“Caring a Whole Awful Lot” and Doing Something about It: Revisiting the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum

In June I wrote a post for the Horn’s Book’s Family Reading blog entitled “A New Place You’ll Go: Opening Day at the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum” in which I recounted my family’s day visiting this new museum in Springfield, MA. I concluded the piece with a critique of the museum’s omission of “any acknowledgement of the troubling racist and xenophobic contents of some of Geisel’s work — particularly in his early political cartoons.” I was not alone in asserting such criticism, and I found this later piece in the New York Times by Sopan Deb particularly powerful, right down to its headline’s riff on the same book title I referenced for my own post: “At the Dr. Seuss Museum: Oh, the Places They Don’t Go!”

I take issue with the museum’s quoted defense in this piece of its decision to omit this troubling part of Seuss’s legacy because it is a place “primarily designed for children.” I have to wonder which children are included in this statement and conclude that descendants of Japanese Americans who were forced into the WWII internment camps that Geisel advocated aren’t among them, for example. My Horn Book piece wasn’t the first time I’d raised these concerns with staff at the museum. Conversations and correspondence with Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Karen Fisk, in May led me to believe they were working on programs and other initiatives to directly and proactively address the history and legacy of racism and xenophobia in Seuss’s work. I asked questions, offered ideas, and I also recommended that Fisk and others at the museum reach out to critics and invite their feedback and ideas (specifically naming Philip Nel and Mia Wenjen, whom I follow on social media, and who are quoted in the NYT piece). In my Horn Book post I wrote:

“A key component in the museum’s educational vision gives me faith that the museum will follow through on this important work: they are publicly committed to presenting all museum materials in both English and Spanish in order to make exhibits and programs accessible and welcoming to the region’s Spanish-speaking population and to send an overt message about the museum’s dedication to inclusivity. I will be interested to see other ways that the museum fosters this sensibility, perhaps with programs addressing themes of diversity and immigration in children’s literature, and maybe by expanding the museum shop’s holdings and the basement level Cat’s Corner craft and activity center’s materials to promote multicultural children’s literature.”

Although Fisk did reach out to me in May to “pick my brain” as the museum prepared to open (thus initiating the discussions I reference above), I am not affiliated with the museum, and I’ve not received updates from anyone there about progress on these fronts. I was, however, very sorry to see this post on Mia Wenjen’s Pragmatic Mom blog about hearing “crickets” after she was invited to the museum and sent them the following request for information:

“Can you tell me how many people of color are on the Springfield Museums Board of Trustees and their ethnicity?

Also, can I get this same ethic breakdown for the Senior Staff. It can be by percentage i.e. 10% Asian American, 20% African American etc.

I’ve found that decisions regarding addressing racism (or not) is controlled by decision makers who are well meaning and don’t consider themselves White Supremacists or racist, but are spreading a White Narrative simply because everyone with input is white.”

These are good questions, grounded in valid analysis of the need for diverse perspectives, and I saw Wenjen’s post (from which her questions quoted above are excerpted) after I’d accepted an invitation to lead a Whole Book Approach workshop for art teachers at the Springfield Museums at the end of August. I’d already been thinking how my program could address the concerns I’d raised with Fisk, and this post compelled me to directly address the Seuss museum’s omission of this part of Geisel’s legacy with the teachers, who toured the museum before meeting with me. In speaking up and referencing others who’d done the same I attempted to live up to Geisel’s own admonition in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not,” but I also know that simply raising the issue for a few minutes at the beginning of my workshop wasn’t enough. I therefore decided to then use my program to highlight the work of contemporary Asian and Asian American authors and illustrators, as well as a few other books about Asian people that aren’t #ownvoices titles. I told teachers this was an intentional decision on my part, especially since I’d been advocating that the museum embrace programming that would amplify and center the work of diverse artists and authors as one step away from a defensive stance to a proactive one regarding its presentation of Seuss’s life and work. In the interest of broadening the reach of the small program I led that day, here’s a list with links to the picture books I used to talk about engaging children with the picture book as a visual art form:

Red Socks by Ellen Mayer, illustrated by Ying Hwa-Hu

The Sea and I written and illustrated by Harutaka Nakawatari, translated by Susan Matsui

When the Rain Comes by Alma Fullerton, illustrated by Kim LaFave (this link includes an excerpt from my Horn Book Magazine review of the book)

Joey and Jet written and illustrated by James Yang

Lady Hahn and Her Seven Friends written and illustrated by Yumi Heo

In the Meadow by Yukiko Kato, illustrated by Kamako Sakai

Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, illustrated by Suzy Lee

Wave by Suzy Lee

First Snow by Bomi Park

Kamishibai Man by Allen Say

Mirror by Suzy Lee

Bunny Days by Tao Nyeu

The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by JooHee Yoon

Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno

Anno’s Italy by Mitsumasa Anno

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

The Twins’ Blanket by Hyewon Yum

Yoshi’s Feast by Kimiko Kajikawa, illustrated by Yumi Heo

Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin

Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie Lo, illustrated by Beth Lo

Aunt Mary’s Rose by Douglas Wood, illustrated by LeYuen Pham

Buzz by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Shadow by Suzy Lee

There are many other outstanding Asian picture book authors and illustrators with work worthy of being hung in museums and otherwise celebrated as part of the children’s book field (see the list below for additional names, and feel free to add suggestions in the comments). I continue to hope that in addition to directly addressing the ways that some of Geisel’s work promoted exclusion and stereotype, the new museum in his name will take deliberate, overt steps toward inclusivity and the promotion of diverse voices in the field, today.



Links to other Asian picture book authors and illustrators not mentioned in the post above:

Ruth Chan

Jason Chin

Yangsook Choi

Charlene Chua

Arree Chung

Gyo Fujikawa

Minfong Ho

Uma Krishnaswami

JiHyeon Lee

Qin Leng

Lenore Look

Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Linda Sue Park

Dow Phumiruk

Dan Santat

Taro Yashima

Ed Young

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