Was the Cat in the Hat Black? : The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature and the Need for Diverse Books

Philip Nel is Professor of English at Kansas State University and  a children’s literature specialist; he has also authored two books about Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). He brings all his expertise to bear in writing this excellent book about recognizing bias and prejudice in children’s books, and how to advocate for more diversity in books for young people.  It is difficult to disagree that what we learn as children sticks with us, and we probably can all remember books which either excluded all non-white characters, or if they did appear, were treated with disrespect and intolerance.  Given that the children’s publishing industry is 80% controlled by white males, the kind of attention paid to the perpetuation of bias and lack of diversity just isn’t sufficient to effect much change. 

Did you image that Cat in the Hat’s roots are in blackface minstrelsy? Remember Sambo and Babar and Dr. Dolittle? Huckleberry Finn, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Mary Poppins?  Nel states: “The work of decoupling prejudice from people’s thought processes begins in childhood, with books that and teachers who work to arrest the development of racism.” (p.25)

The book concludes with A Manifesto for Anti-Racist Children’s Literature, offering nineteen suggestions for action. This is an urgently-needed, must-read book and is highly recommended.


Was the cat in the hat black? : the hidden racism of children's literature, and the need for diverse booksBy Nel, Philip, 1969- author.

"In this powerful, deeply-researched accessible study, Nel exposes the racial power of children's literature. A rousing call to consciousness and action.....shows how children's literature [can] help build an anti-racist future." (cover annotation-Robin Bernstein)

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