I own a copy of “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street” and I don’t plan on throwing it away after the recent discussion about it being racist. While it does show a stereotype of a Chinese man, stereotypes of different nationalities are in so many cartoons from the Asterix and Obelisk to the Simpson, but we aren’t deleting them all – I hope! While I appreciate that there is other work of Dr Seuss’s that was quite racist, I don’t think Mulberry Street should fit in this basket, but please correct me if I’m wrong.
Of all Dr Seuss’s books, I’m really sad that this was has been blacklisted. And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street is a fun little story that promotes active travel to school better than anything else I’ve come across. My poor husband has to cope with me putting an urban transport twist on everything, but I think this one is pretty clear. To start with, the little boy Marco walks to school. Hurray for a sweet protagonist that normalises one of the most normal things in the world! And there are two special features of walking that are highlighted in this book: that it’s an opportunity to look around and notice things, and that, in the case of Marco, while you walk your imagination can go wild. I know I’ve had some of my most creative thoughts while walking or riding, so it’s nice to see that Marco also experiences this during his walk home from school. I love that his Dad wants him to look up at the world and to hear the stories of the things Marco’s seen.
I spent years of my life trying to understand how elements of our culture influence how we choose to travel. When it came to making recommendation about the car soaked culture that we live in today, I struggled to put forth ideas around banning published works, particularly from different periods of time when we didn’t appreciate all the problems of car use. Instead, I tried to be constructive and creative in how we could avoid perpetuating car promotion in our media. I considered how we could educate and collaborate with future producers of various media, to reduce the potential for excessive car use to be promoted through future media productions. Of course, my phD never went much further than my marker’s desk and I’m not sure anyone in the media has every taken any notice of anything I have ever said.
Having said that, I had a small win today or perhaps I participated in banning culture too…. you tell me. I have been trying to get Catie’s Amazing Machines off ABC Kids for the last year, and managed to get one episode removed. Catie’s amazing machines is basically Top Gear for toddlers, if you replace Jeremy with an excessively smiley girl in her 20s. My attempts to get it removed were based on ideas from my thesis around it promoting car use. I looked at the language used, the imagery and the structure of the program which includes three year olds talking about their favourite part of Catie’s driving experiences and how these elements could be influencing relevant determinants of behaviour. None of this mattered to the ABC, but they were interested when I brought up the fact her quad bike didn’t have rollover bars. Sadly, safety features seem more important than genuinely promoting a safe culture for our future.
So, getting back to the book, I would argue that this book’s positive promotion of active transport should be factored in when decisions are made to stop publishing it. Does this book cause people to behave inappropriately, and does it threaten the future of the world? If someone can give me an example of how this book has contributed to hurtful thoughts or behaviour, I would love to know. However, if this book stops being read, we will lose one little potential spark that might stir the imagination of a child or a parent who starts their journey towards reaping the rewards of walking or riding to school.
And as this book gets pulled off shelves, I sit their contemplating a series of books that I have been working on. And while I can’t claim to have Dr Seuss’s wit, imagination or characteristic drawings, I can assure you I share his passion for active travel and for empowering children. Look out for “Jill’s Joyful ride” in the coming months and if all goes well, I have a beautiful one about a bus ride, another about a train trip and there will have to be a walking one now that a gap has opened in the market…
Ride to school day is on 19th March this year in Australia, and I urge you to get out and ride, scoot, skate or walk to school with your children, or wherever you need to go. But don’t stop there, also remember to look up and let your imagination flow.