Let’s Talk Dr Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra

(found on Archive.org credit to original uploader.)

This is the last of the six pulled Dr Seuss books that I will discuss on the site. On Beyond Zebra (1955) stars a young boy in school telling an even younger student about all of the letters that come after Z. Seuss designs new letters and uses them to name more fantastical creatures from his imagination. If you enjoyed If I Ran the Zoo or Scrambled Eggs Super, here are more crazy new designs for all sorts of animals. There’s also lots of tongue twister sentences to trip up parents while they read to their children. 

When these books were pulled the Dr Seuss estate did not explain the reasons for each book. The best guess for On Beyond Zebra is the Spazzim. “A beast who belongs to the Nazzim of Bazzim.” A vaguely Middle Eastern looking man riding a Spazzim which I guess because of the hump resembles a camel. Really it looks more like a reindeer with a hump than a camel with antlers. 

Unlike the Asian stereotypes that have been discussed before, Nazzim isn’t shown in any negative way. There’s no skin color. There’s nothing comical. There’s no portrayal of anything from Arab culture in inappropriate ways. If anything, he looks proud and respectable riding atop his Spazzim. 

Also, as mentioned before, nothing about the image or text here is essential to the book. No one would notice if Spazzim is missing, nor the new letter he represents, the letter Spazz. 

Now that I have read all six of these books I think the decision to pull them was half valid concern over images and half saving money as a publisher. Then, spinning that financial concern into pulling all of the books for inappropriate drawings. Pulling one book for a good reason singles out that one book and may have brought more attention to isolated images. By discontinuing six books at once, the focus shifted to all of the Dr Seuss books. Dr Seuss books were selling like crazy, but none of them were these six. The general public who did not read or listen to the entire story acted like it was the entire Dr Seuss catalog that would no longer be published. The vast majority of articles had no mention of the images in question in any of the books, let alone all six. Without any attention on the pages in question, there was also no discussion. What is offensive about these images? What can be changed? Should they be changed? How can we use this moment to try better next time? Meanwhile, sales of Cat in the Hat and the other popular Seuss titles increase and still no one cares about the books that were pulled partially because no one cared about them to begin with. 

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