Read Across America Day was celebrated Tuesday, as it is every year, on the birthday of the late Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Yet neither the National Education Association, which launched Read Across America Day, nor President Joe Biden mentioned Geisel in their official proclamations this week.
Not coincidentally, that was the same day Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which preserves the author’s legacy, announced that it would cease publication of six of Geisel’s books because of racist wording and imagery, including the first book under his pen name, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” The offending illustrations, which Geisel drew, included images of Chinese people in coolie hats and Black Africans with hoops through their noses.
It’s tempting in these days of extreme reactions to reject an artist’s entire oeuvre over shortcomings as a person or as an artist — and for a backlash to be mounted against that rejection, claiming that this is so-called cancel culture attempting to limit speech.
But whatever Geisel’s strengths and shortcomings were in his work outside of children’s literature, the books themselves should stand and fall on their own. And most of them stand.