Through the front door of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts, the mind of the beloved children’s book author Theodor Seuss Geisel springs to life. The new three-floor museum is lush with murals, including one with a proo, a nerkle, a nerd and a seersucker, too. Around one corner, visitors will find an immense sculpture of Horton the Elephant from Horton Hears a Who!
But the museum, which opened in June, displays a bit of amnesia about the formative experiences that led to Geisel’s best-known body of work. It completely overlooks Geisel’s anti-Japanese cartoons from World War II, which he later regretted.
Far from the whimsy of Fox in Socks (1965), Geisel drew hundreds of political cartoons for a liberal newspaper, PM, from 1941 to 1943, a little-known but pivotal chapter of his career before he became a giant of children’s literature. Many of the cartoons were critical of some of history’s most reviled figures, such as Hitler and Mussolini.
But others are now considered blatantly racist. Shortly before the forced mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans, Geisel drew cartoons that were harshly anti-Japanese and anti-Japanese-American, using offensive stereotypes to caricature them.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was a political cartoonist before he became a giant of children’s literature (Rex Features)
While President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s library has put his role in Japanese internment on full display, this museum glosses over Geisel’s early work as a prolific political cartoonist, opting instead for crowd-pleasing sculptures of the Cat in the Hat and other characters, and a replica of the Geisel family bakery.
But scholars and those who were close to Geisel note that this work was essential to understanding Dr. Seuss, and the museum is now grappling with criticism that it does not paint a full picture of an author whose work permeates American culture, from the ubiquitous holiday Grinch to Supreme Court…