Dr Seuss books face being phased out of Australian school, public and tertiary* libraries, following a decision to stop publishing six “hurtful” titles.
Dr Seuss’s And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran The Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer will no longer be published.
The move to cease printing has sparked outrage from lovers of the best-selling children’s books, but others say it is a savvy* business decision designed to keep the Dr Seuss brand alive.
Australia’s peak library body said libraries would also review the titles.
And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, the first children’s book from Dr Seuss, published in 1937, includes an illustration of a “Chinese man with sticks”, holding chopsticks and a bowl.
If I Ran The Zoo – first published in 1950 – features two barefoot men, described as African, wearing grass skirts and with their hair in knots.
“The publisher may have just hit this point but libraries would have done so some time ago, so you might find some of these Dr Seuss titles were removed a while ago,” Australian Library and Information Association chief Sue McKerracher said.
“Picture books are very carefully reviewed, to make sure that they are absolutely appropriate and are current and not in anyway racist or bigoted* or going to cause offence to the community.”
The Municipal Association of Victoria said it was not uncommon for council libraries to amend their catalogues “in keeping with community’s changing interests and needs”.
In Victoria, the education department will not order any Dr Seuss titles to be removed from state school library shelves.
Dr Seuss Enterprises, the company that protects the late author Dr Theodore Geisel’s legacy*, said the six books “portray* people in ways that are hurtful and wrong”.
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr Seuss Enterprises’ catalogue represents and supports all communities and families,” it said.
More than 600 million copies of Dr Seuss books have been sold globally, with the popular Cat in the Hat title continuing to be printed.
Senior arts and education research fellow at Australian Catholic University, Dr Kevin Donnelly, said: “We are cancelling the innocence of childhood and the joy of parents being able to read to their children. It’s taking the fun out of the interaction between parents and their children and making it very bleak* and negative.”
But University of Melbourne academic Associate Professor Lauren Rosewarne said the decision was a reflection of “where society is at culturally”.
“This is something the company has done … this is not censorship … I think the reason they are doing it is that the books are old and they look old,” she said.
“They are trying to make their product relevant in a culture which is more savvy and sensitive to issues of racism.”
Mum Nada Sherar said her daughter Chloe loved most of Dr Seuss’ books, but that she always tried to explain the stories’ historical nature and how views had changed over time.
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Mr Potato Head
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Gone With The Wind
Last year HBO Max temporarily pulled the movie from its streaming service after the filmmaker John Ridley called out its “painful stereotypes of people of colour.”
Enid Blyton books
The late author’s classic children’s books, which include The Magic Faraway Tree, have been criticised over the years as elitist*, sexist, racist and xenophobic*.
Thomas the Tank Engine
After years of accusations of classism*, sexism, racism and anti-environmentalism Thomas the Tank Engine was updated in 2018.
The children’s TV show, based on the books by Rev Wilbert Awdry, was revamped with its new series featuring multicultural characters and female lead characters.
- tertiary: after secondary school, such as university
- savvy: ability to make good judgments
- bigoted: stuck on an opinion that is prejudiced towards a person or group
- legacy: what you are remembered for after you’ve died
- portray: show
- bleak: cold, colourless, miserable
- elitist: believing that society should be run by the elite
- xenophobic: showing dislike of people from other countries
- classism: prejudice against people of a particular social class
- What is the main point of this story?
- Who is Theodore Geisel?
- Which books will no longer be printed?
- What change has been made to Mr Potato Head?
- How has Thomas the Tank Engine been updated?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Do You Agree?
Do you agree with Kevin Donnelly or Lauren Rosewarne? Give at least five reasons for your opinion. The purpose of your reasons should be to convince the other side that you are right.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability
Can you think of some other things that can be done to help everyone in our community understand why racism is wrong? Create a program of activities that could be used in a special anti-racism day that could be held at your school. Think of a name for the day, write a catchy slogan, design a poster advertising the day and write the program showing your activities. Your program should include an explanation of why you think each activity will help spread kids at your school to understand why racism is unacceptable.
Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Communication Design, Civics and Citizenship, Personal and Social Capability
When you up-level a sentence, you do things to it to improve it: make it more interesting, or more complex.
But sometimes, when we read something it can be too complex and we don’t understand it very well. You ask someone to explain it to you, they do (in a simpler way) and you think, well why didn’t they just say that?
Go through the article and find a sentence or two that is complex, or hard to read.
Ask an adult what it means, or try and look some of the words up in the glossary.
Once you know what it means, see if you can rewrite it in a simpler way- down-level it.
Make sure you don’t change the meaning of the sentence in any way though.