Read Across America Week: Inclusivity vs. Traditionalism

So, who else has noticed the angry comment wars in librarian groups? Just me? With Read Across America Day/Week ramping up, the familiar argument of how much focus to put on Seuss is resurfacing and even I’m questioning where I stand.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, Read Across America has traditionally been tied to celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and furthering that, the activities and celebrations have revolved around Seuss. In recent years, many readers have begun to zoom in on Seuss’s questionable (i.e. racist) characterizations and illustrations found in some of his books, as well as his own personal history. This has lead to many, even the National Education Association (NEA), to cutting ties with Seuss and focusing on inclusivity and diversity in reading instead.

Whew… are you still with me? Taking a step back, these claims are just facts, as we see several racist caricatures in Seuss’s books. Now whether that’s a product of the times or a deeper insight about Seuss’s own morality doesn’t really matter, because either is wrong.

But now we’re seeing many teachers/librarians/etc. gripping to And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street for dear life before even reflecting on alternatives or solutions. I have struggled to separate myself from Seuss, especially in a school culture that (thankfully) celebrates a joy of reading. We’re even getting ready to start our annual week of Seuss-themed dress up days. So how do we get out of this?

Like I’ve said, the NEA has given us a solution by keeping the same spirit but by combatting the harmful aspects of Seuss literature, and they offer plenty of themes, activities, and other ideas for year-round reading. Marketing their celebrating as a “Nation of Diverse Readers”, they focus diverse authors and stories. Even if you reject the racist caricatures in Seuss books as being a product of the times, you still have to admit they don’t have the diversity needed for modern reading.

The real solution is admitting that there are other authors that have similar styles with representation, powerful messages, and the same educational benefits. Some of those authors include:

Julia Donaldson

The Smeds and the Smoos

You may know her from The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson is an author I’ve gotten into recently, especially thanks to the wonderful book The Smeds and the Smoos. Her work in this book has the same effortless flow with nonsense words, but with a message of love across differences. My students adored this book for it’s message, illustrations, and rhymes.

Charles Waters

Can I Touch Your Hair?

Charles Waters (joined by others) uses his poetry to send beautiful messages. In this book specifically, he examines very realistic and early examples of dealing with race as a child. Even the title, Can I Touch Your Hair, tackles one of the most common microaggressions Black people face, a familiar boundary crossed when others see you as different. The prose is easy to read and the illustrations are gorgeous.

Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Just Like Me

I can’t say enough good things Just Like Me! Just the cover art makes me feel all warm inside, but the rhymes in this book are *chef’s kiss*. This is a book of self love with bite-sized poems throughout that I think any reader would enjoy. Brantley-Newton has many other amazing works, both as an author and an illustrator.

The list definitely doesn’t end there, but we have to start somewhere. As a librarian with a catalog scores deep of Seuss, I don’t see it being a clean break from me. Starting small is how I trick my school as well (half kidding) into inclusive, diverse, and anti-racism literature. What are your thoughts?

2 Comments on Read Across America Week: Inclusivity vs. Traditionalism

  1. Kimberly McFall
    March 1, 2021 at 2:52 pm (2 years ago)

    This is an exceptional post … I hope it generates some comments and discussion! Excellent work!

    Reply
  2. doris
    March 3, 2021 at 7:24 am (2 years ago)

    Excellent, thought provoking post! Love your current book choices. Makes me really think about the beloved Dr. Seuss, although the moral of his stories are usually spot on, now we must face the racist aspects. Would be great discussion points for compare and contrast in upper elementary schools! Thanks for sharing. Love the layout of your blog.

    Reply

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