First Friday organizers adapt to Dr. Seuss book policies

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local News

Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced earlier this month that the company will discontinue selling six of its books because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
The announcement came on Theodor Seuss Geisel’s 117th birthday, and noted that Dr. Seuss Enterprises is committed to representing and supporting all communities and families.

A young Seuss fan avails himself of a cookie by Makers Studio on Main Street during the LDA First Friday event.

At least one local school had already adapted its approach to “Dr. Seuss Day” well before the latest move, and Lebanon Downtown’s First Friday organizers also adapted their plans this year to accommodate the change.

“Dr. Seuss Day,” which is likely familiar to anyone who has attended public school, was founded in 1998 as Read Across America Day by the National Education Association, held during the week of Geisel’s birthday. Schools across the United States, including schools in Lebanon, celebrate with fun activities to celebrate what became known as “Dr. Seuss Day.”
After some years, Hamilton Creek Elementary focused more on Read Across America, rather than emphasizing Dr. Seuss, which aligned with the association’s more recent intention to encourage a diverse reading list for children.

Critics say the recently recalled books not only portray racist elements, but some stories indicate that developing countries and its inhabitants with strange habits are a frontier to conquer, suggesting the Western world is superior.

♦ “If I Ran the Zoo” includes a stanza about “helpers who all wear eyes that slant,” and an image of East Asian men walking in Geta sandals and carrying a caged animal while Gerald McGrew (who is presumably white) stands on top of the cage.
It also mentions desert chieftains from the Middle East as interesting enough to be part of McGrew’s zoo, Persians as servants who carry the wild animals, Russians, and images of Africans that look similar to monkeys.
♦ “McElligot’s Pool” is about a boy who daydreams about catching fish from far away places. It mentions fish from the tropics that are sunburned, Eskimo fish from the north that have hooded fur parkas, and Australian fish with kangaroo pouches.
It describes grouchy fish, rough-neck lobsters, fast-moving blokes, flower-smelling fish, skiing fish, circus fish, parachuting fish in Tibet, and more.
♦ “On Beyond Zebra” seems to vaguely portray oriental depictions of fictitious creatures and people, “Scrambled Eggs Super” mentions a friend named Ali, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” includes a Rajah (an Indian king or prince) and a Chinese man, and “The Cat’s Quizzer” asks if the Japanese eat with pogo sticks or joss sticks, and if a tall pygmy is taller than a short giant.

Some of Geisel’s more popular titles, such as “Green Eggs and Ham” and “The Lorax” had been banned in various places some time ago.
“Green Eggs and Ham” was banned in Maoist China from 1965 to 1991 for its “portrayal of early Marxism,” and from some in California for Sam-I-Am’s seeming homosexual seduction of the protagonist. “The Lorax” was also banned in a California school for portraying loggers as being environmentally unfriendly.
“Yertle the Turtle” and “The Butter Battle Book” were banned by some across the world for their political messages.
“The Sneetches” was banned for its portrayal of yellow-bellied sneetches with green stars on their bellies who think they’re better than those without stars – i.e., racial inequality.

But, still, most of Geisel’s 60-plus publications remain on shelves, and last year Forbes named him as number two on its list of highest paid dead celebrities, behind Michael Jackson. Following Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ announcement on March 2, more than half of Amazon’s top 20 bestseller books were Seuss books.

Cruze explains to families how to participate in the scavenger hunt March 5.

For Lebanon Downtown Association’s First Friday event in March, participants celebrated Seuss by hosting a seek-and-find game throughout downtown businesses, and gave away books and Seuss-themed prizes to participating children.
“I can appreciate that we are being mindful and we’re being sensitive to a time period where ignorance was prevalent in our society,” said Cassie Cruze, LDA’s Main Street manager.
“I’m happy to see those stereotypes are being removed from literature. If we could maybe re-illustrate it or done different wording, that would’ve been great. But if it has to be, like, remove the whole book, that’s fine. ‘Mulberry Street’ is not my favorite.”