For 25 years, local first-graders have celebrated Read Across America week by reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” paired with breakfast.
This year the program, hosted by Beaches Restaurant, has had to transition from green-egged breakfasts served at school to pre-packaged, make-at-home meal kits. Each kit includes a small bottle of food coloring, instructions on how to make the meal and a striped Dr. Seuss-style hat.
The program, traditionally held around the first week of March, is also adapting because some of Dr. Seuss’ books are under scrutiny for depicting racial stereotypes.
Dr. Seuss, whose real name was Theodore Geisel, died in 1991, but dozens of his books are still in print. On Tuesday, the company that oversees the copyright, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, said it would stop publishing six titles because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” according to a company statement.
The decision brought a strong reaction on social media from individuals who considered it a part of “cancel culture,” according to the Associated Press. However, there was no indication of a similar response from any groups in Clark County as of Tuesday evening.
Local schools say they’ll keep the concept of Read Across America week. But they may be finished with Dr. Seuss.
“Some of the images in some of the books display Orientalism,” said Carla Feltz, Coordinator for Community Outreach and Family Engagement at Vancouver Public Schools. “Given the climate of our world: Is Dr. Seuss someone we want to align with at the district?”
Feltz said the administrators decided on Tuesday to move away from Dr. Seuss and “Green Eggs and Ham” in future years, but they are working with Beaches owner Mark Matthias to transition to a similar Read Across America event with a fun meal and a celebration of literature for kids. Matthias said he’s happy to continue the partnership.
“This has come up before, and now it’s obviously getting national news,” Matthias said. “This has always been about parents coming into the school and reading with kids. In the future, we can repackage this and make it fun in other ways. The goal hasn’t changed.”
Craig Birnbach, spokesman for Evergreen Public Schools, said that administrators and principals are “definitely having discussions” about moving away from the “Green Eggs and Ham” breakfasts, and Dr. Seuss entirely.
Birnbach said he expects some backlash no matter what administrators decide.
“Worrying about the backlash is part of the equation,” he said. “Not everyone can relate to every decision.”
Kris Janati, principal at Vancouver’s Felida Elementary, said that the school’s teachers and administrators have been discussing the controversy, which she sees differently after recent social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter.
“All of us have been awakened in some regard to thinking about things in a much larger lens,” she said. “In the last year, and probably more so, our district is widening our perspective.
“It doesn’t mean we’re throwing out our love for literacy. It certainly doesn’t mean we’re throwing out all of (Dr. Seuss’) works from our libraries,” she said. “We are going to be looking at events in a broader way.”
Janati said she’s looking forward to working with Matthias and Beaches to adapt the event that kids have loved.
“Our district has had a long history of celebrating Reading Across America. For the past 25 years, Mark Matthias has hosted this magical event. I remember when I was a principal intern just starting, so long ago, celebrating this event. Part of the reason it was special: How often do you eat green eggs?
“I think we can continue this tradition of Reading Across America in different ways. I’m grateful for Mark Matthias. He’s creative and innovative. We look forward to working with him in the future.”
Adapting to the pandemic
By the time schools were closed in March 2020, Matthias had already hosted the yearly Green Eggs and Ham event.
This year, Matthias was struck with a dilemma of the pandemic and kids not being in schools.
“It started with: We can’t just not do it,” he said, so he called some school administrators and inquired about their interest in hosting the breakfast.
“Everybody was motivated to take care of the first-graders,” he said. “We were still trying to provide that fun experience for those kids even not being at school.”
Matthias bought food and supplies for 5,288 breakfast kits — including green food dye, which he was lucky to find at a warehouse in Texas, he said. The supplier shipped it before the major snowstorm.
The kits also include books supplied by Riverview Community Bank, none of which are authored by Dr. Seuss, partly because those titles are so expensive, said Birnbach.
Traditionally, Matthias and his staff at Beaches used the commercial kitchens at Beaches and the Firstenburg Community Center to do the cooking, and they delivered the food to the schools. The last few years, they’ve been feeding about 7,000 kids, Matthias said.
This year, Matthias delivered some of the supplies to the schools, where staff were in charge of assembling breakfast kits and handing them out to first-graders when they came to class this week. He also posted a video on Beaches’ Facebook page for kids to watch and learn to cook the green eggs and ham.
“We didn’t want to miss a year with the first-graders,” Matthias said. “It could be a lot of fun to do it at home with the parents.”
This article was updated to clarify Craig Birnbach’s and Carla Feltz’s statements.