Manya Brachear Pashman
Manya Brachear Pashman
Co-host, People of the Pod
Featured Post

The complicated legacy of Dr. Seuss

Instead of the hyper-politicized conversation, let's talk about the importance of children seeing positives images of themselves
Image from Dr. Seuss’ ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ (screen capture: YouTube)
Image from Dr. Seuss’ ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ (screen capture: YouTube)

Green Eggs and Ham has long been my favorite Dr. Seuss title. That is until I discovered another book on the shelf at my in-laws’ house this past summer. On Beyond Zebra introduces young readers to a fantastic new alphabet, or rather a postscript to the 26 modern English letters they already know. The 20 new letters include Itch for Itch-a-Pod, a creature in perpetual motion between here and there. And Yek for the Yekko, a creature who revels in his own echo.

But on Tuesday, March 2, author Theodor Geisel’s birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it had ceased publication of On Beyond Zebra and five other titles. The reason given was that “these books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

I honestly don’t know what might have been viewed as offensive in On Beyond Zebra. I welcome input from readers. Perhaps the perception of anti-Arab imagery to illustrate the letter Spaz? The offensive elements of the other books are more clear.

If I Ran the Zoo includes offensive caricatures of Africans with rings in their noses. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street illustrates a Chinese man with a bowl of rice and slanted lines for eyes.

These stereotypical and offensive illustrations rank right up there with anti-Semitic parade floats that portray Jews with hooked noses and satchels of money. These are not caricatures that should be celebrated.

And like anti-Semitism, these concerns also should not be politicized. But of course, they are. America’s Former First Lady Melania Trump was attacked for giving Dr. Seuss books to school libraries. US President Joe Biden was panned for marking Read Across America Day without mentioning Dr. Seuss.

Reducing these concerns to politics makes it easy to take a side without giving it much thought. It discourages us from seeing the prejudice within ourselves and in those with whom we agree.

This year’s Read Across America celebration highlighted books about diversity, family, and fashion. As far as I could tell, Wacky Wednesday was the only true ode to Dr. Seuss.

But I get it. Reducing these concerns to politics makes it easy to take a side without giving it much thought. It discourages us from seeing the prejudice within ourselves and in those with whom we agree. It’s much easier to try scoring points and revel in our own echoes. Anti-Semitism on the left? Anti-Semitism on the right? It depends on who you ask. But it shouldn’t.

The conversation that should be taking place is one about the importance of children seeing positives images of themselves and learning how to avoid negative stereotypes.

Dr. Seuss would probably agree. Scholars point out that Geisel realized the error of his ways and tried to make amends. Don’t forget. Seuss also wrote Yertle the Turtle, a mockery of Hitler and The Sneetches, a book about seeing beyond our differences. I hope that lesson is not lost by taking these six books out of circulation.

On Beyond Zebra is about expanding our horizons and stretching beyond our limits. That’s the lesson I take from the book. And that’s what will be on my mind as we sit around the table with the kids for a family favorite: breakfast for dinner. The breakfast? Green eggs and ham – at least the eggs part – made possible with a few drops of blue food coloring.

A version of this piece originally aired March 5 on People of the Pod, a podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens by American Jewish Committee. Listen here.

About the Author
Manya Brachear Pashman is co-host of People of the Pod, an American Jewish Committee podcast about global affairs through a Jewish lens. She covered religion for the Chicago Tribune between 2003 and 2018.
Related Topics
Related Posts
Comments