Dr. Seuss estate says it will stop publishing 6 books with 'hurtful and wrong' depictions
Dr. Seuss/Facebook, Public Domain

Editor's Note: This article contains imagery that some readers may find offensive.


News about Dr. Seuss today has people discussing history, racism, children's literature, "cancel culture," and what to do with problematic and harmful work from a beloved author.

After years of growing awareness of racist imagery in some of Dr. Seuss's early work, the estate of the children's author has announced that six of his titles will no longer be published or licensed.

"These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong," Dr. Seuss Enterprises wrote, adding "Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises' catalog represents and supports all communities and families."

Naturally, people have feelings about this.


Dr. Seuss books are a beloved part of millions of Americans' childhoods. Many of us learned to read with Dr. Seuss books and have fond memories of the rhyme and rhythms inherent in his silly stories. But that doesn't mean that all of his works were benign.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, who wrote his kids' books under the pseudonym "Dr. Seuss," got his start as a political cartoonist. While his anti-Nazi cartoons are largely still palatable, his racist depictions of Japanese Americans during the war are not. Racial stereotypes such as Geisel depicted led to 120,000 Japanese Americans being cruelly placed in internment camps in the U.S. between 1942 and 1945. Geisel also drew horrible caricatures of people from Africa and the Middle East.

Geisel's views evolved, and he expressed regret over some of his depictions. His book "Horton Hears a Who" was meant to be an indirect apology to the Japanese, and "The Sneetches" can be read as a moral story showing the pitfalls of prejudice. Debate over whether or not his racist work can be reconciled with his later anti-prejudice work has raged for years. Some try to defend his early work, saying he was a product of his time—but that ignores the fact that anti-racist people have existed alongside racists for all of history. Some say that his change of heart is enough to forgive his past, but others point out that he never formally apologized for his racist works nor did he do anything to change his portrayal of people of color.

Which brings us to the Dr. Seuss Enterprises announcement that they will stop publishing six of his children's books.

Whether or not Geisel redeemed himself in his personal views later in life, his hurtful portrayals of people of color are still out there. In fact, a study on the racial implications in 50 of his children's books titled "The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books" found the following:

"In the fifty Dr. Seuss children's books, 2,240 human characters are identified. Of the 2,240 characters, there are forty-five characters of color representing two percent of the total number of human characters. The eight books featuring characters of color include: The Cat's Quizzer: Are YOU Smarter Than the Cat in the Hat?; Scrambled Eggs Super!; Oh, the Places You'll Go!; On Beyond Zebra; Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo; If I Ran the Zoo; And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street; and Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

"Of the forty-five characters of color, forty-three are identified as having characteristics aligning with the definition of Orientalism. Within the Orientalist definition, fourteen people are identified by stereotypical East Asian characteristics and twenty-nine characters are wearing turbans. Characters aligned with Orientalism are sometimes attributed an ethno-racial identity, but are generally situated within a colorblind lens, often from an unspecified nationality, race, or ethnicity. Only two of the forty-five characters are identified in the text as "African" and both align with the theme of anti-Blackness.

"White supremacy is seen through the centering of Whiteness and White characters, who comprise 98% (2,195 characters) of all characters. Notably, every character of color is male. Males of color are only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanized roles. This also remains true in their relation to White characters. Most startling is the complete invisibility and absence of women and girls of color across Seuss' entire children's book collection."

The following tweet contains two examples of racist imagery found in "If I Ran the Zoo":

While there has been a predictable uproar about "canceling" or "banning" Dr. Seuss, this move to remove the problematic books came from the Dr. Seuss estate itself, not some amorphous "cancel culture" mob. It's only six books out of 50 that will no longer be published so they don't keep putting out hurtful images. Some parents and educators have decided there are other authors they prefer to use to help kids learn to read due to Geisel's history—but that's not the same as banning his books. Some libraries and school districts have stopped highlighting Dr. Seuss books, but they are still available on the shelves.

President Biden not mentioning Dr. Seuss during his Read Across America Day proclamation today is also not really "canceling." The day has been around since 1998, and though it coincides with Geisel's birthday, neither Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush mentioned Dr. Seuss in their proclamations, either. Presidents Obama and Trump did—both of them singing Dr. Seuss's praises—but the day is not synonymous with Dr. Seuss.

Do we really want to call thoughtful criticism, personal discernment in book choices, and making changes when harmful things come to light "cancel culture"? Meh. What we're seeing here is learning. It's growth. It's reckoning with the complexities of reality and wrestling with demons of the past. Uprooting racism is messy, but pretending it doesn't exist, even in the works of beloved icons, will get us nowhere.

We'll likely be debating Dr. Seuss's legacy for many years to come, but it's good to see his estate taking action to stop continuing to put out imagery that perpetuates stereotypes.

Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

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Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

The "Big 5" is an old term from the colonial era, denoting the five wild animals in Africa that were the most sought-after kills for trophy hunters. Killing those five—lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo—meant ultimate success in the big-game hunting world.

Now there's a "New Big 5," but instead of a barbaric goal for trophy hunters, it's a beautiful goal for wildlife photographers.

The initiative was created by British wildlife photographer Graeme Green with the goal of raising awareness about threats to the world's animals including habitat loss, poaching, illegal animal trade, and climate change. In a global call for votes, 50,000 wildlife lovers shared which animals they most wanted to photograph or see in photos. And the winners are:

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."