In case you haven’t heard, teachers and the National Educators Association are moving away from celebrating Dr. Seuss during Read Across America week, because of the growing research on his racist messages within his stories. So instead of celebrating Dr. Seuss, let’s celebrating the amazing authors that reflect the diversity of our country in their stories.
Growing Research on Dr. Seuss
For the past five years or so, more and more research has been completed on Dr. Seuss’s books and life. There is no doubt that Dr. Seuss’s drawings depicted racist stereotypes when drawing characters of color. In To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street and If I Ran The Zoo, characters depict racist Asian and African stereotypes. In fact, in all of his books, there are only forty-five characters of color (compared to 2,195 white characters) and they all display stereotypical features. Dr. Seuss himself started his career drawing racist cartoons, especially aimed at Japanese during the Japanese internment period.
In addition to displaying racist images, some of his stories are based on racist ideas. Most notably, The Cat in the Hat. The Cat in the Hat was based on a blackface minstrel show. It is clear that this cat does not belong in this white household and causes quite a nuisance. In the second book in the series, the cat takes a bath and gets ink all over the tub, a common stereotype at the time that Black people get their skin color from drinking ink and that blackness is dirty and unnatural.
The Bottom Line
Look, I loved Dr. Seuss’s books growing up. I loved reading them to my students. They were classics! But it comes down to Intent vs. Impact. My intent was to read a fun story. The impact was that I was perpetuating racist stereotypes and biases. Once I knew better, I had to do better.
So What Now?
Instead of celebrating one author who perpetuated racist ideas, take this week to celebrate the diversity of our country and to find texts that represent ALL Americans. We can use this week to push for more diverse texts and texts by diverse authors. There should be more of a focus on Own Voices when pushing for diverse texts. We should also emphasize that diversity doesn’t just reference different races… diversity is about showcasing different genders, sexualities, abilities, cultures, languages, religions, and races!
Sarah (The Literacy Loop) and I worked hard a few years ago to create a free resource for teachers to celebrate these diverse texts during Read Across America Week. In addition to this week, these texts are excellent books for all classroom and home libraries. We hope that you will check it out and enjoy them!
Every classroom should have a culture of celebrating differences. I like to use Todd Parr’s It’s Ok To Be Different to start this discussion. Of course, this is not the first time we’ve had this discussion! All year long, we celebrate differences. To start the year we read All Are Welcome, The Day You Begin, Your Name is a Song, and Just Read!
Diverse Gender Norms
This is such a huge topic with many complex ideas for young children. All year long I talk about how there is no such thing as girl colors or boy colors or girl clothes and boy clothes, as these issues come up frequently in a kindergarten classroom. I like to use this day to name what a gender stereotype is and how they are harmful. I love Mary Wears What She Wants because it shows the history of women’s clothing and how women overcame the societal pressure to wear only dresses. It leads into a great discussion about how there is no such thing as girl clothing or boy clothing. It’s nicely followed up with Julian is a Mermaid, Jacob’s New Dress, Dress Like a Girl, and Pink is for Boys.
In addition to tackling gender stereotypes, you could focus on diverse sexualities. They Call Me Mix is a great story to showcase a transgender youth. Other great books on transgender youth are Jack (not Jackie) and When Aiden Became a Brother. There are few books that showcase gay and lesbian love stories for young children. You can read Prince and Knight and their sequel Maiden and Princess to read these gay and lesbian fairytales. There is also A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo and Love is Love.
Diverse classroom libraries should include characters with disabilities. I love The Girl Who Thought in Pictures to highlight Dr. Temple Grandin’s life – her challenges and successes living with Autism. I also love Boy to show a character who is Deaf, Rescue and Jessica to showcase physical disabilities and how support animals can help. Leo the Late Bloomer, while not about disabilities, is a great text to show that not everyone learns everything at the same speed, and that is ok! Alyssa from @childrenslitworld gives some great guidance for what to look for when choosing books that feature characters with disabilities. Swipe through her whole post here for the key takeaways!
Diverse Skin Colors
There are so many great texts that focus on appreciating the diversity of skin colors, as well as loving the skin color we have. I love starting the year with The Colors of Us. For this day, I focus on Chocolate Me! Because not only does the character learn to love his black skin, he also pushes back against racist comments and it leads to great discussions on why comments like these are problematic. Other great books are Happy in Our Skin, All the Colors We Are, The Skin You Live In, and Skin Again.
I love to end the week with a kind of catch-all for the other amazing diverse texts in my library. Read Dreamers to focus on diverse languages and how we can support immigrants who don’t speak English yet. I love to read Under My Hijab to talk about how some people from different cultures wear different things (and combat some of the anti-Muslim sentiments in our country). Other books that I read throughout the year are The Name Jar, Ruby’s Wish, Planting Stories, Whoever You Are, Islandborn, and Our Favorite Day of the Year.
A week is not long enough – we should celebrate and raise-up diverse texts and authors all year long. However, in this special Read Across America week, why not focus on the beauty of diversity and have meaningful conversations with your students, as opposed to perpetuating racist stereotypes and ideas with Dr. Seuss.
Looking for more diverse texts to add to your classroom library? I love learning about new texts from Vera – The Tutu Teacher and DiverseReads, as well as Alyssa @childrenslitworld. I also love the publishers Lee and Low for diverse easy readers.
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