Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were fans of Dr. Seuss before the children’s author came under fire for creating racist and insensitive imagery.
The then-president said in 2015 that “pretty much all the stuff you need to know is in Dr. Seuss” while speaking to a group of White House interns, emphasizing Seuss’ message of inclusivity written into many of his children’s books and naming “The Sneetches” and “Horton Hears a Who” as examples.
“We’re all the same, so why would we treat somebody differently just because they don’t have a star on their belly?” he asked the group. “If I think about responsibility, I think about Horton sitting on the egg up in the tree while Lazy Mayzie’s flying off, doing whatever she wants. Know what I mean?”
He added that as people get older, they find “the homespun, basic virtues” that their parents “care about and admire” such as hard work, responsibility and kindness turn out to be “all true.”
It was not the last time the former president would channel Dr. Seuss for inspiration.
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In 2018, during an interview with author and philanthropist Dave Eggers, Obama repeated the sentiment while comparing his work as a community organizer to his work as president and explaining how “the nature of human dynamics does not change from level to level.”
“I’ve been quoted saying this sometimes. Most of what you need to learn you can actually just, read Dr. Seuss,” he said, again naming “The Sneetches” as an example. “It’s all pretty much there.”
The former president and first lady also embraced his children’s books on Easter and National Read Across America Day, when schools across the U.S. celebrate reading on Theodor Seuss Geisel’s March 2 birthday to commemorate the popular children’s author.
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“On Read Across America Day, we partner with the National Education Association and mark the birthday of Theodor Geisel, whose beloved Dr. Seuss books still inspire children throughout the world to read,” Obama said in 2009.
The former first lady also celebrated the holiday by reading to children during National Read Across America Day events over the eight years the Obamas led the White House and as recently as May 2020.
This year, however, the holiday that has been celebrated since 1998 took a different tone on Tuesday, as there has been increasing criticism in recent years over the way Black, Asian and other characters are drawn in some of Seuss’ most beloved children’s books as well as in his earlier advertising and propaganda illustrations.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy, told The Associated Press in a Tuesday statement that it would cease the sales of six Dr. Seuss books.
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“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” it said, adding that “ceasing sales of these books” was only part of its commitment and “broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
Copies of “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” will no longer be published.
The decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion, the company told AP.
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“Dr. Seuss Enterprises listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field as part of our review process. We then worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review our catalog of titles,” it said.
A Virginia school system recently decided to discourage recognition of National Read Across America Day in light of the controversy, prompting discussion of the author and decisions to “cancel” his work on social media. The school system clarified in a Feb. 27 statement that it is not banning the author’s books.
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President Biden, former vice president to Obama, did not include Seuss’ name in proclaiming Read Across America Day on Tuesday, a presidential tradition. Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that the Department of Education wrote the proclamation and reporters could “certainly speak to them about more specifics about the drafting of it” when asked about the decision to drop Seuss’ name.
She added that Read Across America Day is “a chance to celebrate diverse authors whose work and lived experience reflect the diversity of our country, and that’s certainly what they what they attempted to do or hope to do this year.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.