November 20, 2017

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Is the Cat in the Hat Racist? Read Across America Shifts Away From Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books

For 20 years, Read Across America has been synonymous with youngsters wearing red and white striped hats sitting down for story time on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. But this fall, the biggest national literacy awareness program, sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA), will be shifting its focus toward a year-round promotion of diverse children’s books. It’s a change resulting from both a heightened awareness of representation in kid lit, as well as growing scrutiny of racial imagery in the work of the beloved children’s book author.

Katie Ishizuka has been analyzing Seuss’ body of work for the past year. Ishizuka [a cousin of Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ’s executive editor] and her husband, Ramon Stephens, founded the Conscious Kid Social Justice Library, a subscription service which sends its subscribers monthly shipments of titles featuring multicultural characters. Stephens is a Ph.D. student in education at the University of California at San Diego, home to the Theodor Seuss Geisel Library, where he first came across a collection of the cartoonist’s early work—World War II political cartoons, featuring slurs and racist drawings of Japanese Americans, portraying them as a danger to nation.

Ishizuka, whose grandparents and other relatives were sent by the U.S. government to internment camps during World War II, was very upset. “My grandmother was fired from her job at Seattle schools [and] then incarcerated,” she says. “This had real impact on my personal family. Thinking about how widely beloved and celebrated Seuss is as an author was another blow.”

In March 2016, Ishizuka wrote a piece on the website Blavity about Seuss’ anti-Japanese cartoons, along with work that used the N-word and depicted blacks at a slave auction or rendered to resemble monkeys. She also pointed out images portraying Middle Eastern men as camel-riding sultans and women as hyper-sexualized harem dwellers. But what Ishizuka found even more troubling were racist images hidden in plain sight in Seuss’s popular picture books. Ishizuka, who holds a Master’s degree in social work, conducted a critical race analysis of 50 children’s books by Seuss and found that 98 percent of the human characters were white, and only two percent were people of color.

The Cat in the Hat and blackface minstrelsy

“In addition to how people of color are portrayed in his children’s books through Orientalist and anti-Black stereotypes and caricatures, they are almost always presented as subservient, and peripheral to, the white characters,” concludes Ishizuka in her study. She points out that the Cat in the Hat, perhaps Seuss’ most famous character, is based on minstrel stereotypes. “The Cat’s physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirrors actual blackface performers; as does the role he plays as ‘entertainer’ to the white family—in whose house he doesn’t belong,” says Ishizuka. She isn’t the first scholar to point out racial stereotypes in Dr. Seuss’ picture books. Kansas State University English professor Phillip Nel recently published a book Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism in Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books, which examines The Cat in the Hat’s roots in blackface minstrelsy.

However the cat, along with his striped headwear, is also associated with Read Across America, just as Clifford the Big Red Dog is synonymous with the literacy organization Reading is Fundamental.

“One of the reasons we partnered with Seuss 20 years ago in 1997 was to kick-start this program,” says Steven Grant, a NEA spokesperson, who has also managed the Read Across America program since 2005. “That was the strategy up front, so kids would see Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat and spark some attention.” The program has successfully reached children nationwide; Grant estimates that 45 million students and teachers take part in Read Across America events each year.

Dr. Seuss cartoon from UC San Diego Library collection.
Copyright unknown.

But not all families think the author should be celebrated. In March, two Japanese-American children in South Pasadena, CA, saw their school’s Dr. Seuss Week in conjunction with Read Across America as a chance to educate their classmates about the cartoonist’s role in fanning fears that led to the internment of Japanese Americans. “Their teachers and administrators shut them down, wouldn’t allow them to hand out the flyers, and told them school was not the appropriate place for that,” says Ishizuka. “To me, this was alarming and represented a serious racial justice issue.” Ishizuka also points out that black children may feel uncomfortable going to school on Read Across America Day. “It’s very dehumanizing for black children to be expected to wear one of those hats.”

In April, Ishizuka sent a copy of her 43-page analysis, along with a compendium of diverse books resources,  to the NEA, which organizes Read Across America.  “Last year was the first year in my 14 years [with NEA] that I had seen so much bubble up as far as concerned interests,” says Grant, who praises Ishizuka’s recommendations for suggested authors and partner organizations to bring wider representation to the event.

Even before Ishizuka sent the material, NEA’s Read Across America advisory committee (comprised of teachers, education support professionals, librarians, and others) had already been discussing issues surrounding Seuss’ early work, based on Richard H. Minear’s 2001 book Dr. Seuss Goes to War, which critiques the cartoonist’s early political drawings, including the anti-Japanese works.

Grant adds that that for the past two years, the NEA board has already shifting Read Across America’s mission towards promoting diverse literature and reaching a broader range of readers.

Ishizuka and Stephens emphasize that they’re not trying to ban Dr. Seuss. “It’s not about reading or not reading certain books, it’s about raising awareness around the social and systemic bias that such books promote,” says Stephens. “Dr. Seuss and whiteness is a reflection of the overwhelming silence in literacy regarding matters of race, especially with both young people and white people.”

This fall, for the 20th anniversary of the program, Read Across America will place greater emphasis on year-round literacy with its annual calendar. In its 10th year in print, the calendar features monthly book recommendations along with online resources. The 2017–18 calendar features the theme of “Building a Nation of Diverse Readers” and gives monthly suggested titles for elementary, middle school, and high school students. For example, September’s choices include All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, and The Distance Between Us by Reyna Grande. Read Across America will also be highlighting literacy events, such as El día de los niños/El día de los libros. NEA will distribute 80,000 calendars.

NEA to offer $60K in grants for diverse books

Grant says raising exposure for diverse books is one thing, but putting them in the hands of educators is another. “In a lot of cases, the teacher has to buy the books with her or her own money,” he explains. During the 2017–18 school year, NEA will award $60,000 in grants for diverse books. Over the past two years, the organization gave a total of $250,000 in funds for diverse books, thanks to a contribution from Walden Media and the Weinstein Company. Reading is Fundamental will also offer digital resources to accompany the calendar, and First Book and the publisher Lee & Low Books will provide diverse titles at a discount for Title I schools.

Like the story of the black-and-white cartoon cat, the NEA is finding that something that started off as whimsical fun might be challenging to put back into a box. Grant says Read Across America has never required participants to use Seuss material, but “after 20 years, it’s easy for some folks to just pull Seuss stuff off the bookshelves from last year.” The annual Read Across America Day event may be hard to untangle from its mascot, particularly since the annual event takes place on Dr. Seuss’ birthday. The Read Across America logo —along with all the event merchandise sold on the website—features the black-and-white feline sitting on top of a silhouette of the United States.

Since 1997, the NEA has contracted with Seuss Enterprises for the rights to use the images without royalty fees. The current agreement runs through August 2018. “This is really going to be a transitional year for us,” explains Grant. “We’re going to be trying different things and moving in some different directions to see if that works.” That could include collaborations with other authors or illustrators to re-brand Read Across America Day to appeal to a more diverse student body. “The goal is to encourage the educator, because we can’t force him or her to do anything.”

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Comments

  1. The interesting point along this line is that in ‘The Cat in the Hat knows A Lot About That’ tv show, the young male character is dark skinned (his mother seems to be from the Caribbean), while in the books he was white (if I remember correctly).

  2. Georgie Camacho says:

    Not sure I’m ready to jump on any bandwagons. My first reaction was “ridiculous”, but after reading the article, it seems Ms. Lynch has well-reasoned/researched argument – it’s not ridiculous at all. Hard to wrap my mind around the shift in thinking, but that’s ok. It always takes time to process.

    My initial thought in reading the heading of the article was that changing the Read Across America to encourage more diversity is an excellent way to encourage diversity in publishing and children’s reading.

    Thanks for all the great work on the article and the food for thought.

    • Charlotte Ballard says:

      Agreed–every word!

    • actually she only provided half truths about Dr. Seuss and if anyone did their own research they wouldn’t be so inclined to buy into her version…..so ill provide a well written — well balanced — no details left out version of Dr. Seuss, the good, t he bad and the ugly. After reading THEN making your decision on where you stand on him and the author who wrote the article above. https://freshwriting.nd.edu/volumes/2015/essays/can-we-forgive-dr-seuss

    • So my father, who was drafted into the Military and had to kill Japanese people, not because they were JAPANESE, but because they had attacked HIS nation on December 7, 1941, is racist?! Obviously you all have had it so good, so long. It is sad what happened to Japanese Americans. It was also what was felt necessary to win against enemies like Hitler and Hirohito. It seems so totally wrong today, and I do not know of all the particular details. I DO know that my own family was German and Irish. There were many cartoons about the Germans, too. That’s not racism, that’s propoganda. Many of the German named streets in my native city were changed to non- German ones. I don’t think a damn soul in my huge family felt that was racist. My family’s sacrifice was blood and death in both Europe and Japan. The sacrifice the Japanese Americans made was to sit out the war in an internment camp, perhaps a better deal in the long run because they didn’t die in the war, but had their lives interrupted. Some of my family members had their lives interrupted permanently, and did not ever return from distant shores. There is nothing racist in the portrayal of even the cartooning of Japanese people in the given cartoon- look at photos from the time. All must sacrifice to win a war of the magnitude of that one. Internment was the sacrifice Japanese Americans had to make. Others had to go and lose life and limb. These cartoons helped to influence a nation to understand who they were fighting. It was about WAR, not racism. Hirohito would have had no trouble killing everyone in the internment camps. There were 33,000 Japanese Americans that served in WW2. 800 of those died. Italians here who had not been naturalized were also evacuated from California-10,000 of them. 257 were in internment camps. Joe DiMaggio’s father lost his job because of the government crackdown, which included nightly house arrest and not being allowed to travel more than 5 mikes from home without a travel permit. This also included unnaturalized Germans. Wartime is a time of hysteria, some justified, some not. However, even Hitler, and Mussolini and Hirohito made plain these were Americans they were killing, not Germans, Italians or Japanese. They cared nothing about where you had originally come from. War is a sad condition of governments against governments, not peoples against peoples.

      • Wow, your comment is amazingly ignorant, privileged and offensive. Your comment, which actually unintentionally supports the argument that US CITIZENS of Japanese descent were treated equally or worse than non-naturalized Europeans, is full of logical inconsistencies, and reveals your attempt to assuage the guilt over the wrong the US Government and most (but not you) of our society has acknowledged. It was flat out WRONG for the government to send its citizens, who had never shown any signs of disloyalty, to internment camps because of their ethnicity, all to appease people like you who can not separate race from character (read some historical books about Axis agents attempts to spread their own propaganda and counter the Allied war effort within the US and maybe you can see who was the bigger threat ).

        Additionally, the way you throw out the statistic of Japanese Americans who served and died in WWII as a number that marginalizes their contributions to the war effort is truly disrespectful to those who gave everything they had, all while their families were locked up in camps by the country they were fighting for. Americans of Asian descent owe them a debt that cannot be repaid, and I will not abide you marginalizing their sacrifice, especially when you invoke your father’s actions as if it imparts some moral authority to you. One last thing, your father was drafted. These men volunteered.

        • Niihau incident

          • AL:

            Proving what that only ethnic Japanese are not to be trusted? Or that genes are more motivation than residency in an US territory? Or that, yes there were Japanese spies in the Hawaiian island?

            Or what because there are spies of Japanese ancestry, all Japanese were best interned?

            Do you apply the same logic to German Americans in NYC?

            I’m seeing some problems with your leap in logic.

      • You are absolutely correct! My 92 yr old WWII Veteran Dad vouches for you! The leftists think that just because most of those Vets are dead, that they can brainwash young Americans by changing historical facts to false myths that propagate their Communist agenda. But most of these brave men have taught their children and grandchildren well!! Black, white, German-American, and Asian-American!! All of them experienced Communism and made us wise to it and how it is brought into a country. We know the signs. That’s why Trump was elected President. ANYTHING was preferred over Hitlery!
        If there were any truth to this accusation of Dr, Seuss (a very liberal Democrat) being racist, then his accusers should be proud to see how he later did a lot of anti-racism cartoons, then later on the Cat In The Hat series about colorful diverse animals, not any racial propaganda, that is absolutely ridiculous!

        • My reply was to Brian P.

        • “But most of these brave men have taught their children and grandchildren well!! Black, white, German-American, and Asian-American!! All of them experienced Communism and made us wise to it and how it is brought into a country.”

          How did they “experience Communism”? Also by what measure was Hitler, or is Hillary Clinton, a Communist? Do you have any concept of what the term means?

        • Jeff Mcneill says:

          > “That’s why Trump was elected President.”

          Wrong. Trump was elected president because of Russian interference, FBI director idiocy, racist and sexist Americans, and of course the billionaires who fund their own tax breaks by buying politicians and “alternative” media.

          • Those conspirators knew what they were doing, huh? Actually a lot of people voted for Trump just because he is not a career politician. It’s as simple as that.

      • I agree

      • I agree with Julie Carr

    • Jack Atherton says:

      What utter nonsense. The children who read the books neither know nor have ever had any inkling about stereotyping of Japanese during WWII. Pure intellectual crap.

    • Cecil J Young says:

      I believe in CONTEXT, with History. Should all these things be therefore censored and scrubbed and put away into forgotten drawers? No! Celebrate the good, understand and educate on the bad and place it in its proper historical CONTEXT. These things should always be a reminder of our history good and bad. Wholesome and offensive, just as History itself is. It is only truth and record. Set the record straight, learn from it and leave it to our descendants to mull over.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head! You can’t change history–you learn from it. If Dr. Seuss learned from his mistakes, those revelations should be celebrated and imitated. If you malign people who have “seen the light”, there are no role models to look up to.

  3. Alicia Garbelman says:

    Children do not have the same frame of reference as historians and scholars. To say that “It’s very dehumanizing for black children to be expected to wear one of those hats” is to put adult consciousness into elementary school minds.
    I’m not suggesting that we ignore the past. We have the opportunity to make new choices and change the future for a more inclusive celebration of reading. Great! Let’s do it. But remember that our children deserve to see the whole picture with their own eyes and from their own perspectives.

    • That line about dehumanizing black children by having them wear Cat in the Hat hats is of interest to me. I don’t know whether it’s true, or whether it’s “putting adult consciousness into elementary school minds”. Certainly Geisel wrote some racist cartoons, and certainly more diversity in children’s literature is to be sought and applauded. But this particular point I find very uncertain. Would like to find out the underpinnings of the assertion.

  4. Thank you for highlighting this issue. While I hate to learn the dark side to Seuss, these things must be brought to light. While it’s true this may not be in the “consciousness” of children’s minds now… later in life they will question why the adults chose to continue. As a preschool teacher, I will be discussing that week with my fellow teachers and what we should do. But a suggestion for going forward next year as the contract runs out: Tomie DePaola. Beloved by all. Diverse. American. Bilingual. Etc ❤

    • I humbly suggest checking out the allegations made by the researchers cited in this article. Confirmation bias run amok. As for the man, Theodor Geisel not only also made cartoons promoting civil rights for African Americans and Jews way back in the 1940s, but he publicly recanted his cartoons, visited Japan and dedicated The Sneetches (strong anti-racism theme) to a Japanese friend.

    • Robin Mayer says:

      I ask you to first consider the following history and take the time to do your own research. Since the notion of Seuss being anti Japanese has already been address in several replies, I choose to move on to the more blatantly suppressed and hidden information regarding “racist” cartoons of black people and Arabs. The author has been kind enough to present you with a link which clearly shows illustrations drawn specifically as advertisements purposes. They are not, as Katie Ishizuka would have you believe, some political or racist viewpoint of Dr Seuss. Look closely at the mosquito ads. Your find the name “FLIT” written on the spray pump. Your reading assignment is this article https://wikivisually.com/wiki/FLIT. Malaria was very prevalent in the Middle East back then just as it is today. That’s why you have the Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation financing malaria vaccines in the far off parts of Africa. If Dr. Seuss were to illustrate and advertisement today for malaria vaccines, I believe he would have to draw pictures of Africans receiving vaccines. I don’t have enough time to research the rest for you, sorry. I do hope this help to clear some issues for you. Peace be with you.

  5. We all know about Theodor Geisel’s wartime cartoons. They have been discussed for years. And? How many people in the past harbored sentiments that would be criticized widely now? Are we going to purge history of all the authors, artists, composers and creators who are suspect?

    As for the idea that the Cat in the Hat is wearing a minstrel hat and gloves? Let’s ask Dr. Seuss if that is what he meant by it.

    Oh. He’s dead. So we don’t know what inspired him. He came up with all sorts of fanciful creatures and outfits. Perhaps it came from his IMAGINATION or was inadvertently inspired by minstrel shows but not intended to be a reference to such.

    Why do talentless people spend their time deconstructing and shaming artists from the past? Why do librarians and educators indulge this trend? The average American is horrified and baffled by this behavior. Stop it.

  6. Let’s review ALL the evidence and use some critical thinking, shall we? During the WWII era, Theodor Seuss Geisel made racially insensitive cartoons of Japanese and Japanese Americans (oh, and Germans, Nazi-sympathizers, Italians). Sad, yes, but not exactly shocking given the context. Noteworthy that no mention is made of his cartoons promoting civil rights for blacks and Jews and making fun of white America First racists and isolationists because the whole theme of this article is how Geisel was racist. We must ignore it because it doesn’t fit the invented accusation that The Cat in the Hat is a racist portrayal of African-Americans. Not surprising then that the cited “research” ignores how Dr. Seuss didn’t just issue an apology for those cartoons, but visited Japan in 1953 after which he publicly recanted his anti-Japanese views during the war. To top it off he dedicates Horton Hears a Who!, the theme of which is “A person is a person no matter how small” to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan.” So it turns out that Dr. Seuss is a wonderful example of ignorance being overcome by cultural understanding and racial reconciliation. One would think that would be something to promote in children’s literature. Sadly, the NEA and SLJ fell hook, line, and sinker for “analysis” rooted in confirmation bias that ignored the actual good, in order to promote a much more in vogue accusation like, Dr. Seuss books promote “social and systemic bias” because their “whiteness” is a conspiracy of silence about race. That false narrative betrays a shocking lack of knowledge of Geisel’s core beliefs as evidenced in Dr. Seuss books. The Lorax (environmental stewardship), The Butter Battle Book (absurdities of war), and, surprise, The Sneetches (a bold statement against anti-Semitism and racism). The NEA’s goal of promoting more diversity in children’s literature is a noble one. Allowing others to abuse that goal as a means to disparage the good name of Dr. Seuss with poor literary criticism because of an ax to grind or agenda, is intellectually dishonest and shameful.

    • Well said. Thank you.

    • Tween librarian says:

      Bravo!

    • Thank you so much for this answer.

    • Thank you. You have supported my thoughts with information. I am now a 30 yr. retired K/1 teacher who supplied her students with huge numbers of Dr. Seuss books to practice reading…along with over 1,000 other books, mostly science related, that I gave away to my students and the next teacher when I left teaching 3 years ago. While I can see the points made by the article, and think they are worthy of further discussion, I cannot fight against the power of his words for beginning readers. Who among us cannot quote parts of his rhyming, sing-song stories by heart…”I will not eat them with a fox, I will not eat them in a box. I will not eat them here or there. I will not eat them anywhere!”? The arguments seem to revolve a great deal around his artwork..but the words hold the greatest power.

  7. This isn’t anything to do with “racism” it has everything to do with destruction, anger and hate. These people aren’t anti racist, they are pro-chaos.

  8. Frank Rizzo says:

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

    • James Martin says:

      What Ian said had nothing to do with Liberalism or Conservatism but with critical thinking. I’m a liberal and pretty much completely agree with him. Go elsewhere for facile idealoguist posts, please.

    • Charlotte Ballard says:

      I should think this is the kind of comment that is not permitted in SLJ commentaries, Frank. This isn’t Facebook.

    • Robert Datz says:

      It’s too bad this comment had to fall among thoughtful ones that actually get away from the issue. Why not just tune into Fox News and refresh yourself if you want some real hyperbole.

  9. Mrs. Library says:

    This just proves anyone can make something out of nothing!

    I love Dr. Suess books and will continue to use them with my classes. Read the Sneetches.

  10. @Frank Rizzo, liberals — not leftists, liberals — have far more in common with conservatives than they have with leftists. This column is written from a leftist point of view, not a liberal one. Liberals operate from facts, not from feelings, and understand that it can only be feelings that would compel a view of Dr. Seuss as “centering whiteness” and drawing the Cat in the Hat as an example of minstrelsy. It is this kind of muddled analysis that leaves both liberals and conservatives in disbelief of those who see children’s literature as part of a struggle for social justice a.k.a. cultural Marxism.

  11. A person is a person no matter how small!

  12. Kelibrarian says:

    Well, I now know that SLJ is a racist organization. It’s so obvious! The eNewsletter is called “Extra Helping” and when I hear the word “helping” I think of Hamburger Helper, and the mascot for Hamburger Helper is what? A WHITE GLOVE! So. There you go. SLJ = racist.

  13. “He wrote a children’s book. Horton Hears a Who!, published in 1954, is about an elephant that has to protect a speck of dust populated by little tiny people. The book’s hopeful, inclusive refrain – “A person is a person no matter how small” — is about as far away as you can get from his ignoble words about the Japanese a decade earlier. He even dedicated the book to “My Great Friend, Mitsugi Nakamura of Kyoto, Japan.” http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/dr-seuss-draws-racist-anti-japanese-cartoons-during-ww-ii.html

  14. Leftists must be rejoicing that this calendar omits all the major religious holidays like Good Friday, Easter, Ramadan, and Yom Kippur (Christmas is there, but it is a national holiday too.). Extra rejoicing at the Engle ode to the people of Cuba, one of the western hemisphere’s worst human rights violators, where a magazine like SLJ and a Comments section like this would be banned by the state (not that Cubans can access the Internet at home, anyway).

    As for rejoicing by the rest of us, not so much.

  15. Presidential Proclamation — Read Across America Day, 2016 (proving that Katie Ishizuka knows much more about the cultural significance and racism of Dr. Seuss than former President Obama)

    READ ACROSS AMERICA DAY, 2016
    BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA A PROCLAMATION

    From a child’s first foray into the depths of a story to an adult’s escape into a world of words, reading plays an integral role in our lives. Works of fiction and non-fiction alike pique interest and inspiration and shape our understanding of each other and ourselves, teaching us lessons in kindness and humility, responsibility and respect. The moment we persuade a child to pick up a book for the first time we change their lives forever for the better, and on Read Across America Day, we recommit to getting literary works into our young peoples’ hands early and often.

    March 2 is also the birthday of one of America’s revered wordsmiths. Theodor Seuss Geisel — or Dr. Seuss — used his incredible talent to instill in his most impressionable readers universal values we all hold dear. Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasized respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations. And for older lovers of literature, he reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously, creating wacky and wild characters and envisioning creative and colorful places.

    Books reveal unexplored universes and stimulate curiosity, and in underserved communities, they play a particularly important role in prompting inquisition and encouraging ambition. Last month, the First Lady announced the launch of Open eBooks, a new project that will unlock a world of learning and possibility for millions of American children and provide over $250 million worth of reading material to students who need it most. As we work to get every child engrossed in literature, we honor the many people who devote their lives and careers to carrying forward this important cause — including our librarians, educators, and parents. We can all get lost in a good read, and we owe it to rising learners to give them the chance to experience that same enjoyment and fulfillment.

    Today, and every day, let us celebrate the power of reading by promoting literacy and supporting new opportunities for students to plunge into the pages of a book. As Dr. Seuss noted, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Together, we can help all children go plenty of places along their unending journey for knowledge and ensure everyone can find joy and satisfaction in the wonders of the written word.

    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2, 2016, as Read Across America Day. I call upon children, families, educators, librarians, public officials, and all the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

    BARACK OBAMA

  16. “Ishizuka [a cousin of Kathy Ishizuka, SLJ’s executive editor] and Stephens emphasize that they’re not trying to ban Dr. Seuss.”

    Oh no, of course not.
    They’d rather he be Unpersoned.

  17. Lona Sepessy says:

    This is purely a response comment not an analysis. I appreciate dialogue about these issues as so many different points-of-view provide a direct experience of the richness of diversity. But as happens all to often, initial replies are thought provoking and well-reasoned, followed by a descent into name-calling and a sarcasm that is not humorous and degrades the value of your point as well as sours the whole conversation. Self-monitor before clicking and ask yourself, “am I just venting,” or is my comment providing a new perspective and adding to the conversation. I soured on this conversation as the name calling and pigeon-holing began. Bring your best to your comments please.

  18. Cue the “Not Racist But…” Seuss fans complaining about political correctness and tainting the books they loved growing up. (Because, after all, they “turned out all right”.) The sun wouldn’t rise if they didn’t make it about them.

  19. I’m glad for the comments pointing out the full story. It’s good to know he regretted making those comics.

    There’s no real excuse, but I would also at least point out that in the case of a newspaper, the editor is looking for certain things/concepts. The political cartoonist doesn’t have free reign. When you create a book – you do. Hence, when judging someone, I believe it makes sense to put more weight on the latter in general.

    As for the Cat in the Hat.. he’s colored like a cat, is speaking throughout the book (so of course his mouth is mostly drawn open), and certainly isn’t subservient to the kids – he runs amok and the kids are worried about what will happen when their mother comes home to the mess.

    To me, this just falls under trying way too hard.

  20. I’m saddened by this article and very glad to those in these comments who have corrected the record. But before I go there I want to encourage us all not to attempt to shield our children or ourselves from the past because it offends us today.

    Should we stop watching Disney movies and Micky Mouse because the creator was a Nazi sympathetizer and a well known anti-semite? Yes, Walt Disney was not such a lovable hero once you learn about his political beliefs. But this does not deny him the contribution he made to the world. Is “It’s a Small World” not riddled with racial caricatures? Have you watched Dumbo lately and it’s blatantly racist images?

    What about our beloved Shakespeare, the ultimate wordsmith of all time? Is Merchant of Venice an anti-semitic work? Is Othello racist?

    I understand that the intent is to help to educate ourselves about alternatives today and not rely on older stereotypes for our children. But, judge content not on its author but it’s cultural significance and impact and it’s intrinsic value. Not everything in the past should be forgotten solely on the basis of a historical context and attitudes that are contrary to ours today. Sometimes things really are timeless because of the impact they’ve made and the genius minds behind them, regardless of what they did or felt at the time.

    Dr Suess encouraged generations to open their imaginations and think outside their world while at the same time teaching children that reading can be fun, and educational. Green Eggs and Ham teaches children to try new things even when they are absolutely sure they will hate them. Hop on Pop taught me, my siblings and now my children how to read.

    I don’t deny that Theodore Geisel may have been both prejudice or even intolerant of other cultures. He was a product of his time. But his work stands apart from this… and he as a person likely evolved in his attitudes over the years. The same MAY be said of Walt Disney. Certainly the legacy they both left behind has evolved beyond them. The Cat in the Hat movies, and TV shows today are anything but racist. Disney’s princesses have evolved too and the content on their TV networks is very diverse now. This is all reflecting changes in attitudes.

    The last point I want to make is we still have much to learn from Suess… just look at one of his latter books in the 1980s “the Butter Battle Book”. It’s still quite relevant today. Perhaps The current leaders of N Korea and United States would do well to read this story to remind themselves of what happens next.

  21. I was skeptical, but the moment I looked up a photos of minstrel, there was no doubt.

  22. An apology is due to Mrs. Trump

  23. What a great discussion of a very one-sided article!

  24. Laura Often says:

    This is one of the only times that reading both the article and the comments have been helpful to me. Lots to unpack here and to think about, but I think there is no argument that we should include more diverse book to our children and looking to add multicultural education any way we can. I know when I choose my book to read to the class on Read Across America Day I’ll be picking one from Mrs. Soiro’s list. Let’s keep learning, discussing and evolving.

  25. Andy Edwards says:

    “The Cat’s physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirrors actual blackface performers; as does the role he plays as ‘entertainer’ to the white family—in whose house he doesn’t belong.”

    Give me a break. *Even if* blackface was somehow an inspiration for The Cat in the Hat, which I really doubt, can you name a single racist or harmful thing about the book when considered in and of itself? I mean if you showed the book to a bunch of black people, do you really think they would have any complaints (except perhaps for the fact that the people in the book are white)?

  26. face it, these uber leftist will not be happy until they have labelled all whites racists, all blacks victims, all men rapists and all supporters of the 2nd amendment murderers. This Libertarian male wishes we could have just one day when people stopped attacking others and looked inward to find the demons and innocents still hiding in their own space….

  27. Its official, everything is racist if it is written by a white person. Do you know what the cat in the hat is? ITS A CAT!!!! Its not black or white, in fact its not even human. The author has started with over analyzing this and kept digging. These are children’s books, all they see is a cat. If you want to you can make anything sound racist.

    Sometimes a cat is just a cat.

  28. Richard gozinya says:

    Jesus is anything safe from the SJW madness?

  29. If we are going to deconstruct The Cat In The Hat in that manner, then don’t we also need to cite Jewish comics such as The Marx Brothers and Ted Healey and his Stooges as proto-Cats for their style of havoc? Doesn’t Thing 1 and Thing 2 bear resemblance to Harpo Marx in facial features, hairstyle and mischievous silence?

    Likewise, aren’t mishappened hats, large floppy bow ties and white gloves the hallmarks of turn-of-the-century circus clowns as well?

    My criticism here isn’t to claim that mistral images are not part of Suessian characters, but rather to question if such elements are not part of a composite of stock elements for such characters as The Cat, and not particularly intended to invoke association with minstrels.

    The notation that Dr. Suess books lack diversity in their human characters seems fair. However, I have difficulty seeing Dr. Suess’s non-human character as racist projections. They seem no more racist than they are anti-Semitic, which is to say not at all.

    All of THAT said, it is perfectly fair for the NEA to promote children’s literature that is more diverse than Dr. Suess. Hopefully such recommendations will be equal to Dr. Suess’s well loved rhymes.

  30. Runita Jones says:

    I don’t know what I want to say, we have become a nation that beats each other up. I thought this forum would be devoid of name calling and I see that it is not. So I fully expect to be called all sorts of names by some factions, but I don’t care anymore. I am black and I did not see the minstrel imagery in the Cat in the Hat. I was not offended by the hat-it reminds me of tap dancing (attack tap dancing and I will come at you fast!). That said, I will let my students read Dr. Seuss because I have found that most reluctant readers love his stories and they were more familiar with than I – I never read them as a child. That said, I am thankful for the information and I am very much appalled by Seuss’s wartime cartoons. But he also wrote books that championed the little guy – I was going to use the Sneetches along with Julius Lester’s Let’s Talk About Race to discuss racial issues as some of my students made disparaging remarks about black people. I didn’t because the curriculum got in the way. At any rate, I am glad for the push for more diverse reading because that also interests my reluctant readers. I make it a point to have a multicultural array of books in my classroom and will keep Seuss’s books on the shelf too. I don’t know…beloved art forms such as tap, which was appropriated from my culture, and Dr. Seuss are under attack and I think they can co exist, especially since Seuss seems to have atoned for his transgressions. Aaagh! I made no sense!

  31. Theodore Geisel was a Roosevelt liberal who survived the Depression by drawing cartoons. During WWII he helped create propaganda against Japanese and Nazis and isolationist Americans like Charles Lindbergh (think Steve Bannon and his fascist Italian philosopher hero). The Cat in the Hat was published in 1957. The Supreme Court didn’t hear Thurgood Marshall’s arguments against segregation in schools until 1954, just three years earlier. So in 1957 a liberal left-wing cartoonist is supposed to be racist against Afro-Americans because maybe he was influenced by the racist stereotypes of the 1920s when he was growing up in Massachussets? Prove it. The anti-Japanese cartoons were propaganda, for which, p.s., he later apologized. The rest is hypothetical. Prove it. And if we forget context, we forget history. If we forget history, we can’t learn from it.

  32. Sorry, but the case presented against Dr. Seuss on this site doesn’t impress me, and for these two reasons:

    1) Yes, I know all about Theodore Geisel’s racist anti-Japanese caricatures. After all, this was the “Greatest Generation,” which, as we all know, killed millions of Japanese, Germans, and other races (isn’t it funny that we blame Geisel for drawing sinister pictures, but not our fathers and grandfathers for shooting and bombing entire generations of civilians?). But I also know that Geisel later regretted his early work and went out of his way to apologize for it. His children’s books represent a pretty obvious body of reparations, in my opinion, since they are devoted to justice, equality, and profound subversion. So I’d say this point is both cheap and ignorant.

    2) “The Cat in the Hat” is reminiscent of minstrel shows. Okay, who the hell nowadays has ever seen a minstrel show? I taught American history for years, and also told my students about minstrel shows, but the only one I ever saw was in an old movie from the 30s starring Judy Garland and Mickey Roony (I think). The visuals of ancient minstrel shows are of no relevance to any child alive today, and to very few adults. I’m also VERY skeptical that a man like Geisel had racist minstrel shows in mind when he wrote his children’s books. Any critic who has to pretend to find a link between the Cat in the Hat and Jim Crow is pretty desperate, I would say.

    If you don’t like Dr. Seuss – or resent him for his success – create something better. Case closed.

  33. One can read racism into everything given the motivation (excuse the pun). Looking at the books objectively, I can find no evidence of racism, only that which exists in the small minds of those with an agenda.

  34. There is a point to this article but if one listens to music our children listen to, those lyrics are dehumanizing. The lyrics talk about drugs, violence and abusing women. Spreading literature is not

  35. It doesn’t bother me that Theodore Geisel drew propaganda posters during World War II. It’s what people did to win a difficult war against a brutal enemy. The internment and confiscation of property of Japanese Americans was unjust, but was understandable because at the time the Roosevelt Administration didn’t know how many were fanatical supporters of Hirohito.
    All this other stuff is nonsense. There are no “white” characters in his books. “Oh, the Cat in the Hat is a peripheral character.” Boo Hoo! Grow up!
    No one ever got a racist message from his books because they were not racist. You only think that because you do research to try to dig up dirt on him. Would the children bother to do that! I think not.
    Leave the children alone to enjoy these books in their innocence as they have done for generations.
    Forgive, forget, and move on!
    Stop ruining America by stoking the fires of racial resentment and division.
    Stop your moral preening!
    Dwelling on other’s sins in not productive.

  36. Honestly, it is frustrating to hear about the Cat in the Hat as being characterized a minstrel figure when he clearly does not look or act like an entertainer. His curious dress looks like it was fashioned to appear similar to a 19th Century travelling storyteller. To show he is a true 19th Century gentleman, he wears white gloves just as Mickey Mouse does. He dons a 19th Century curiously red-striped stovepipe hat that looks like it would match a red and white-striped Breton shirt originally worn by the French Navy in the 19th Century and was later worn in the early to mid-20th Century by artists and intellectuals. His hat always reminded me of a chimney-sweep’s hat when I was a child, but it also looks like a carpetbagger’s hat and he also carries an umbrella which could double for a 19th Century gentlemen’s (or carpetbagger’s) walking stick or cane. The umbrella looks worn which indicates he is well-traveled. His red tie looks a bit like a Kentucky Colonel’s tie but it appears improvised, as if tied from a piece of cloth that was found. He almost looks like a travelling hobo to me who enjoys telling stories. His mannerisms do not at all seem like African-American caricature and his primary mission is educational, not singing songs or dancing, making people laugh, or trying to act subservient, scared, nor overstated and/or inappropriately overemotional, the way a minstrel character would be forced to act in front of a white audience in order to make a mockery of himself and appear to be a funny buffoon to merely entertain and always make the white audience feel superior.

    It is unfortunate that the author was asked to draw propaganda cartoons by the U.S. Government that contained the stereotypes that were common during World War II of the Japanese. Walt Disney and also Warner Brothers did the same with Looney Toons cartoons for the War Department at the time. I just don’t see any indication that the Cat in the Hat is some type of a coded racist character. Someone said that they thought his mouth “hung down” or something like that. The author drew a lot of his character’s mouths that way. Once it became known that Dr. Seuss created WWII images for the war, should the rest of his work should be discredited and erased from view, Soviet Politburo style? I hope the NEA and others don’t feel this way. President Obama and I love Dr. Seuss books and they sparked my imagination as a young child the way only a few books did. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was amazing and so was Bartholomew and the Oobleck. The imagery and lessons really were entertaining and made me think about the world. It would be sad to think about a world without Green Eggs and Ham or the Lorax, given the environmental issues that exist today.

    I hope others stick up for this great children’s author. If this were even 15 or 20 years ago, his widow Audrey Geisel would probably go on a speaking tour but I’m afraid at her age, that isn’t possible. They both have given the world so much and it just seems like a shame.

  37. This article is non since and the author should be ashamed of herself. Although my children are almost grown now, I do still have one in college. She has to fight everyday for her beliefs against the leftist propaganda taught in the schools. As a scholar you should be ashamed for not just letting children be children. I’ve walked into many kindergarten and first grade classes over the years and NEVER saw racist children. They have always read Dr. Suess, and they still werent racist. CRAZY!! How dare you push your small minded left adgenda onto them at a time when they should be learning to read and write not learn that everything is racist. Once everything is racist… Then nothing ia racist and you sound like a moron.

  38. What a sad world we live in right now the judges people from history who have passed based on one moment in their lives. Was Dr. Seuss not allowed to evolve? Are we all not allowed to evolve? I don’t like what he did in World War II either. But I love the messages he sent later in life in his books The Sneetches, The Butter Battle Book, and many others. I hope that someday when I die I am not only judged for the mistakes I made when I was younger. We as a nation have to stop looking at people in just one moment of their time on this Earth and proclaiming them “good” or “bad”. Ridiculous. At some point, we have all been both. Instead look at the timeline of their life. Look at how they evolved, look at how they grew and changed. Otherwise, none of us are going to get out of here looking good enough to have been deemed a “worthy” member of the human race…

  39. It could not be more clear that neither Ms. Phipps Soiero nor the authors of this article, nor the people behind this justice reading movement, nor many of the people commenting here, have any connection to schools that serve anyone but priviledged White children. One would never read the books that Ms. Phipps Soiero suggested in her alternate reading list in Hornbook, to actual diverse school children. No child could possibly feel welcome, or happy, at a school where the teachers and the librarian constantly remind them that they must always keep in mind that somebody might, for instance, come take their parents away to prison. In fact noone would ever read these books to small children who would see themselves in the stories, because they’d be waking up screaming with nightmares, and their parents would soon put an end to it.

    It’s almost as hard to see any other children feeling happy in an environment where they only hear dark and scary stories, day after day.

    I did some work on Elizabeth Phipps Soiero’s ancestry, since it occurred to me she and I might share the same ancestors. She is descended from Rev. Samuel Parris, the severe, dark, angry minister of the Salem Witch trials. He made the children of that village, especially those in his own household, read exactly dark and scary matter for hours every day!

    This is hardly the only lesson over the edge Democrats should be taking from the Salem witch trials. Ms. Phipps Soiero is a member of Black Lives Matter, and in a Ted Talks speech, she stands in front of a board with a book for small children titled “Separate is never equal”, acting consistently very angry. Not only is this not what we read to small children, this is how a community comes unhinged and its people go mad.

  40. Daniel Karbon says:

    I agree that Americans, in our history and in our modern society, have very little to be proud of in terms of our state’s treatment of minority groups. The inordinate amount of Black individuals incarcerated in this country is alarming. 35% of the 2015 prison inmate population was reported African American while slightly over one eighth of the US population at large reported the same, a disparity which clearly points to racial discrimination in the courts. This first figure was provided by the Annual Survey of Jails, the only Federal survey conducted of its kind, which itself polls only a representative sample, meaning not even high-ranking members of the correctional system know exactly how many citizens have been incarcerated. The government itself does not (or is unwilling to) understand the scope of the prejudice of its agents, just as we as individuals do not understand (or are unwilling to) understand the scope of the prejudice within ourselves.

    That being said, how it would be advisable to hide these realities from our children? Happiness is not the goal of education. Joy is not a virtue of an opened mind. Dishonesty, however, even benign dishonesty, will undoubtedly be discovered as a child grows older and learns the truth through experience and inquisition, and this dishonesty will show disillusionment. Also, when we hide things from the children we hide them from each other. In Russia, laws passed which prohibited the acknowledgement of homosexuality in public were justified on moral grounds of safe guarding the innocence of children. I see little difference, except perhaps in severity of belief, in the way so many individuals in this country, believing themselves to be acting with good behavior, suffocate and denounce every perceived denigration of an American cultural icon. In other words, I believe our sense of nationalism has gone beyond making us desire ignorance, it has motivated us into actively reinforcing the ignorance of others, which is a very dangerous game indeed.

    However, I don’t think the Cat in the Hat as a character is supposed to be a Black minstrel, or a reference to that form of theater. The Cat has a white face, thin lips, and normal sized eyes. Also he’s a talking animal, who is fictional. Not that I’m defending minstrel shows, those things give me the creeps.

  41. I must admit that I was and am very saddened and somewhat worked up after reading this article. I think it is a shame to assail a deceased person who is unable to explain his position, and I think it is a tragedy when someone attempts to negatively portray an author/illustrator and a character that has brought so much joy to young children for many years. Even now I can ask my high school students what their favorite book is and they will say, The Cat in the Hat. History is history and it can’t be changed, this is why history is a record of past events and times. Did terrible things happen in the past? Of course. When we discuss history, we must consider time and place and how history molds the future. Everyone has a history, and not everything in their history is coming up roses. Everyone has a perspective on history and that perspective is strongly influenced by many factors. I don’t think there is one person on this Earth that has not at one time or another had a racist thought or made a racist remark whether in jest or for real. Does this mean the person is a true racist at heart? Does this mean the person can’t have a change of heart? Absolutely not. If we were all perfect there would have been no need for Jesus Christ to have suffered and died for our sins; not just some of us and our sins but all of us and our sins. Is denigrating another human being the answer? No. Is negatively portraying the character and the character’s creator that has been central to children’s literature for so long the answer? No. Diversity is great but let’s achieve diversity not by criticizing others and their work but by bringing out the good and focusing on the good of all contributors.

  42. I agree with Cecile.. the writings and depiction of history should NEVER be removed. History shows our move FORWARD. Understanding and learning our history is much more important so as we don’t repeat it. All this analysising and wanting to remove and erase is leading to the repeating of what they want that to eliminate!! We much be very aware of these so called intellectual fanatics!

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