Six Dr. Seuss books pulled from publication due to racist imagery

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By Barbara Goldberg and Dan Fastenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six children's books written decades ago by Dr. Seuss were pulled from publication because they contain racist and insensitive imagery, the company formed to preserve the deceased author's legacy said on Tuesday.

The books - "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" - are among more than 60 classics written by Dr. Seuss, the pen name of the American writer and illustrator Theodor Geisel, who died in 1991.

"These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong," Dr. Seuss Enterprises said in a statement explaining why it was stopping their publication.

The books, originally published between 1937 and 1976, contain numerous caricatures of Asian and Black people that incorporate stereotypes that have been criticized as racist.

The most famous Dr. Seuss titles - "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham" - were not on the list of books that will be yanked from publication. "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" often tops the New York Times bestseller list during graduation season, and also was not on the list of scrapped books.

The controversy over Dr. Seuss imagery has simmered for years. In 2017, then-first lady Melania Trump offered a donation of 10 Dr. Seuss books to a Cambridge, Massachusetts, school. Its librarian turned down the gift, saying images criticized as "racist propaganda and harmful stereotypes" filled their pages.

"Open one of his books ("If I Ran a Zoo" or "And to Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street," for example), and you'll see the racist mockery in his art," librarian Liz Phipps Soerio told Melania Trump in a letter.

Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review its catalog and made the decision last year to end publication and licensing. Among the publishers are Random House and Vanguard Press.

The company said the move was a first step in its efforts to promote inclusion for all children.

"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," the company said.

Not everyone was pleased to hear in the news. In New York City, Greg Zire, 46, said the decision was another example of "cancel culture."

"It's getting to the point where, you know, you get deleted from history," the culinary sales worker said. "What people need to realize is, if Dr. Seuss can get canceled, what can't be?"

On eBay, some of the discontinued titles surged in value on Tuesday. A copy of "If I Ran the Zoo," with a starting price of $48 in the morning, was commanding a bid of $410 within an hour.

Philip Nel, a children's literature scholar at Kansas State University, likened the decision to stop publication to the recall of an outdated, dangerous product.

"In the 1950s, cars did not have seat belts. Now, we recognize that as dangerous - so, cars have seat belts. In the 1950s, lots of books recycled racist caricature. Now, Random House is recognizing this as dangerous," Nel said.

Nel said the author, who also wrote "The Sneetches," a parable about discrimination and racial intolerance, wasn’t conscious of how racism influenced his visual imagination.

"At the same time he's writing books that attempt to oppose discrimination ... he's also recycling stereotypes in other books."

Dr. Seuss Enterprises made the announcement on March 2, the anniversary of Geisel's birth in 1904. In 1998, the National Education Association designated his birthday as Read Across America Day, an annual event aimed at encouraging children and teens to read.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Dan Fastenberg in New York; additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Matthew Lewis, Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)