For instance, I adored Tintin comics when I was young. Along with Asterix, they were the only comic books available in my local public library and I read them over and over and over. However, anyone who has read Tintin lately knows that as beautiful as much of the artwork can be, Tintin’s Belgian author, Hergé, illustrated people of colour through the lens of the racist, colonial ideas of the time.

When I arrived at Creston Library, I moved the Tintin, as well as Asterix (sexist, racist) comics from the children’s section to the adult collection because it’s important for parents to know that these images aren’t benign and require more conversation for children to understand the context they were created in.

And, unlike when I was a child, there are SO many other comics being published now – comics that represent a diversity of voices, images, and themes that reflect the diversity of our world’s community. At a time when the publishing world is experiencing a great deal of change and flux, children’s and teen publishing is exploding with beautiful books that are creating a new generation of classics for young people.

Large public libraries can only afford to purchase a small percentage of all the books that are published in any given year, and the Creston Library can only afford an even smaller percentage of that! So, we regularly weed out older books, discarding titles that aren’t popular anymore or refraining from purchasing new copies of books that have worn out. We do it all the time because part of our job is curation of our materials to best meet our communities’ interests and needs. And curation is not “cancel culture.”

Just Posted

Tammy Bradford, manager of the Creston Museum & Archives for the last 23 years, wants to welcome visitors to check out their exhibits and programs this summer. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Creston Museum encourages summer visitors to check out programs and activities

After some temporary closures of indoor exhibits due to COVID-19, the museum has re-opened to welcome visitors

Daryl Jolly, his wife Kerry Pagdin, their sons Cole Jolly (left) and Graeme Jolly, and their dogs Gracie and Clover. Photo: Submitted
Selkirk College arts chair diagnosed with lung cancer, family launches fund drive

Daryl Jolly co-founded the college’s digital arts program

Nasukin Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band poses under the mural in the administration building. The mural depicts past elders David Luke, Wilfred Jacobs, Isobel Louie, Charlotte Basil, and Louis White. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Lower Kootenay Band announces cross-border COVID-19 vaccine clinic

In partnership with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the clinic will be held on National Indigenous Peoples Day

TELUS is proposing to construct a 5G tower at Pople Park. Photo: Sheri Regnier
First 5G tower in Trail proposed for placement in popular park

TELUS has a consultation process open until June 28

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine

White Rock’s Marine Drive has been converted to one-way traffic to allow more patio space for waterfront restaurants. (Peace Arch News)
Province promotes permanent pub patios in B.C. post-pandemic plan

More than 2,000 temporary expansions from COVID-19 rules

Lake City Secondary School Williams Lake campus students Ethan Reid, from left, Brenden Higgins, Ty Oviatt, Kaleb Alphonse, Nathan Kendrick and Landon Brink with RCMP officers Const. Nicoll and Const. Stancec. (Photo submitted)
RCMP thank 6 teens for helping prevent forest fire in Williams Lake

The students came across fire in a wooded area and used the water they had to try and extinguish the flames

There is an emergency shelter near the Golden Ears peaks. (Facebook/Special to The News)
Hiker fogged in on Golden Ears, spends 2 nights

Talon Helicopters, Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue bring him home Monday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

Lindsay, Isla and Ethan Fischer & Maddie, Everly, Ray and Jessica Pressacc of the Tadanac Residents Association along with Aron Burke (Kootenay Savings Community Liaison) Kootenay Savings file
Kootenay Savings Foundation continues community support

The Kootenay Savings Foundation has once again handed out their twice a… Continue reading

Most Read