The controversy in the library

Across the nation, kids celebrated Read Across America the week of Dr. Seuss’s March 2 birthday. Students and teachers dress up in red and white striped hats, wear Dr. Seuss inspired clothing and hairdos and read his books as well as many others. The fun week emphasizes books. This year on his birthday, the company controlling the late Dr. Seuss’ estate announced that six of his books will no longer be published because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Facebook lit up with folks protesting “the ban on Dr. Seuss books.”

“No, no, no,” better informed folks wrote, “Not banned and not all Dr. Seuss books. Just six will no longer be published: ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ ‘The Cat’s Quizzer,’ ‘On Beyond Zebra,’ ‘Scrambled Eggs Super,’ ‘And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street’ and ‘McElligot’s Pool’.”

Within hours, Internet book-selling sites like eBay, Amazon and Abebooks saw books which sold for five dollars on Monday leap to four hundred dollars and more on Tuesday. When an acquaintance discovered the price surge, she found several, listed them and quickly sold several at a tidy profit. Another woman listed four as auctions only to have eBay remove each for “offensive material.” A quick look for the books on eBay shows that many more have escaped the censors. Looking at the hundreds of unsold Dr. Seuss books, it’s also obvious that while eBay management removed many listings of the six books, just as many slipped past and sold in the week’s buying frenzy.

Meanwhile, the Amazon and Abebooks websites continued to sell the same books at the astonishing prices without recrimination. Across the country, bookstores sold any Dr. Seuss books they had. Before the announcement and after his “I Can Read Books” held top positions on the best seller lists. In fact, according to, CBR.org, “None of the six (no longer to be published) books are particularly big sellers, with If I Ran the Zoo selling the most copies in 2020 with 7,000. … Some of the books sold as little as single digits in 2020. Seuss’ most popular books, like Green Eggs and Ham, sell over 10,000 copies a week.”

While some folks paid astronomical prices to make sure they have a copy of Mulberry Street or ‘McElligot’s Pool’ for their children, others questioned eBay’s professed, “removal of potentially offensive and hurtful material.” They specifically found and protested that the more blatantly racist books which eBay allowed to be sold such as the serious adult book “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler and light hearted children’s books like “Peter Pan” (remember the Indians on the island?) and the “Little House on the Prairie” series.

EBay management listened and began pulling listings for Mein Kampf. However, the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and Peter Pan in every form continue to be sold on eBay. Perhaps because both became popular shows with a plethora of spin-off in books and recordings.

Shunning, outlawing or banning books is not new. Remember “Banned in Boston?” That was one city’s quest to refuse the sale of literature, songs or plays with questionable content. Publishing companies welcomed the label – it guaranteed a surge of sales outside Boston. For centuries dictators and absolute authoritarian leaders sought to maintain control by burning certain books. They knew the truth that “that pen is mightier than the sword.”

The power of the written word is exactly why the nation continues to celebrate a national week of reading. We need students to read novels, biographies and essays for enjoyment now and to develop the skills to discern subtle or blatant messages and consider their social, emotional, spiritual and political impact. To that end, dear readers, thank you for reading.

About jottingjoan

retired former newspaper writer. Many children and grandchildren. One husband.
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