Long before I knew Kerouac, Bukowski, or Nabokov, I knew Dr. Seuss. “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” were staples during my childhood.
The fact that I attended a Lutheran Parochial school and Dr. Seuss just happened to be Lutheran only gave me more opportunities to get better acquainted with his strange characters and rhyming prose.
The simplicity of his work guided me at a time when I barely understood the English language. Along with millions of other children, Theodor Seuss Geisel helped me make sense of it all in a completely nonsensical way.
And now while we celebrate his birthday, not only is it a good time to acknowledge that Dr. Seuss wrote many stories that made reading fun for young children but also to that Dr. Seuss was a victim of censorship.
In 1988, 17 years after the book was published, a school district in California banned Seuss’s book “The Lorax.” The book tells the story of a character called the Once-ler who cuts down trees to make a garment called the Thneed. The Lorax protests on the behalf of trees and the Bar-ba-loots who eat the trees. The Once-ler eventually destroys the forest and pollutes a nearby pond in the book. The school district banned the book of negatively portraying the logging industry.
Certainly everyone is entitled to their own opinion; in fact, the First Amendment guarantees this freedom. However, students and their parents should decide on what books are unfair or not worth reading not schools and libraries. In the case of “The Lorax,” the school district was restricting information and ideas based on nothing more than hurt feelings. And by simply removing this book, the school district lost an opportunity to have a thoughtful discussion with students about the book’s theme.
Although “The Lorax” was censored in the 80s, censorship is not limited to the distant past. Every day, one book is removed, banned or censored somewhere in the U.S., according to the American Library Association.
If we let this kind of censorship go unchallenged we may miss the next Dr. Seuss, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski or Vladimir Nabokov.
By John Garcia, ACLU of Michigan communications intern