Key Words: Nephew of Dr. Seuss claims no way beloved books are racist

A nephew of Dr. Seuss is defending the popular late children’s author after a Cambridge, Mass., librarian this week rejected a gift of 10 Seuss books from first lady Melania Trump, saying they “are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures and harmful stereotypes.”

‘I know one thing for sure — I never saw one ounce of racism in anything he said, or how he lived his life, or what his stories were about.’

Dr. Seuss’s great nephew Ted Owens

Nephew Ted Owens said the recent revolt—stemming in part from a newly published book exploring systemic racism in children’s books—and, especially, these descriptions of the fictional works of his great uncle Theo­dor Seuss Geisel are “preposterous,” the Boston Herald reported. Seuss, known politically as a liberal democrat, was an early advertising illustrator and political cartoonist in the 1920s-40s, whose body of work included racist caricatures.

Cambridge Public Schools distanced itself from the librarian, Phipps Soeiro, noting her letter didn’t constitute an official rejection of the books, nor did her opinions reflect that of the school system or their approach to accepting donations. Seuss was from Massachusetts.

Soeiro did thank the First Lady for the gesture but urged her to study up on a more diverse offering. “You may not be aware of this,” she wrote, “but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliche, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

“Turning the gesture of sending young schoolchildren books into something divisive is unfortunate, but the First Lady remains committed to her efforts on behalf of children everywhere,” said Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s communications director, according to the Los Angeles Times. President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama read aloud “Green Eggs and Ham” at the White House Easter egg roll during their administration.

Attention on the works of Dr. Seuss has new traction after the publication this summer of Professor Philip Nel’s historical critique of the kiddie lit industry, called “Was The Cat in The Hat Black?: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature.”

Nel, a white scholar at Kansas State University, contends too many white people are blind to the systemic racism and privilege first taught in many story books.

As for the 60-year-old “The Cat in the Hat,” Nel traces its influences to minstrel and blackface caricature. Underneath his feline aspect, this hep cat threatens the stability of a white household and challenges the white social order, he writes.

A half-century after the civil rights movement, the share of school children in this country who are not white has grown to about half of all kids enrolled. Yet the number of children’s books published featuring children of color never surpasses more than 15% in any given year, John Murawski writes in his review of “Was the Cat in the Hat Racist” for the News & Observer.

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