ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- Something odd happened at the Douglas County Library soon after Dr. Seuss's estate announced it was pulling six of his books from publication for containing racial stereotypes.
Three of those books disappeared from the library in Alexandria and are assumed stolen, said Library Director Dawn Dailey.
They had been planning to keep the books and assemble the books in one area so library visitors could see the controversy for themselves. But when they went to pull the books, they were gone, including "To think That I saw it on Mulberry Street," "McElligot’s Pool," and one of its two copies of "If I Ran the Zoo."
"I would imagine that they’re going to try to sell them because the price of used copies went up,” said children's librarian Sarah Wethern.
On Wednesday, March 31, "If I Ran the Zoo" was selling for prices ranging from about $200 up to $5,000 on Amazon, and "To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street" was starting at about $140. Another controversial book, "The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future," by Dav Pilkey, was pulled by its publisher, Scholastic, which said it "perpetuates passive racism." That book is checked out of the Douglas County Library, and Wethern said she will keep a close eye on it when it returns, because it is selling online for $90 to $250.
This is the first time that either Dailey or Wethern can recall a publisher, author, or author's estate pulling books for anything other than printing errors.
"Ook and Gluk" publisher Scholastic said, "We will take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication," 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.
"Ook and Gluk" 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.
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.
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.
Wethern and Dailey said the library plans to keep "Ook and Gluk" in circulation, although it won't be able to replace it when its condition gets too poor. They are generally not in the business of censorship, they said, and they would like readers to decide for themselves what to read.
“People see things differently," Dailey said. "One person may say I see nothing wrong with this. Someone else might say, 'Oh my gosh, this is horrifying.'”
“He’s a popular author," Wethern said. "Until the book falls apart I don’t see why we can’t keep it. We bought it. I don’t see why we can’t do what we want. ... I just worry that if you start pulling certain books, even with a good rationale, it just opens the door to people saying, 'I don’t like this book because of this, so please pull it.'”
They do field complaints, and books sometimes do get pulled, albeit rarely. They do exercise censorship to a certain extent, such as preventing porn from gaining a spot on their shelves. Neither could recall a time when a book was removed. Those complaining get an opportunity to fill out an official complaint form that will go before the library board. It happened once last year, and the board opted to keep the book.
The library board has not weighed in on the Dr. Seuss or "Ook and Gluk" books. That decision, Dailey said, is up to the librarians.