Who Was Dr. Seuss? Why Read Across America Day Falls on His Birthday

Read Across America Day was launched in 1998 by the National Education Association (NEA). It is a day to encourage children and teenagers to read and falls annually on March 2, which is also Dr. Seuss' birthday. When the day was first established, it was synonymous with the children's author.

Dr. Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel on March 2, 1904. Despite never having children himself, Dr. Seuss is one of America's most famous youth authors. He wrote more than 60 books, with some of his most famous works including The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham.

Dr. Seuss died in 1991, seven years before Read Across America Day was first celebrated.

At the time, Bob Chase, then-NEA president, said: "We are calling for every child in every school in every community to be in the company of a book on Read Across America Day, in celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday."

The program, he added, "provides an excellent opportunity to work with parents and others in our communities to make a difference in the lives of our students."

Chase also said: "People of all ages love Dr. Seuss. He epitomizes a love of children and learning. Read Across America Day is truly one of the largest celebrations of literacy this country has. Dr. Seuss would be proud."

However, in recent years, the NEA has distanced itself from promoting Dr. Seuss exclusively to encourage children to read a diverse range of books.

A statement on the NEA website explains why Read Across America Day is no longer tied solely to The Cat in the Hat author: "There's a growing need for schools and libraries to include and promote diverse books.

"Students need books that provide both windows and mirrors if we are going to create more readers, writers, and people who feel included and recognized, and who understand that the world is far richer than just their experiences alone.

"NEA recognizes the need to work with a more diverse array of organizations and publishers to fulfill this need, and the Read Across America brand is now one that is independent of any one particular book, publisher, or character."

Dr. Seuss
American author and illustrator Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel, 1904-1991) sits at his drafting table in his home office with a copy of his book, 'The Cat in the Hat', La Jolla, California, April 25, 1957. Read Across America Day is celebrated on Dr. Seuss' birthday, but the National Education Association will no longer celebrate the children's author exclusively. Gene Lester/Getty

Read Across America Day being distanced from Dr. Seuss gained attention on Monday when President Joe Biden omitted the children's author from his proclamation.

In Biden's Read Across America Day proclamation, he said: "The key to developing young learners into engaged, active, and innovative thinkers is instilling in them a love of reading at an early age. Reading is the gateway to countless skills and possibilities—it sets children on the path to a lifetime of discovery.

"On this Read Across America Day, we celebrate the parents, educators, librarians, and other champions of reading who help launch our Nation's children on that critical path."

However, Biden did not mention Dr. Seuss by name.

Former President Barack Obama mentioned Dr. Seuss in each of his proclamations for Read Across America Day, like in 2009, Obama said: "On Read Across America Day, we partner with the National Education Association and mark the birthday of Theodor Geisel, whose beloved Dr. Seuss books still inspire children throughout the world to read."

Former President Donald Trump ended his Read Across America Day proclamations with quotes from Dr. Seuss from 2018-2020, but did not mention that the day was linked to the author's birthday in any of his proclamations. In 2017, former First Lady Melania Trump celebrated the day by reading Dr. Seuss to children in hospital.

In 2020, Trump said: "On this Read Across America Day, we recall the motivational words of Dr. Seuss—an American icon of literature—and impart his wisdom on our Nation's young people: 'You're off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so...get on your way!'"

The NEA cites wanting children to read more diverse books as a reason behind no longer exclusively celebrating Dr. Seuss on March 2, and recent years have raised issues in the depiction of race in his books.

A 2019 study, titled "The Cat is Out of the Bag: Orientalism, Anti-Blackness, and White Supremacy in Dr. Seuss's Children's Books," found that the vast majority of Dr. Seuss' human characters are white and that those who aren't are depicted with racist undertones.

The report finds that: "In the fifty Dr. Seuss children's books, 2,240 human characters are identified. Of the 2,240 characters, there are forty-five characters of color representing two percent of the total number of human characters."

The report also found that of the non-white characters, "Males of color are only presented in subservient, exotified, or dehumanized roles," and that there is an absence of women and girls of color.