Holding on to Dr. Seuss

Some thoughts about the Dr. Seuss kerfuffle that we should try to hold in our heads all at once:

  • The images in the six discontinued books are undeniably problematic, racist caricatures. To continue to go on acting like they aren’t is dishonest.
  • No one “cancelled” Dr. Seuss. The decision to stop publishing this six (rather minor) titles was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, founded by Seuss’ late wife.
  • Dr. Seuss was a visionary author and artist who was also a product of his times. His work as a political cartoonist, and his interest in social commentary, inevitably meant he was addressing controversial and popular topics, especially in the political work he did around World War II. Like many cartoonists and authors at the time, he caricutured and ridiculed America’s enemies in the war, especially the Japanese, in ways that today are clearly racist and unacceptable. However, judging a man who died over 30 years ago, and who worked in the middle of the last century, by today’s standards is unfair to him and a poor way to address art created in the past. Are these images problematic as they are observed and interpreted today? Yes. Does this make Dr. Seuss an unredeemable figure for us to learn about and from today? No.
  • Dr. Seuss was – and is – a powerful voice for a progressive, peaceful and clean world, who wrote against racism, bigotry, war, isolationism and pollution through out his life. I’ll quote here from his Wikipedia page:

Geisel made a point of not beginning to write his stories with a moral in mind, stating that “kids can see a moral coming a mile off.” He was not against writing about issues, however; he said that “there’s an inherent moral in any story”, and he remarked that he was “subversive as hell.”

Geisel’s books express his views on a remarkable variety of social and political issues: The Lorax (1971), about environmentalism and anti-consumerism; The Sneetches (1961), about racial equality; The Butter Battle Book (1984), about the arms race; Yertle the Turtle (1958), about Adolf Hitler and anti-authoritarianism; How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), criticizing the materialism and consumerism of the Christmas season; and Horton Hears a Who! (1954), about anti-isolationism and internationalism.


Anyone who cares about these issues can find a powerful ally in Dr. Seuss and a great teaching tool in his books. We would be foolish to completely dismiss him and his work because he was a product of his times. I look forward to continuing to read his books to my kids, and in doing so, teaching them about the beautiful vision of a better world found in the work of Seuss.

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