Six outdated Dr. Seuss books are going out of print due to their offensive imagery. Should parents toss or keep them? Here's what experts say.

By Christine Michel Carter
March 05, 2021
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Dr. Seuss penned some of the best-selling children's books of all time, but the author made headlines this week for several that contain offensive images.

To break down the news: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees Theodor Seuss Geisel's works (pen name Dr. Seuss), released a statement on his birthday on March 2 announcing 2020 was the last year the following books would be published: 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.

An image of a child holding a Dr. Seuss book.
Credit: Getty Images.

Many experts, including educators, have long spoken out against hurtful and racist images found in these books. For example, in And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street there is an illustration of an Asian person wearing a conical hat while holding chopsticks and a bowl. In If I Ran the Zoo there are more offensive images of Asian stereotypes, as well as exaggerated African blackface characters. Through the years, scholars have additionally pointed to racism in Dr. Seuss' wartime political cartoons, as well as anti-Semitic and Islamophobic references in his comics and advertisements. 

In the statement, Dr. Seuss Enterprises explained that ceasing these books' sales is only part of a commitment and a broader plan to ensure the entire "catalog represents and supports all communities and families." Its mission is to celebrate reading and support "all children and families with messages of hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship."

In the meantime, the National Education Associate (NEA) pivoted Read Across America Day away from Dr. Seuss to more broadly celebrate diverse children's books. The day, launched in 1988, is usually celebrated on Dr. Seuss's birthday and encourages children to read.

For many parents across the country, dropping these Dr. Seuss titles was the right move. Winnie Sun, an Asian American mother of three in California, agrees with the decision to pull books that negatively depict Asians and other minorities. "Like many in the Asian community, I remember being bullied extensively, for years, for my race, my almond-shaped eyes and skin color, shyness, and our other differences," she says. "We know now how hurtful words, pictures, and stories can be. If we can proactively promote diversity, we should."

Should Parents Keep or Toss These Dr. Seuss Books?

Dr. Seuss Enterprises' proactive decision to discontinue publishing and licensing the six books above shows their commitment to learning and evolving. But it can be tough for parents to know whether to keep or toss these controversial Dr. Seuss books if they already have them in their library. Moms and experts agree this can be a teaching moment.

Children can discuss and comprehend more than we think, and they are also watching how their parents process current events. Sun plans to keep her kids educated, which she believes is the best way to combat negativity and inequality. "We make it a priority to discuss news and leadership decisions with our children. Communication and education equal strength. If we don't actively engage them in conversation, someone else will—and it may not be the quality discussions we could have with them. Even at very young ages, we need to empower children to have a voice," she says.

Starting conversations about race can be difficult, but a recent expert guide was created to help parents approach the topic in an empowering way. And Parents also has an age-by-age guide to fighting hate and racism.

Baltimore special educator Jamilah Rowe believes children should be aware of the six books for their historical content. "It has a place; he had a place. Where would America be if we 'canceled' everything ugly from its history? There would be no teaching points, no evolution, no reason to the word, 'why?'" She encourages parents to consider the values that they hope to instill in their children. "If Dr. Seuss's books and ideologies don't align with those values, give them a toss," adds Rowe.

Parents can also opt for other children's books as there are tons of great ones to choose from. Flora Ichiou Huang is a social justice advocate and mother from New York and says she would never recommend any of the discontinued Dr. Seuss books given that there are so many other books to suggest. "I think it is just a matter of letting parents know that, even if you enjoyed this book as a child, it might not be appropriate in the time that we live in. Especially when we're hearing all these cases of anti-Asian incidents that have led to violence," she says.

Rowe says Dr. Seuss's books haven't been included in her instructional practices for years. "While many of us grew up with Dr. Seuss books such as One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, there has been a plethora of children's books in the past couple decades that engage today's children in core concepts," she says. Choose ones with diversity where children will be able to see themselves in.

For parents who'd rather explore children's books from other authors without losing the whimsy and playful nature of Dr. Seuss books, Huang recommends Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.

Go For Inclusive Dr. Seuss Books

If you want to keep reading Dr. Seuss to your little ones, choose ones that are more inclusive. Huang has read many other Dr. Seuss books to her children, including The Foot Book, Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, There's a Wocket in My Pocket, Dr. Seuss's ABC, and Green Eggs and Ham. Though Huang agrees the images in the six discontinued books are offensive and created when images like those were normalized, she still believes Dr. Seuss was a genius as a children's writer.

When her children were younger, one of Sun's favorite Dr. Seuss books to read to her now 7, 9, and 11-year-old children was The Lorax. As the managing director of a full-service wealth management firm, she loves the book's message that financial success cannot be a person's only driving goal. "It teaches children that all decisions—big and small—have consequences. Each of us has a global, social, and environmental responsibility to each other and humanity."