Like many Americans, I grew up reading Dr. Seuss books. I watched The Grinch movie and The Cat in the Hat and I passed those beloved stories and movies down to my children. But a few years ago, as I began researching the importance of representation in books I came to a startling conclusion- Dr. Seuss was racist. The truth is I had viewed some of his cartoons and they made me feel uneasy, but that is how insidious racism is. There were messages that I had internalized for decades. I overlooked and excused what was right in my face.
If you are unfamiliar with Theodore Geisel's early work, his political cartoons are riddled with racism. He used racist stereotypes and exotification to target many minority groups including Jewish people, Arabs, Muslims, Japanese people, Indigenous people and Black people. That racism carried over to his work as a children's book author and is evident in books that continue to be best sellers today. If you would like to learn more, I invite you to read the study by The Conscious Kid "The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books."
Once I knew better, I had to do better. I chose to move away from sharing Dr. Seuss's work personally or professionally. The more I learned about the harmful effects of invisibility and misrepresentation in children's books, I felt compelled to change my behavior. When children see racist or distorted images of people who look like them, it is dehumanizing and chips away at a their identity. It sends a message regarding their value (or lack thereof) in society. This is why I created the Having Our Say Diverse library- to help others find inclusive books with language and images that affirm and uplift all children.
March is National Reading Month and the National Education Association's Read Across America campaign is the nation's biggest celebration of literacy. During the week of March 1 educators, parents, authors, and literacy advocates across the country celebrate and encourage children to love reading.
In the past Read Across America Week was centered around Dr. Seuss' birthday, but in an an effort to encourage and create a nation of diverse readers, NEA rebranded the celebration to focus more on reading together all year long and highlighting books and authors that promote diversity and inclusion. Check out these alternatives from Teach for the Change
If you still choose to share your favorite Seuss books, use the opportunity to teach your children/ students how to critically analyze the books they see. It's important that children know the importance of accurate and authentic representation in books. Otherwise, we will continue to have generations of children (who will later become adults) that have internalized and accepted messages of racism and white supremacy.
As I selected my books for Read Across America Week, I decided to create a list of suggestions with themes for each day. With so many amazing stories and authors, it was very difficulty to choose, but thankfully we can continue to share inclusive books beyond RAA Week. We want children to feel supported, valued, and seen all year long!
This Read Across America Week, let's TRULY read ACROSS America and ensure that children everywhere can see themselves reflected in their books, while also learning from experiences that differ from their own.