What you may not know about Dr. Seuss, and ideas on how to discuss race and racism with your kids.
Dr. Seuss is an author whose books have been part of virtually every American’s childhood. Many of us have fond memories of reading those books as children, educators, and parents. At Northwest Children’s Theater, we’ve often celebrated the themes of endless imagination, collaboration, and individuality through his books.
There are important conversations happening across our country right now. At NWCT, we are identifying immediate and long-term steps we can take towards improving our racial literacy and taking anti-racist action. This is an ongoing process. We believe conversations about race and racism are important for children to engage in as well.
Something that our community has made us aware of over the past few weeks is that Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) participated in wrong and hurtful racist activities. Below is a statement from Artistic Director Sarah Jane Hardy, as well as informative articles and resources on this topic. We acknowledge that this information may be difficult to learn and discuss with your family. Learning this so late in our process has made us realize that we need to change how we choose and vet our shows from the beginning.
A Statement from Artistic Director Sarah Jane Hardy on producing Seussical
Over the past few weeks, our community, our city, and our country has come together to fight for social justice. The surge in the Black Lives Matter movement has forced all of us – as individuals and as organizations – to also look inwardly at our own beliefs, systems, and actions, and identify ways that we have ignored, perpetuated, and not been aware of systemic racist practices.
We do not take this lightly. On June 1, we made a statement that there is no place for racism in our community; that we are an organization that is learning and working on improving our racial literacy; and that we cannot stay silent because our children and families deserve better. We are dedicated to this statement, now, and always.
We originally chose to produce Seussical as part of our 2019-20 season last summer. This is a show we had produced twice before and did not vet it in the same way we would a new work. At the time, I was not aware of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (better known as Dr. Seuss) blatantly racist political cartoons, or research that uncovered racist undertones in some of his children’s books. I own this mistake. As Artistic Director, it is my job to research story origins and authors to gain a full understanding of a show before we produce it. This has been a learning experience and one that I welcome. We must vet all classic and newer works fully, and our immediate next step is to define that process.
Seussical, while based on books and characters created by Dr. Seuss, was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and this production is our unique interpretation. We originally chose the show because of the strong themes of friendship, equality, justice, and the power of imagination. None of this erases what Dr. Seuss has done, but it has opened conversations for us around how to move forward, both with the show and as a company.
Over the past week, I have engaged the cast, including a special dialogue with our youth performers and families, as well as the creative team, and staff for input on how to move forward. We have come to the conclusion that we cannot ignore Dr. Seuss’ racist work. He made some terrible choices that we must learn from as opposed to sweeping them under the rug. However, after several candid conversations about the racial stereotypes and harm found in Dr. Seuss’ works, we believe we have succeeded in creating a work that celebrates, not diminishes, our community in Seussical Online.
As parents and caregivers, it is your choice if you’d like to share this information with your children, how you want to have those conversations, and what you choose to do with that information. We’ve provided some resources to help you on the path. We also welcome you to reach out to us if you have any other questions or concerns. We will make mistakes. We will be called out. We need to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations; and because of this we will learn and improve.
I am so proud of everyone at Northwest Children’s Theater, not only for having the courage and determination to create a show while being isolated in their homes; but more importantly for their dedication in participating in these exchanges that will push our organization forward in the areas of diversity, inclusion, equity, and anti-racism. I pledge to continue to make these conversations a priority and find ways to engage more of our community.
Learn more about Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
- The Cat is Out of the Bag, Research on Diversity in Youth Culture by Kate Ishizuka (The Conscious Kid) and Ramón Stephens (University of California)
- Read Across America Shifts Away From Dr. Seuss and Toward Diverse Books, School Library Journal
Articles to help parents address this topic with their children
- How to Talk About Racism in Classic Children’s Books, No Time for Flashcards
- Reading Racism in Dr. Seuss, The Atlantic
- It’s Time to Talk About Dr. Seuss, Teaching Tolerance
- Dr. Seuss Books Can Be Racist, But Students Keep Reading Them, NPR
We’ve compiled more resources to help parents and caregivers start and continue the conversation about race and racism, and ways to get involved in social justice actions as a family on our website.