Carytown bookseller weighs in on Dr. Seuss controversy, book cancellations: ‘I think it’s a great move’

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — This Read Across America day was different than the last two decades of celebrations were. Typically, the day is spent promoting reading while synonymously connecting and recognizing Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

In the past on this day, teachers and politicians often dressed up in some form of ‘Cat in the Hat’ and read to students in school.

However, this year, on Theodor Seuss Geisel’s 117th birthday, the company that preserves his legacy announced six Dr. Seuss books would no longer be published, acknowledging racist depictions of nonwhite characters.  

The six books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” according to the company.

The books are: “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.

Many of us remember Dr. Seuss books as staples of our childhoods. You may even remember eating green eggs and ham for lunch in a school cafeteria.

“Because so many of us have grown up with Seuss, there are some things that you just, you did not notice at that time,” said local bookseller Jill Stefanovich. She owns bbgb, a children’s bookstore in Richmond’s Carytown. “We have not carried those titles or many Seuss titles for years,” she said Tuesday.

The Loudon County School division also made national headlines after telling its schools to stop celebrating Dr. Seuss on Read Across America day. Some headlines stated rumors that said the division was “banning” all Dr. Seuss books. The school division later released a statement that said the district simply will no longer connect Seuss’ birthday to the reading awareness day.

“A number of them [the books] are racially insensitive in the way that they show people of color,” Stefanovich said. She said bbgb rarely sells Dr. Seuss’ books, especially because “there’s so much great literature out there,” for children.

2019 study looked at 50 children’s books and more than 2,200 characters created over decades by the children’s author.

It found “of the 2,240 [identified] human characters, there are 45 characters of color representing 2 percent of the total number of human characters.” The study claimed the Seuss books are packed with “anti-blackness, and white supremacy,” while identifying that several of the white characters promoted racial stereotypes.

Some folks are shocked or upset after hearing the six books would no longer be printed, pointing to a frustration with “cancel culture.”

“I don’t think that you should be completely wiping out the entire work of Seuss,” Stefanovich said, “but I absolutely believe that there are those titles that don’t benefit any child by having them in their hands.”

In the world of book selling, “this is a conversation we’ve had years ago,” Stefanovich told 8News. Among many book-lovers, it’s well known that some Dr. Seuss books are racist or lack representation, she said.

The owner said when you get a book into a child’s hands, you want to make sure it’s one worth while. Since opening about ten years ago, one of her main goals has been to prioritize representation in the books sold. “We wanted to make sure that every child that walked in here could find themselves in these books.”

The National Education Association, which launched and promotes Read Across America, is also further distancing themselves from Dr. Seuss’ books. The NEA said they’re now elevating diverse children’s books.

“There’s a growing need for schools and libraries to include and promote diverse books,” the NEA said in a statement on their website. “NEA recognizes the need to work with a more diverse array of organizations and publishers to fulfill this need, and the Read Across America brand is now one that is independent of any one particular book, publisher, or character,” the statement said.

For many years, they partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises while promoting the annual reading event.

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