You might’ve heard of Read Across America Day. It historically takes place on March 2, which happens to be Theodor Giesel’s birthday. Who is Theodor Geisel, you ask? Well, Dr. Seuss, of course! Since 1998, librarians and educators across the country have donned their red & white striped hats on March 2 and read The Cat in the Hat and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Those familiar titles and countless others by Dr. Seuss are classics and have helped thousands of children learn how to read over the years. But after news surfaced that some of Theodor Geisel’s work was racist, Read Across America started to move: less Seuss, more diversity.
What do you mean, “racist”?
Scholars found early work, including World War II political cartoons, by Geisel “featuring slurs and racist drawings of Japanese Americans, portraying them as a danger to nation.” Even some of his children’s books, such as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street display jarring racial stereotypes. We’re talking about work from 80 years ago. Some supporters argue that Geisel was a product of his era and that his beliefs and work changed with the times. But should we continue to read these problematic books to our children?
Starting in 2018, Read Across America shifted it’s focus away from Dr. Seuss. Instead, it’s theme for that year became “Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers.” Now, the organization chooses a variety of books throughout the year that celebrates a diverse collection of children and families. It’s absolutely critical that kids see themselves represented in the books they read, and Read Across America is committed to making that happen. What’s the harm? Well, if kids are reading books and “the images they see [of themselves] are distorted, negative [or] laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society in which they are a part.”
My family is multiracial. Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t be able to find a children’s book that portrayed our special combination. Even just five years ago in 2015, 73.3% of children’s books depicted white characters. That percentage decreased to 50% by 2018, but since 27% instead featured animals or inanimate objects as characters, that left only 23% total for all the other races. Those numbers are dismal, and not at all reflective of our children. What’s a mama in search of diverse books to do?! Read less Seuss, and more diversity.
How to find diverse books
- Visit your local public library! Your librarians are professionals in this area, and part of their mission is to locate and purchase books that are reflective of their community. Stop in and ask for help finding those important titles.
- Sign up for newsletters from a website such as Brightly. This is one of my favorite sites to suggest for parents trying to find children’s literature on a variety of topics, or just keep abreast of the latest books coming out. They have some excellent articles and lists, such as 17 New Authors of Color Writing Much-Needed Stories for Kids.
- Check out an amazing new resource: Diverse Families Bookshelf. This comprehensive bibliography is being updated constantly with hundreds of children’s books read cover to cover and cataloged for your perusal. Thanks to a handful of librarians at the University of Central Florida, you can easily locate books featuring a variety of family relationships, racial diversity, cultures & ethnicities, disabilities & health topics, as well as LGBTQ+!
- Take a deep dive into a huge compilation by We Need Diverse Books. This list may take you some time to read through, but it is a motherlode of updated recommendations for representation.
Should I stop reading Dr. Seuss?
I’m not going to tell you to toss all of your Dr. Seuss books. I’m not throwing away our copies, but I’m definitely going to be more intentional about choosing to read books portraying real, modern children over those books from the first half of the 20th century. Less Seuss, more diversity.