• Donna Brown

Thoughts on Dr. Seuss books being canceled



Glassboro State College in 1973 had a teacher/librarian certification program and one of the professors was an ancient woman with wispy gray hair who weighed about 90 pounds. For each class she’d load up a large wire cart and lug it from the library to our classroom down a set of outdoor steps. The cart was filled with children’s books, both obscure and common. During class she’d read several of the books to us as she explained how to use the book as a learning tool. One of the books she whipped out one day was Little Black Sambo.


Quite a discussion followed I assure you, but the one thing she emphasized was that a librarian’s purpose was to provide all sides of every issue. We were merely a nonjudgmental facilitator. We were not to adjudicate or push our patrons in any direction but rather provide the texts to allow them to explore. Of course, books must be age appropriate, but as a middle school librarian, I tried to remember Miss Seller’s edict when purchasing books. Today I thought of my professor when I heard that people are now canceling Dr. Seuss books.


In 1957 my mother took me to the Hammonton Public Library to get my first library card. I was so excited as we walked down the narrow outside stairs and into the dimly lit basement full of floor to ceiling shelves and Miss Wood sitting at a large desk in the middle of the room. The first book taken out on that card was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, a now-canceled book by Dr. Seuss.


Oh, how I loved that story about a little boy with a vivid imagination who makes up things that he saw walking home from school. His father’s advice is, “Marco, keep your eyelids up and see what you can see.” When all he sees is a horse and wagon, he uses his imagination and keeps upgrading it in his mind. First a zebra pulling a chariot, then an elephant pulling a sled and finally it turns into a menagerie in a parade. The book was Dr Seuss’s first children’s book and was published in 1937.


Another canceled Dr Seuss book is McElligot’s Pool, 1947, about a boy who imagines what he may catch while fishing in a tiny pond. My husband bought this wonderful book years ago for our daughter-in-law who is an avid fisher. In the book the farmer tells the boy the pool is too small to catch a fish, but the young man in an optimistic fashion replies that the pond may lead to an underground river and out to the sea. There are many imaginary fish in the book including Eskimo fish. It is a marvelous book that teaches us to dream big dreams.


Times have changed since Dr. Seuss wrote these tales and this week Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that is responsible for preserving the author’s work and legacy, announced Tuesday that it will stop publishing six Dr. Seuss books. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said in a statement. “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”


Personally, I think they threw six great books under the bus to pacify the cancel culture, who they will soon find cannot be pacified. Barnes and Noble along with eBay have announced they will no longer allow these books to be sold on their platforms. Oddly, on eBay you can still purchase Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kompf, extensive pornography and T-shirts depicting a 1987 photograph by the American artist, Andres Serrano, called “Immersion.” It is a photo of a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass tank of the artist’s urine.


The Christian Savior can be desecrated but an 80-year-old Dr. Seuss book cannot use the word Eskimo or show a Rahja on an elephant because it may be insensitive to people of other cultures. The books are not being edited and they are not adding a disclaimer on the cover. No, they are banning the books.


The book Slaughterhouse-Five was banned and burned in the furnace of a North Dakota high school in 1973. The author, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote the following to the chairman of the board of education, “Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.”


If you are more than 50 years old, you were raised to believe that in America we have the right to be stupid and insensitive if we choose because freedom only survives if we recognize all views to be acceptable even if we find them offensive. No longer. You must now walk lock step with the left or you are to be shamed and canceled. And don’t think they are stopping with Dr. Seuss. This is just the beginning of the end of freedom in America.


Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to wescoat@comcast.net.