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Dr. Seuss' Banned Books and Why They're So Controversial, Explained
dr seuss characters

Dr. Seuss' Banned Books and Why They're So Controversial, Explained

Dr. Seuss wrote more than 60 beloved children's books. In 2021, six of his books were deemed racist and banned from further publication. Why?

Dr. Seuss was the author of more than 60 of the most beloved children’s books and introduced readers to a colorful and whimsical world filled with memorable characters like inThe Cat in the Hat,The Grinch, Cindy Lou Who, and The Lorax. His stories transport readers of all ages to a magical world where anything can happen but also where good always triumphs over bad and love always conquers hate. 

Seuss is the pen name of Dr. Theodor Geisel, a name he took on while a student at Dartmouth College. Seuss is also his mother Henrietta’s middle name.

Seuss didn’t set out to create a wonderful imaginary world, rather, his career began in advertising. During World War II, he drew political cartoons, as well as posters for the Treasury Department and War Production Board. He also wrote propaganda films for the Animation Department of the Air Force. 

After World War II, Seuss and his first wife moved to the San Diego community of La Jolla where he wrote the children’s books that brought fame and fortune. Now, more than 30 years after Seuss’ death, six of his books will no longer be published.

The Life Of Dr. Seuss aka Theodor Geisel

Dr. Seuss with weird trees in real life

Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts. His book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was inspired by Mulberry Street in his hometown. He graduated from Dartmouth University, where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and editor in chief of the college’s humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern. It was while working for the college magazine that he adopted the pen name Seuss after he was caught drinking during Prohibition and was forced to resign from his extra-curricular activities. 

Seuss headed to Oxford University to pursue his Doctor of Philosophy degree in English Literature. It was his future wife, Helen Palmer who encouraged Seuss to draw rather than teach, the world has her to thank for the beloved children’s books her husband created.

After Helen died in 1967, Seuss married Audrey Dimond. He remained with her until his death on September 24, 1991, from cancer. Seuss never had children with either wife.

The legacy of Dr. Seuss and his catalog of Seuss books is obvious. You can't turn on the TV during the holiday season without seeing a How the Grinch Stole Christmas adaptation (There’s the classic 1957 cartoon, the Jim Carrey Grinch film, the Benedict Cumberbatch cartoon, and the Matthew Morrison musical Grinch to name just a few). The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax, and Oh! The Places You’ll Go are required reading for kids and a ubiquitous part of American culture. 

The University of California, San Diego, renamed its library in honor of Seuss after his death. But his beloved wife Audrey cemented the legacy of Theodor Seuss Geisel through her work with Seuss Enterprises.

What Is Dr. Seuss Enterprises?

Lorax 1024x567

In 1993, two years after Theodor Seuss Geisel’s death, Audrey Geisel established Seuss Enterprises to bring her late husband’s life’s work to not only new generations but new mediums as well. She had a vision and took a line from Seuss’ 1955 book On Beyond Zebra, “Oh the things you can find if you don't stay behind."

Geisel took the Seuss Enterprises Catalog and turned it into one of the top 50 most valuable brands in the world. She was the driving force behind getting 2000’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 2003’s The Cat in the Hat, and 2008’s Horton Hears a Who made.

More recently, Netflix bought the rights to Green Eggs and Ham and debuted an animated series based on the Suess Enterprises property in 2019. Suess Enterprises also entered into a deal with Warner Brothers for three films based on The Cat in the HatThing One and Thing Two, and Oh The Places You’ll Go.

Audrey Geisel died at the age of 97 in 2018. Since she and Theodor never had children all of the profits from Seuss books and Seuss Enterprises catalog went back into the company.

Dr. Seuss’ Most Popular Books

Seuss' Cat in the Hat

There are more than 60 Dr. Seuss books that have sold more than 650 million copies, according to a report from Fox Business. Dr. Seuss’s books have been translated into 20 languages as well as braille.

Suess’ most popular books won't come as any surprise. They are in ascending order, Oh! The Places You’ll Go, published in 1990, this was Seuss’s final book published during his lifetime; the rhyming masterpiece One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which has sold nearly 14 million copies; Dr. Seuss’ ABC, the iconic The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham featuring Sam I Am. 

Dr. Seuss remains to be one of the highest-paid celebrities, even 30 years after his passing. Suess Enterprises generates enough income to have him consistently ranked as one of the highest-paid deceased celebrities on Forbes’ annual list. In the most recent list from 2021, Seuss came in fifth with $35 million in earnings. The 2021 report revealed that Seuss Enterprises catalog’s licensing deal with Netflix nearly doubled Dr. Suess’ annual income over the preceding five years. 

Seuss Enterprises Recently Announced Six Books No Longer In Print

In March 2021, Suess Enterprises told the Associated Press that six of the classic children’s books would no longer be printed due to inappropriate images. The banned Dr. Seuss books have little to do with cancel culture, but a more evolved social awareness. Images used in 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 were deemed racist. 

A statement given to the Associated Press stated, “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises' catalog represents and supports all communities and families..."

After the announcement to cease publication of the books more than half of the top 20 bestsellers on Amazon’s list were Seuss books including some of the books affected like And To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo. 

But Was Dr. Seuss Racist?

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss

A study in 2019 looked at 50 of Seuss’s books and revealed that 43 of 45 characters of color in his books, had “characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism."

The study claimed that Seuss had a history of publishing racist and Anti-Semitic material dating back to his college days at Dartmouth when he highlighted Jewish characters as being cheap or stingy and drew Black boxers as gorillas. The images and characters in Seuss’ work were from a less socially aware time when Asians were referred to as Orientals and Eskimo was still an acceptable term.

Later in his life, Seuss spoke out against racism. In an interview with the New York Post, Seuss’ step-daughter Lark Grey Dimond-Cates said, “There wasn’t a racist bone in that man’s body—he was so acutely aware of the world around him and cared so much.”

In her interview with The New York Post, she went on to say she hopes the banned titles return to publication someday, “I think in this day and age it’s a wise decision. I think this is a world that right now is in pain, and we’ve all got to be very gentle and thoughtful and kind with each other…We’re taking that into account and being thoughtful. We don’t want to upset anybody.’’

She noted her step-father as a “sensitive, intelligent, caring man” who was simply “a product of his times.” She also pointed out that Seuss regularly went back and revised his illustrations over time and that The Lorax is a book about environmental conservation at its heart.

The Reason Behind Banning Six SeussBooks

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was banned because the book has an illustration of an Asian person wearing a conical hat while eating from a bowl with chopsticks. Published in 1937, this was Dr. Seuss’ first published children’s book. 

1950’s If I Ran the Zoo ceased publication due to the depiction of barefoot African men wearing grass skirts as well as Asian characters in conical hats, and additional Asian characters carrying a white man on their heads. 

McElligot’s Pool was published in 1947 and has been targeted for the use of Eskimos to describe a fish that swims from the North Pole to McElligot’s Pool. 

On Beyond Zebra, published in 1955 has a character called Nazzim of Bazzim, which was deemed to be racist. 

Scrambled Eggs Super was published in 1953 and contains an illustration featuring five people from a place near the North Pole called Fa-Zoal wearing hooded fur coats typically used by what used to be called Eskimos.

The Cat’s Quizzer is the newest book by Dr. Seuss to face criticism for racist images. Published in  1976, the book has a character of Japanese heritage that has a bright yellow face, is standing on Mt. Fuji, and is referred to as “a Japanese.”

Dr. Seuss Books Will Continue To Live On

Doctor Seuss' Horton Hears a Who cover

Despite the controversy over the harmful racist images in the six banned books, the legacy of Theodor Seuss Geisel will continue to be remembered for the joy he’s brought to millions of lives.

To paraphrase the Grinch, “We can puzzle and puzzle till our puzzlers are sore. Then maybe we’ll all think of something we hadn't before. Maybe, Seuss, we thought...didn’t mean any harm. Maybe Seuss, perhaps...means a little bit more!”


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