Taking on Dr. Seuss
Before you all start burning books or buying up the last copy of “And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” I want you to take a deep breath. I’ve collected children’s books most of my life. My bookshelves are filled with old “classics.” Some of those books aren’t good. I’m not even addressing any blatant racist and misogynistic tones. Authors can get it wrong. That is why authors’ popularity fluctuates on the bestseller list. Sometimes books don’t stand the test of time.
When the Dr. Seuss estate decided recently to stop publishing six of its catalog, the company made a huge statement. They could have easily just stopped publishing those books. I’m pretty sure that most people would never have noticed. Do you know why? Because you never read those books in the first place. My kids reread a lot of their children’s books. The books they love are still on our shelves. The books they weren’t particularly fond of are in our attic. (The storage issue is more a reflection of myself rather than my children. I have issues getting rid of my books.) Do you know what books are in my attic? The six books Dr. Seuss Enterprises has discontinued.
I want to think that a private company is always willing to do the right thing, but I’ve also worked for large corporations, and usually doing the right thing comes with a marketing plan and cost analysis. Taking a few books out of circulation with an announcement on Read Across America Day reeks of a marketing ploy. I’m not saying it isn’t a good decision.
When my children were younger, I took them to an Ottawa art gallery specifically for the Dr. Seuss artwork. My children remember looking through the Dr. Seuss Enterprise approved prints for sale. Those official prints highlighted their childhood favorites. They also remember a separate room dedicated to Seuss’s other career as a political illustrator and cartoonist. Those prints showed a lot of Seuss’s racist views and weren’t for sale. Recently I had mistakenly thought the Seuss Estate was showcasing Seuss’s past but not promoting the art, but the political cartoons would have been owned by the publisher or newspaper, not Seuss. My children remember it was the gallery owner who decided to show the flip side of Seuss.
All the people up in arms about the six Seuss books would probably never have been able to pull together a few quotes from each of those books a few weeks ago. If asked, they could have given a few “Green Eggs and Ham” or other popular Seuss references.
From a marketing standpoint, the Seuss publishing house has produced a win-win situation. They have taken a very public stand on the stereotyping from a few of their books while seeing the sale of those same books rise to the top of the bestseller list by creating a shortage.
I feel if this had been a sincere gesture, it could have been done quietly. The company isn’t recalling any previously sold books or destroying any books currently in print. They just aren’t going to continue to publish them. I may sound jaded, but I applaud their marketing team. They all deserve a raise. They took advantage of the current climate and played both sides of the fence. That’s a marketing dream.
There are numerous authors with books that better represent our diverse nation. We don’t need to continue to promote stereotypes in any way. It’s also good to understand the past as not to repeat it. Am I jaded? Perhaps a little. I hope the awaking of the Seuss estate is like the Grinch, “that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.” But is it a coincidence their pocketbook grew three sizes as well?