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You can still see what happened on Mulberry Street

Controversial to some, Dr. Seuss books still available in local libraries
A scan of the cover of one of six books by Dr. Seuss which his estate decided to stop publication of due to “racist and/or culturally insensitive” images. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was the first of 60 books authored and illustrated by Theodore Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”), first published in 1937 after 27 rejections.

IOWA CITY– Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), known to all as “Dr. Seuss,” was a prolific author and illustrator of children’s books who helped generations learn to read.
His first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected 27 times before being published in 1937. The book, a young boy’s whimsical fantasy tale building on having seen a horse and wagon on the street during his journey home from school, is now one of six, no longer be published due to images deemed to be racist and/or culturally insensitive.
On Tuesday, March 2, the Associated Press (AP) reported Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business preserving and protecting Geisel’s legacy, will stop publishing the 84-year old book, as well as McElligot’s Pool (a Caldecott Honor* winning book first published in 1947), On Beyond Zebra (1955), Scrambled Eggs Super! (1953) and The Cat’s Quizzer (1976).
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the AP story quoted a spokesperson for Dr. Seuss Enterprises. “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.”
At issue in And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, for example, is one image close to the end of the story where “…A Chinese boy Who eats with sticks…” is illustrated as a yellow-skinned boy in a pointed hat holding a rice bowl and pair of chopsticks.
“The decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion,” the AP noted, however the announcement to do so was made in conjunction with Geisel’s birthday (March 2). The announcement touched off a firestorm as progressives praised the move and pointed to a 2019 study by the Conscious Kid’s Library and the University of California-San Diego determining Geisel’s work had “Orientalist” and “anti-black references” with “characters of color presented in subservient, exotified or dehumanized roles.”
Conservatives pointed to the decision as another example of cancel culture, which The New York Post defined as the phenomenon of promoting the ‘canceling’ of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies.
Finding a new namesake for Johnson County, and a new mascot for Marion High School, formerly “The Indians,” retiring longtime brands such as Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth, and rebranding professional sports teams, such as the Washington Redskins, are recent examples along with a nationwide trend of removing statues.
Conservative pundit Todd Starnes said, in Dr. Seuss’ rhyming style, “It’s a sorry affair that’s left a pungent stench. Stealing our joy like a Christmas Grinch. Will Horton be next or maybe the Whos (from Horton Hears a Who)? It’s just a big pile of Cancel Culture poo.” Starnes added, “A racist, Seuss is not but, one fact is true– banning books is something that only Nazis do,” a reference to book burnings conducted by Germany’s National Socialist Party (Nazis), and to reports some school districts removed Geisel’s books from their “Read Across America” events.
Local libraries were contacted to see if they have any of the affected titles in circulation, and if so, would they continue to offer them.
Jennie Garner, Director of the North Liberty Community Library said “North Liberty has one book in our physical collection, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and three including that one in the e-book collection we share with Coralville and Iowa City Public Libraries. At this time, those books will remain in the collection– both the physical title and the e-books.” An important role for libraries is to ensure they have balanced collections promoting diversity, she said. “We follow American Library Association (ALA) Freedom to Read principles. It goes against public interest for a library to censor materials on the basis of personal history or politics of an author or creator.”
Those principles, she explained, offer guidance to provide a wide range of timely, accurate, and relevant materials, including expressions possibly unorthodox or unpopular.
“There are opportunities to use some of these materials to start conversations and teach kids about diversity and inclusion,” Garner said. “Further, librarians can offer readers’ advisory services to help guide guardians and caregivers in selecting titles to share with youth. Our staff works to educate patrons in regards to thinking critically about how they use information.”
The North Liberty Community Library’s collection is continually shifting, Garner said, calling it dynamic rather than static.
“So, when books are in poor condition or lose their popularity or relevance, they are removed from the collection to make room for new materials,” she said. “As a public library, our goal is to reflect the wants and needs of the community we serve and also to give our readers a window to other lifestyles and worlds. We review new titles to add to the collection based on accuracy, timeliness, and relevance in our communities– and even sometimes factor in as much space we have on our shelves.”
Garner said, there are “fantastic works being published today that will someday go the same way as what we might now consider classics. Something we’ve discussed as a staff is the difference between historical value and nostalgia. We, as adults, fondly remember titles we read as kids and want to share those with our own children but we may not remember the content or be able to discern how it fits in today’s world.”
However, she pointed out, “There are wonderful, new titles that are relevant and will be loved by our kids the way we loved titles we read as young people.”
Liz King, Director of the Solon Public Library, said they have four physical copies of the titles in question and two available as an e-book through the State Library of Iowa Bridges Overdrive e-book collection.
“We do not have plans to remove them from our collection at this time,” she said. “As I have watched this story unfold, I am encouraged to see the open discourse and exchange of ideas and opinions. The fact that you are writing a story and people are discussing these issues points to an awareness of the need to continually examine literature with an objective eye. While something might have been considered a classic at one time, there are always new writers creating amazing stories that provide new perspectives to build understanding, empathy, and acceptance.”
Laura Hoover, the Director for the Swisher Community Library echoed King and Garner noting Swisher has just And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, “Which we will be leaving on the shelf. One thing I would add is that we each have a collection development policy that helps guide what we buy and/or accept as a donation to put on the shelf. Given limited budget, and honestly, shelf space, we work to have a collection that meets the needs of each of our communities within the scope of the more practical considerations of money and shelf space.”
Hoover also added, “One thing to remember about this story is that Dr. Seuss himself had already altered the image before he died, and that it is his family who has decided to stop publishing the book. So, it is not really censorship, more of the artist rethinking what it is he wants to say.”

*Editor’s note: The Caldecott Medal and Caldecott Honor are named in honor of 19th Century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished (as determined by a selection committee) American picture book for children.