Controversial books stay on Perham library shelves
Library keeps Dr. Seuss, Dav Pilkey books in circulation
Dr. Seuss's estate and author Dav Pilkey might have decided to stop publishing books containing racial stereotypes, but visitors can still find them on the shelves of the Perham and other area libraries.
Perham Library Director Susan Heusser-Ladwig talked with area librarians about what they planned to do.
“All of the librarians that I’m familiar with had the same reaction," she said. "We don’t want to contribute to unjust practices. We don’t want to contribute to stereotypes in the community. But we do have a responsibility to provide access to information.”
She did speak with librarians who planned to pull the books because they were concerned about perpetuating stereotypes.
The Dr. Seuss titles that will no longer be published included, "To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" and "If I Ran the Zoo," which include a drawing of an Asian man with chopsticks and African characters in grass skirts.
The Pilkey book, "Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future," features characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Its Asian characters have slanted eyes and include a kung-fu teacher named Master Wong who spouts wise sayings while teaching martial arts to time-traveling cavemen. It was published in 2010. Its publisher, Scholastic, said it "perpetuates passive racism," while Pilkey posted a statement of apology March 25 on his YouTube channel.
Pilkey, also the author of the popular "Captain Underpants" and "Dogman" series, has weathered criticism before over his books, mostly over language, violence and the disruptive behavior they depict, and he has taken on those critics without backing down. The recent accusations about Asian stereotypes, however, caused him to take the extreme step of pulling that book and offering all proceeds from it to organizations formed to stop Asian hatred. Asians have reported being the targets of violence across the country, and on March 16, a gunman killed eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian women.
The book was "intended to showcase diversity, equality and nonviolent conflict resolution," Pilkey's statement said. "But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery." He pledged to do better.
In recent years, a variety of authors facing criticism for stereotypes or cultural appropriation have issued apologies, and publishers have withdrawn books prior to release.
Publisher Scholastic said it would notify libraries and schools of its decision. It is up to each institution to decide what to do with "Ook and Gluk," as well as the Dr. Seuss books.
Heusser-Ladwig said she finds the debate over the books troubling for two reasons.
“I’m concerned that our society is prone to not treating all the racial groups the same and I think that’s a troubling thing," she said. "I’m also concerned over this idea of get rid of everything that doesn’t apply to my perspective, whoever I am, that could be a political perspective, it could be a racial perspective.
"It’s hard. I think we all deal with that issue. How do you support racial equality and the thought process and the thinking that needs to be developed in our young people to get to a point where we don’t have routine prejudice and still allow free access to information?”
The answer, she said, is for parents to pay attention to the books their children are reading and to discuss with them why certain stereotypes are inappropriate.
Gail Hedstrom, director of the Fergus Falls library, said she's not sure if the Dr. Seuss books remain at her library, but "Ook and Gluk" is and remains in circulation. The debate is not new for librarians, she said.
“These items are getting a lot of attention right now, but this is something we deal with ongoing,” she said. "Often the public isn’t as aware of the criteria and the decisions we’re making on a regular basis."
They constantly review books for accuracy, especially nonfiction, Hedstrom said, and they pull books that are no longer relevant or accurate, especially those that deal with medical topics. The decision to pull a title does not come quickly, she said.
“It’s such a great conversation," she said. "Obviously librarians don’t read everything in their collections. When people make a discovery that they like or don’t like they expect this immediate action. But we have development policies in place.”
The Alexandria Public Library discovered several Dr. Seuss books missing and presumed stolen from their collection, possibly for resale on line, as the banned books are now going for hundreds and even thousands of dollars. However, the Pilkey book and at least one of the Seuss books remain in circulation.
Anne Barber, director of the Morris Public Library, said the Seuss and Pilkey books remain in circulation. The staff has yet to make a decision on how to proceed, she said.