Once again let’s take a look at one of the six Dr Seuss books that was recently pulled by the publisher. Today is the 1950 book, If I Ran the Zoo.
I was nervous about reading this one because out of the six, this is the only one I read as a child. In fact, my childhood one is around here somewhere, complete with notes. My grandmother read this book to me and my brother countless times. She would pick random people and creatures throughout the book and write family names beside them. The main kid was labelled with my name or my brother’s name depending on the page. Then crazy animals with horns or hair or both would have an uncle or cousin’s name. All of these memories could come crashing down depending on how many questionable panels are in this story.
The story is about young Gerald McGrew, who finds lions and the like too boring. He fantasises about running his own zoo, collecting the most wild and strange and unfamiliar animals in and out of existence. The book is a lot of fun and really showcases the imagination of Seuss. It also shows some of his old opinions before he learned better and tried to make amends.
First is this two page spread. Much like in The Cat’s Quizzler, there’s a bit too much yellow used on the only page featuring Asian characters. Yes, there are only a couple of colors used within the book. Black, blue, red, and yellow. However, graphic designers were still employed way back in 1950 and could have recognized the potential issues here. That said, the worst part of this page is the rhyme:
“I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant
With helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,”
Ouch. There are Bugs Bunny cartoons that my generation and since never saw on Saturday mornings because of Bugs going after “the Japs” and calling them “slant eyes”. Also, not a good idea for a kids’ book in 2021 at a height of anti Asian sentiment.
But we’re not done yet! Now we have this animal from Africa, carried by two problematic stereotypes for a children’s book.
I can hear certain voices now. “If these animals are from China/Africa there are/were people that looked like that!” Alright, let’s play with that idea. Dr Seuss should be a children’s introduction to reading. A series of books that any kid from any background can enjoy. Despite many humans appearing throughout the book to check out the zoo – men, women, and children – the only time any human appears who is not white are on these two pages. A young Asian or Black or any other non white child will not see themselves in a Dr Seuss book. Unless it is as a racial stereotype. There are more positive representations of green hairy people than there are of Black people. And green hairy people don’t buy books. Because they’re not real.
Much like previous books in this series, neither of these pages are essential to the plot. Really, other than the set up – none of the pages are plot essential. This page could be removed, edited, replaced, and very few people would ever notice.
Also, as I’m currently experiencing another form of entertainment editing all of their content I am fine tuning my opinions on removing content. Any creator or publisher has the right to remove or edit their own product at any time. That said, I don’t think they can pretend it never existed. Own what came before, do better, move on.