- Many Dr. Seuss books topped bestsellers list this week, but what drove the sales?
- Republicans including Ted Cruz and Donald Trump Jr. said “cancel culture” had come for Dr. Seuss.
- Telegram users implied they’d bought the titles because of the controversy.
- Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.
Back in 1984, when he was 43 books into his career, Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, told a reporter from The San Diego Union-Tribune that most of his stories didn’t have serious messages, but were rather “just plain pleasant tommyrot.”
The newspaper described the author at home in La Jolla, California. He was leaning back in his desk chair, discussing whether his newest book, “The Butter Battle Book,” was a “children’s books for adults or an adult book for children.”
“There are so many leaders who think in a childlike manner, I thought it wouldn’t make any difference if it was a children’s book or not,” Geisel said.
Dr. Seuss’s books have meant a lot to both children and adults in the eight decades since he published his first one. Perhaps that’s why, this past week, they became a focal point in an ongoing conversation about so-called cancel culture.
Political commentators on the right, including Donald Trump Jr. and Senator Ted Cruz, jumped to the defense of Dr. Seuss as six of his books were pulled because of offensive or racist imagery. Trump said the move was a clear sign that the “woke mob” had come for the author, who died in 1991.
“I literally know ‘The Cat in the Hat’ by heart without the book there because I read it so many times to my children,” Trump said on Fox News. He added: “These things are not racist.”
Trump Jr and others placed the blame on their political opponents, liberal lawmakers, and the media. On Twitter, Rep. Matt Gaetz said: “At what point does our society reach cancel culture herd immunity?”
But the decision to stop publishing the six books came from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the author’s estate, a fact that seemed to get lost in the conversation over so-called cancel culture. The call, you might say, was coming from inside the house.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises said it sought to further the author’s mission of “hope, inspiration, inclusion, and friendship,” according to a statement released Tuesday.
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families,” the company said.
The six books removed from its catalog were: ‘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.’
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” the company said.
According to researchers, Geisel also published hundreds of racist cartoons and drawings during his career.
By late afternoon on Friday, about half the books on Amazon’s bestseller list were either Dr. Seuss originals or spinoffs by other writers.
On Thursday, eBay told The Wall Street Journal it was scrubbing its site of the six pulled books. Late Friday, however, some of the pulled books could still be found for sale.
A copy of “The Cat’s Quizzer” listed on eBay had more than 50 bids, putting its price well about $200. Several copies of “Mulberry Street” were listed at about $150, plus shipping.
President Joe Biden this week left Dr. Seuss books off his reading list for Read Across America Day. The fact-checking site PolitiFact said Biden’s decision wasn’t connected to the decision made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The shift had been years in the making, it added.
When asked about the omission at the White House, Jen Psaki, press secretary, said: “And as we celebrate the love of reading and uplift diverse and representative authors, it is especially important that we ensure all children can see themselves represented and celebrated in the books that they read.”
On Twitter, Cruz posted a screenshot of Amazon’s bestseller list full of Dr. Seuss titles, adding: “Could Biden try to ban my book next?”
—Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 3, 2021
Last week, Ann Coulter, the political commentator and author, focused her attention on “The Butter Battle Book,” and called for it to be removed from shelves.
“If Dr. Seuss’s estate is going to pull any of his books, it should be the embarrassing one suggesting that the difference between the USSR and U.S.A was just that we buttered our bread on different sides – published in 1984, as Reagan was winning the Cold War,” Coulter wrote on Twitter.
Back in 1984, when Geisel had just finished “The Butter Battle Book,” he told the Tribune reporter that the book was one of his only books to make a political statement. He was against the one-upmanship that had made Americans fear all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
“It is a departure, but I figure in all kids’ books, even the nonsense, the author is saying something,” Geisel said at the time. “And he might as well say something important once in awhile.”
So, all in all, the backlash over the company’s decision did seem to be behind a retail buying frenzy that sent Dr. Seuss books to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers charts, particularly as on Telegram, some members of alt-right groups implied they’d ordered Dr. Seuss books because of the controversy, according to screenshots seen by Insider.
It should be noted, though, that the books that led sales – “The Cat in the Hat,” “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!,” and “Green Eggs and Ham” – weren’t the ones that had been pulled by Dr. Seuss Enterprises.