[Or-srp] Tuesday, March 2nd The Dr. Seuss stuff

BERGQUIST Greta * SLO Greta.BERGQUIST at slo.oregon.gov
Tue Mar 2 11:56:15 PST 2021

Hello everyone, 

Some of you are probably discussing Dr. Seuss this week. I found what my colleague Angie in Iowa wrote below to be helpful.



-----Original Message-----
From: yscon <yscon-bounces at lists.library.ohio.gov> On Behalf Of Manfredi, Angelina via yscon
Sent: Tuesday, March 2, 2021 10:47 AM
To: (yscon at lists.library.ohio.gov) <yscon at lists.library.ohio.gov>
Subject: [yscon] The Dr. Seuss stuff

I am glad to see everyone is thinking critically about all of this, there’s so much we can take from conversations like this to make our practices more inclusive.

First, I always think it’s helpful to rephrase “cancel culture” into “consequence culture” - something happened, good or bad, and now there are consequences for it. It’s often what we tell children, I’ve found. Consequences result from our actions. Sometimes we don’t like those consequences and thus we learn to take different, hopefully better, actions. That can often clarify a lot of discussions.

Next, there is ample evidence of the racism in Geisel’s work, both conscious and deliberate and the larger more unconscious bias. As noted, within his OWN LIFE he acknowledged his racist work and the harm it did. That's good, but it's not the whole story. There is plenty of scholarship about that and I always suggest everyone start with the peer-reviewed, thoroughly documented article The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss’s Children’s Books by Ishizuka and Stephens - https://sophia.stkate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1050&context=rdyl  and read Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature, and the Need for Diverse Books  https://global.oup.com/academic/product/was-the-cat-in-the-hat-black-9780190932879?cc=us&lang=en&  by Philip Nel, which isn’t just about Geisel but does a great job talking about this and is one of my favorite books about kidlit. You can watch this Google Talk with Nel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgX-QawahyE  to get an introduction to his research, it’s absolutely fascinating and digs into this in a great way, as does all of Nel’s work IMO. And while some of Geisel’s work also does explicit address the NEGATIVE implications of biases, Cat in the Hat has roots in Blackface minstrelsy, this is not up for debate, and does us no service to pretend otherwise. It’s hard to not let nostalgia cloud our thinking when it comes to children’s literature, but it’s important.

Moreover, when I worked in a public library, I never bothered promoting Seuss work or doing the whole IT’S HIS BIRTHDAY LET’S HAVE A HUGE PARTY because why would I need to promote something that is already so widely known? That would be like if I held up James Patterson as THE only thriller writer, have you heard? There are literally THEME parks based on Seuss’s work, which has now become a corporation. Besides that, there are so many new, exciting books that I can help introduce patrons to. I admire NEA’s commitment to moving the focus to other titles https://www.nea.org/professional-excellence/student-engagement/read-across-america , and they have tons of great resources and reasons about why. A librarian friend of mine, Jillian Heise the creator of #ClassroomBookADay, came up with this awesome list of titles that truly do READ ACROSS AMERICA https://heisereads.blogspot.com/2021/02/read-across-regions-of-america.html?fbclid=IwAR0b7ALq2k9cW6v4Ek38R0AUoZNlqn2H9oZIK2JjjdmUSbtn5DokqMHXZaw#.YD6AD2hKg2x , one for each state. I think it’s much more exciting than telling patrons the same ten books they’ve heard over and over again.

It is a luxury I have as white woman to discuss this as an academic thought exercise. Children and families that end up engaging with racist art and books do not have that same privilege and that is something I try to be aware about when I pretend I am neutral in situations like this. So, that having been said, it’s always worth a reminder that weeding books isn’t censorship, it’s part of our work as public librarians and stewards of public collections built with public funds with limited space. Would I pull The Cat in the Hat? Probably not, but if it stopped circ’ing, sure, I’d pull anything lol. The REAL question is what NEW titles do I have that, say, aren’t rooted in Blackface? What is the general age of my collection? Do I think EVERY 64 year old picture book belongs on my shelves or can I make room for newer titles? What NEW books do I have by Black, Indigenous authors of color and how do I promote them and use them in my programming and displays? Do I need FIVE copies of The Cat in the Hat when I could use some of that money to buy OTHER titles? These are the REAL questions to ask, not “are you gonna take all your Seuss books out and burn 'em?” questions like that, which I understand can sometimes come from patrons who’ve gotten all riled up due to SHOCK reporting done about this, don’t want real answers but we can still be prepared to give thoughtful ones and to share with patrons (with anyone really) how complex this is and how it reflects the work we’re all doing to make our collections more diverse, more current, more welcoming to EVERYONE and more accurately reflecting our communities and the world we live in.

Hope this is some food for thought for some and gives other words to express how they might be feeling/learning more. I am always happy to dig farther into the work of disrupting and diversifying collections and our work in general, as many of you know this is a passion project of mine, so never hesitate to reach out.

Angie Manfredi |Youth Services Consultant | she/her/hers State Library of Iowa | Des Moines Office 800-248-4483, press 3 for consulting/support
Direct: 515-281-7572 | angie.manfredi at iowa.gov <mailto:First.Last at iowa.gov> www.StateLibraryofIowa.org <http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/> 

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