BANNED! Dr. Suess’ If I Ran a Zoo

“I’d make a few changes if I ran the zoo”

Author: Dr. Suess

I’m celebrating Banned Book Week with Dr. Suess! Yes, some of Dr. Suess’ books were quietly “no longer published” last year. The American Library Association, being the cowards that they are, doesn’t count them among the annual Banned Book list because people complained to the publisher, not libraries. Even worse, some of my fellow librarians applauded the decision to unpublish these books.

Maybe I’m overreacting, After all, no one is saying they are going to stop printing The Cat in The Hat or anything. Even William Shakespeare wrote a few not-to-great plays. Maybe these books shouldn’t have been published. I read If I Ran a Zoo to find out.

Gerald McGrew daydreams about weird animals he’d like to put in the zoo. That’s the plot. It’s not Green Eggs and Ham, but a solid kid’s book setup. Chris Van Dusen did basically the same idea with If I Built a House.

The reason this book was unpublished was because of the images. As Gerald daydreams about gathering weird animals from all over the world, his vivid little imagination includes the locals who help him capture these exotic animals. These include “locals who wear their eyes at a slant,” a “brave chieftain” who Gerald intends to bring back as part of the zoo, caricatures of locals from Africa are seen on another page, and he randomly has “Persian Princes” helping him for some reason.

Now to be perfectly fair, Gerald also daydreams about going to the “Wilds of Nantucket” where caricatures of Nantucketers help him capture “Lunks” there is also a caricature of a Russian, and stereotypical French Chefs cooking for the animals at the zoo. I think you would be hard-pressed to say Seuss was intentionally being spitful with his artwork. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t understand why people are upset about these illustrations. I will not be sharing this book at storytime, that’s for sure.

The rhymes are forced tough twisters even by Dr. Suess standards, Frankly, I’m surprised this was published while What Pet Should I Get? sat in mothballs! This is not Dr. Suess at his best.

I still don’t like the idea of banning books just because the subject matter is uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of white-washing history. pretending these books didn’t exist doesn’t solve racism, it just hides it.

Imagine if Disney made a movie that wasn’t trying to be racist, but it kind of was. Imagine if Disney choose to deal with that by pretending that the film just didn’t exist, and never dealing with the messy history.


1 Comment

  1. It is getting to the point that everything has to be politically correct—according to whose standards? I was raised on Dr. Seuss and children’s perspectives are always innocent. It is in the adult world that we find perspectives so jaded and biased. Pretty soon they’ll be wanting to band the Bible. Heaven help us all!


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