February 28, 2019

National Read Across America Day: On Monday, March 4, classrooms across the nation will celebrate the birthday of Theodor Geisel — otherwise known as Dr. Seuss — synonymously with Read Across America Day. The annual reading event, created by the National Education Association in 1997, intended to unite classrooms across America in a celebration of reading.

Celebrating Dr. Seuss these days, however, is not without its challenges. A growing body of analysis has posited evidence of racism in the iconic picture books, and invited a deeper scrutiny of characters that have been part of the cultural fabric of decades of children. The most recent study, The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, AntiBlackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’ s Children’s Books, comes from St.Catherine University’s Research on Diversity in Youth Literature. The authors, Katie Ishizuka and Ramon Stephens, considered texts such as The Sneetches and Horton Hears a Who, long thought to be parables promoting tolerance. “Our study sought to evaluate the claims that his children’s books are anti-racist, and was shaped by the research question: How and to what extent are non-White characters depicted in Dr. Seuss’ children’s books?”

Among their findings:

  • Roughly 98% of Dr. Seuss’s human characters are White and mostly male
  • “Males of color are only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanized roles.” (Ishizuka and Stephens)
  • “Most startling is the complete invisibility and absence of women and girls of color across Seuss’ entire children’s book collection.” (Ishizuka and Stephens)

In 2017, the NEA responded to the heightened awareness of racial bias in Dr. Seuss’s work by moving toward a more generally themed celebration of diversity in children’s literature and a goal of reading year round.

Heather Murphy Capps
Heather Murphy Capps has always had a deep appreciation for comfort and elegance. She and Claudia would have run out of money quickly together but would absolutely have been on the same page about taxis and nice restaurants. And of course, solving mysteries about beautiful art. That said, Heather also appreciates Jamie’s love of complication, which is why she spent several years living in rural Kenya and then became a television news reporter, which involved standing for hours in the middle of hurricanes and political battles. Now she’s raising middle-grade readers and writing for them. She loves to read and write books with lots of great science, magic, mystery, and adventure. Heather is the communications coordinator for Mixed-Up Files, as well as creator/curator for our We Need Diverse MG series. She is committed to creating more diversity in publishing.