US customers have flocked to buy copies of Dr Seuss titles after six of the children’s author’s books were withdrawn because of racist portrayals of people of colour.
Dr Seuss Enterprises, which preserves the late Theodor Seuss Geisel’s legacy, announced on Tuesday – the author’s birthday – that after working with a panel of experts to review Seuss’s books, it had concluded that the six titles portrayed people in ways that were “hurtful and wrong”.
Seuss’s first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, contains an illustration of a Chinese man that caused controversy two years ago when it was included in a mural. If I Ran the Zoo suggests a “chieftain” in a turban could be kept in a zoo, and contains a drawing of two men, described as being from Africa, wearing grass skirts and carrying exotic-looking animals.
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr Seuss Enterprises’ catalogue represents and supports all communities and families,” said the organisation on Tuesday. Conservative media reacted to the news with outrage. Fox News declared: “cancel culture strikes beloved author” and that “if we lose this battle, America is lost”.
On Thursday morning, Amazon.com’s bestseller chart was filled with Seuss titles. Nine of the Top 10 books were by the late writer, and 30 of the Top 50. Used copies of the six titles for which publication has now ceased – And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super! and The Cat’s Quizzer – were put on sale for hundreds of dollars, as sellers looked to profit from the decision.
“I can’t tell you how angry I am that it will no longer be published!!” wrote one Amazon reviewer on the listing for Mulberry Street, while another ruled that there was “no racism here. Just overly PC people actively looking for something to be offended about.”
Seuss himself later revised the 1937 title Mulberry Street, saying that: “I had a gentleman with a pigtail. I colored him yellow and called him a Chinaman. That’s the way thing were 50 years ago. In later editions I refer to him as a Chinese man. I have taken the color out of the gentleman and removed the pigtail and now he looks like an Irishman.”
Seuss died in 1991, and more than 600m copies of his books are in circulation, earning Dr Seuss Enterprises about $33m (£24m) before tax in 2020, up from $9.5m in 2015, according to the company. Forbes listed him as the second highest-paid dead celebrity of 2020, in part thanks to film and TV deals, but mostly because of sales of his books.