Chopsticks are nifty little tools. They act like extensions of your fingers, much nimbler at grasping food than a fork or a spoon. My family has used them for a very long time (we’re talking millennia here). They even got a shout out in a children’s book by the esteemed Dr. Seuss.
In one cartoony illustration, a slit-eyed, yellow-faced person with a long braid runs wielding a pair of chopsticks. “A Chinese boy who eats with sticks …” Dr. Seuss writes. Clearly Dr. Seuss should have known better. What Chinese mother lets her child run while holding chopsticks? Unbelievable!
“And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” first published in 1937, was one of the six books that the Seuss estate announced it would stop selling last week. I already owned a copy. A gift, ironically, from my Chinese mother, who probably picked it up at a garage sale and didn’t screen it first.
We love Dr. Seuss. You can tell by the many dog-eared copies of his books on our shelves. Both my kids learned the alphabet from “Dr. Seuss’s ABC.” Our whole family dressed up as The Cat in the Hat one Halloween. We even visited the Dr. Seuss Museum in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, where there really is a Mulberry Street.
Is “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” outdated? Offensive? Racist? Sure. It’s time to revisit some of the old classics, including picture books, and talk about the stereotypes that used to be considered OK. When you put people on a pedestal (like classic children’s book authors), you’ll rarely find that they are perfect human beings.
A science teacher in middle school once called me yellow during class. To this day, you’ll never catch me wearing yellow in public. For what it’s worth, according to my kindergartner’s Crayolas, I’m not yellow, I’m light golden.
The past few weeks in remote school, my fourth-grader has been learning about discrimination, racism and stereotypes. Pretty big ideas for him to wrap his very sheltered brain around. It seemed like a good time to pull out “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” but our vintage copy got donated in one of my purges.
I logged on to the library’s site to put a hold on the book and found myself 38th in line. A little-known early work of a dead author suddenly became very popular again.
When my hold is ready for pickup, I’ll read “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” to my light golden children. Instead of canceling Dr. Seuss, we’ll learn from him, the ABCs and the racist stereotypes. And how to use chopsticks properly. They’re handy utensils, but you should never run with them.